Largely because of the simultaneous and related decline of the singular importance of traditional values and the rise of the market economy, the cities of Italy gave birth to the Renaissance. The famous Renaissance historian Jacob Burkhardt argues in his essay, Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, that the Renaissance was, as an historical event, the transition from medieval times, during which the focus of all life had been religion, to modern times, in which that focus expanded to include learning, rationality, and realism. Whereas in the Middle Ages, religious salvation had occupied the position of utmost importance, during the Renaissance, humanism, stressing the need for individuals to reach their potential in this world, rose up to accompany and rival the goal of salvation. During the Renaissance, changes also occurred in the political and economic structure of Italy that foreshadowed larger transformations for all of Europe. The Renaissance saw the rise of strong central governments and an increasingly urban economy, based on commerce rather than agriculture.
The results of the Italian Renaissance were far reaching both in temporal and geographical terms. Though the spirit of the Renaissance in Italy was crushed in the mid-sixteenth century, the ideas and ideals of Renaissance thinkers maintained their vibrancy, traveling over the alps to northern Europe where, following Italy’s lead, learning, writing, and the arts experienced a great revival in support and importance. The works of art and literature produced in Italy between 1350 and 1550 had a profound impact on the development of Europe during the next centuries, and continue to be considered some of the greatest contributions to society ever produced. The sheer volume of work produced ensures the period a prominent place in history books and museums, but the volume is far surpassed by the talent and splendor with which the artists and writers, funded by generous leaders, created their masterpieces.