The Italian Renaissance had placed human beings at the centre of life and had promoted secular values as opposed to religious ones. Influenced by the ideas of the ancient past it conceived of a new way of life and provided a new worldview. The Renaissance was a period of great works of art, literature, and philosophy. The Renaissance or ‘re-birth’ was not just confined to Italy. There was also a Northern Renaissance. This is the term given to the cultural flowering that occurred north of the Alps, in German-speaking countries, the Lowlands, France, and England. The Northern Renaissance was a unique event and although influenced by the Italian Renaissance was distinct from it. The origins of the Northern Renaissance were a result of the spread of printing, the influence of Italy, growing wealth and the decline of the culture associated with feudalism.
The Northern Renaissance was similar to the Italian Renaissance. It also was interested in the ancient past and believed that it was a guide to the present day. The Northern Renaissance was also very much concerned with humanism and its values. This was the idea that humans with the use of their reason could improve their circumstances and their society. It was more concerned with the individual. The movement believed in the possibility of human freedom and in the perfectibility of man. However, the Northern Europe Renaissance was much more religious in its nature than the Italian Renaissance. Many Northern scholars such as Erasmus were very much interested in the reform of the Church and denounced superstitions and clerical abuses and corruption, in the name of the true faith. The great scholar Erasmus, who was born in modern-day Netherlands, was religious and also very interested in the classical world.
However, he, like many other German and other Northern Humanists saw no contradictions between Christianity and ancient cultures and believed that they could be reconciled. The religious character of the Renaissance north of the Alps was due in part to the continuing influence of the Church, unlike in Italy, where the Church was in decline. The Northern Renaissance was an impressive cultural epoch and its achievements were as great as those in Italy. It produced writers of the stature of Rabelais, Montaigne, Erasmus and Thomas More. In the arts, it also was a time that saw the production of many masterpieces by artists such as Durer and Bosch. The Northern Renaissance, humanists, were not just concerned with the study of ancient texts but also the bible. Scholars began to study the bible in a new and critical way. Scholars produced more reliable versions of key biblical texts and produced commentaries on the New and Old Testament. These were very influential and the Northern Humanists ‘New Learning’ inspired many to question the teachings and authority of the Church and this did much to pave the way for the Reformation