What Is the Difference Between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance?

The most significant difference between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was the shift in focus from the Catholic Church and community to the secular world and the individual. This change in worldviews led to developments in art, science and law that proved revolutionary to the Western world.

During the Middle Ages, scholars were primarily priests and monks, studying ancient books and art for their insights into God. During the Renaissance, however, wealth from increased trade with East Asia provided secular men with time to study the ancients, and they focused on their insights into humanity. The humanistic point of view encouraged by these studies influenced art, transforming earlier one-dimensional stiff portraits into vividly realistic works celebrating the beauty of the world. Humanism also encouraged scholars to question religious teachings when they conflicted with observed phenomena, leading to the development of the scientific method and an explosion of discovery and invention. Wealthy patrons began funding secular works as often as they funded religious ones, looking to create a legacy in the physical world as well as securing a place in the hereafter.

Renaissance men, focused on the development of the individual, became highly skilled in a wide variety of arts and sciences. Men with this wide range of knowledge were able to blend art and science, bringing about developments in both faster than would have otherwise been possible. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, was a skilled painter and sculptor as well as an innovative scientist, inventor and engineer, and his Vitruvian Man is an example of art and science coming together into one concept.