The Renaissance was the return of ideals and standards from ancient Rome and Greece. It was a rebirth of philosophies, a rejection of superstition and outdates religious ideas, and an emphasis on humanism, education, and the possibility and capacity of the human body. The revolutionary rebirth, from Martin Luther’s reformation of the church to Van Eyck’s application of perspective and deletion of religious symbolism, was an exit from the dark cave of the Middle Ages, and an enlightenment of mankind to what would be known to Plato as the single truth.
In the Plato’s allegory of the cave, the people would be shown a mere shadow cast upon by a flame which they would believe was reality, and it was not until someone would break free and face the light that they would truly be enlightened and educated by the one single ideal which would be given to them upon exiting the cave. The thousand years of the Middle Ages could quite easily be seen as when humanity was trapped within the cave. Religious superstition coupled with a low standard of education and terrible standards of living held back the Europeans and it was not until late heroes such as Charlemagne, an educational revolutionist, and early innovators such as Brunellesco came along, that the restriction within the cave would finally end. The Renaissance, much like the realization of the cave, was not an immediate switch in philosophies. It took its roots in Florence originally, a democratic republic ruled by a single family between Geneva and Venice which benefitted from the marble trade routes. It set an example by being separated both politically and geographically from the rest of Italy, and taking advantage of its wealth by applying them to urban values and humanistic ideals. The Medici family who ruled Florence could take much of the credit for keeping the Renaissance moving, with much of the financial support coming from the family, and the motivational support especially from Lorenzo was vital to many of the works commissioned there. It was the Florentines who were among the first to finally break free of the Middle Ages, to leave the cave, and set an example for the rest of Italy and Europe.
At first the Renaissance movement was limited to the area around Florence but soon many were brought out to experience the enlightenment of the movement. Once emerged from the cave, the Renaissance took on full stride and revolutionized practically every facet of human life. By the time the movement had reached Rome, the people had already looked into the sun, the single truth, and were ready to embrace it. Gone were old religious ideals that man was a sinner, and in came the human spirit, protestation of the old church, and artistic support via the church’s patronage. Flat, religious paintings were replaced by Michelangelo’s realization of god as a tangible being and Raphael’s mathematical creation of space and perspective, and the return of Roman influence in Rossellino’s tomb of Bruni and Michelangelo’s David. People were living in the moment, and were living grandly. A true representation of this would be the reconstruction of St. Peters, which really, without a doubt, symbolizes the change of philosophy and personal identification for the Renaissance. This was the realization of the cave allegory, in which humanity was at first trapped in a false reality of primitive living but eventually, due to a key few people, would emerge to take on full potential of whatever they had, to truly become knowledgeable, and to understand the one truth which was, in the Renaissance’s case: humanism and man as the centre pole of culture.
The Renaissance could be described as a return of Roman and Greek ideas, but it can also be seen as the exit and truly realization of human potential from the dark, unrealistic cave known as the Middle Ages. The artistic and philosophical feats may be impressive on their own, but the emergence from what could be seen as the lowest point in humanity and the transfer from that to one the highest is not only equally impressive but a true representation of the power of humanity. In Plato’s terms, the Renaissance is perhaps the most perfect example of humanity of exiting the cave and becoming truly intelligent, but also a validification of the allegory itself.