Difference between Italian and Northern Renaissance | 8 Historical Facts

Difference between Italian and Northern Renaissance

Renaissance is one of the crucial periods in the history of Europe that had several phases. The basic difference between Italian and Northern Renaissance is in their characteristics.

In French, the word Renaissance means rebirth. During the renaissance timeline, entire Europe had witnessed some remarkable transformations in the area of art, culture, literature, science, and almost every sector.

However, while we speak of the Italian renaissance, it merely indicates the renaissance phase within Italy’s geographical area. On the other hand, the Northern renaissance includes the renaissance in several countries in the north of the Alps.

Comparison chart

DifferenceItalian RenaissanceNorthern Renaissance
Starting period14th century15th century
ApproachIndividualisticSocial reforms
InfluenceAncient RomeAncient Greek and Christian sources
Famous paintersMichelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, etcJan Van Eyck, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein, etc
Classical textThe Prince by MachiavelliUtopia by Thomas More
Famous writersPetrarch,Machiavelli, Ludovico Ariosto etcThomas More and William Shakespeare

What is Italian renaissance?

Italian renaissance is a significant period of European history that started in the 14th century A.D in Italy and lasted until the beginning of the 17th century A.D. This period almost changed the cultural, artistic, scientific, and political definition of the entire continent. It buried the middle ages and paved the way to bring the modern period.

By the fall of the roman empire, Europe witnessed a 900 years old barren period that almost had no advancement in the field of art, literature, science, and culture. This time span is known as the Dark ages of Europe. 

However, at the end of the 14th century, a number of thinkers in Italy declared the end of the Dark ages and said that they were living in a New age, an age of learning and progress. This was the introduction of the period currently known as the renaissance: A sprouting time of intellectuality and artistic practices. 

Before the renaissance spread in the other parts of Europe, this movement was confined within Italy. The renaissance that occurred within the geographical area of Italy can be defined as the Italian renaissance.

How did the Italian renaissance start?

14th century Italy was divided into several independent city-states. Florence was one of the republics that was known for its rich citizens. 

The wealthy citizens flaunted their wealth by backing artists and intellectuals. This practice made Florence one of the cultural centers in Europe. So, it can be said that Florence’s economic condition heavily spurred the renaissance to take place. 

The ruler of Florence throughout the Italian renaissance was the Medici family. This family had a reputation for supporting arts and humanism, which greatly influenced the Italian renaissance’s progress.  

However, the previous period of Europe was plunged into deaths, disasters, and miseries. Citizens were tired of adverse events. So, the regions of the continent were demanding a positive shift already.

Achievements of the Italian renaissance

Italian renaissance timeline brought a pile of achievements in the field of painting, literature, architecture, music, philosophy, politics, science, and almost every sector. It helped the region to recover from medieval disasters and redefine its cultural values.


Italian renaissance art was heavily influenced by the ancient roman arts, secularism, individualism, and classical mythology. During this era, renaissance artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Perugino created several incomparable artworks that contributed a lot to the progress of modern era paintings and sculptures.

Painters and architects from this time started focusing on subject matters like religious scenes; techniques like linear perspectives, proportionality, and human figures.


Humanism had a noticeable influence on Italian Renaissance literature. Famous writers and poets like Petrarch, Ludovico Ariosto, Luigi Pulci, Poliziano had belonged to this era. 

One of the most famous books of all time, The Prince, was written during this era By Niccolo Machiavelli. Which later immensely influenced European politics and governance. This book is still considered a masterpiece.

Science and technology

The achievements of the Italian renaissance in science and technology are undeniable in world history. Scientists and thinkers got a huge scope to solve earthly problems by observing and experimenting during this time. 

Galileo Galilei’s work on telescopes, Leonardo da Vinci’s studies on machines, Gerolamo Cardano’s experiment on mathematics are some remarkable contributions from this era.

Italian Renaissance characteristics

The most significant characteristic of the Italian Renaissance was Humanism. This era focused more on individualism and secularism; brought radical changes in religious, political, artistic, and scientific views. 

This period promoted humanist philosophy, individual ability, and self-worth. 

Another significant characteristic of the Italian renaissance was the promotion of Urban society: a city-based capitalist market economy.

The end of the Italian renaissance

Historians believe that a number of factors led to the end of the Italian renaissance. 

Before the end of the 15th century, the Italian peninsula began to shatter by wars and clashes. The rulers from France, Spain, and England started invading and taking control of the wealthy Italian regions.

However, the sack of Rome in 1527 brought a disaster in the face of the tremendous cultural period. Between 1545 to 1563, the roman churches held the council of Trent and established the inquisition, which utterly confined and restricted the concept of Humanism. This led to the end of the Italian renaissance.

What is Northern Renaissance?

In the latter part of the 14th century, Italy shifted to a great cultural and artistic era, known as the Italian renaissance in the pages of world history. During the first decades of the 15th century, this transformation started to spread across many European countries, especially the northern parts of the alps significantly. 

By the final years of the 15th century, the renaissance took a robust shape in countries like Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, and England.

How did the Northern renaissance start?

Shattered by medieval disasters like black deaths, many European countries were demanding a transformation. Meanwhile, Italian regions were witnessing a significant cultural shift.

In 1430, a lowland artist named Jan Van Eyck began to apply Italian art techniques like proportions, linear perspective, and realistic figurative approaches in his paintings. This can be considered as the beginning of the Northern Renaissance. 

However, events like the invention of the Printing machine in 1450, the arrival of woodcut and engravings techniques, the emergence of merchants that patronized the artists fueled the Northern renaissance to take a great shape.

Achievements of the Northern renaissance

Like the Italian renaissance, the Northern renaissance timeline added a pile of achievements in the archive of European art and culture history.


Northern Renaissance art was primarily influenced by the Italian Renaissance. However, the artworks of the north were famous for the remarkable advancements in oil paintings and woodcuts. Elements such as landscapes, linear perspectives, anatomy, and realism are visible in many artworks during this era. 

Jan Van Eyck, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein, Hugo van der Goes were some famous Northern Renaissance artists.


Different factors influenced northern Renaissance literature. 

Like the Italian renaissance, humanism also stimulated Northern renaissance literature. Although the humanism of the renaissance two phases significantly differ from each other. 

One of the most important works during the northern renaissance period was The Utopia by Thomas More. Great writers like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, John Milton, Spenser, Edmund had belonged to this period of rebirth.

Science and technology

The greatest achievement from the northern renaissance was the development of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg.

Another important invention from the northern renaissance was the caravel. The invention of caravel increased the trading and helped the explorers to discover regions.

Northern Renaissance characteristics

Following the Italian rebirth, the Northern renaissance abandoned medieval ideas and borrowed humanism and classical arts and texts. 

However, The works from this era had embraced the Christian sources more, compared to the Italian renaissance.  

This period promoted the concept of an ideal society and encouraged the abolition of property.

The End of the Northern Renaissance

Similar to the Italian renaissance, the Northern renaissance was ended by the competition from Mannerism. Europe had already been through several wars and turmoils. So, by the late 16th century many catholic churches started restricting artists and free thinkers. This practice brought an end to the northern renaissance by the year 1600.

The key differences between Italian and Northern Renaissance

  1. Italian renaissance started in the 14th century, while the Northern renaissance started in the 15th century.
  2. Renaissance in Italy was inspired by ancient roman texts; on the other hand, ancient Greek texts inspired the northern renaissance.
  3. Italian renaissance promoted an individualistic approach while the northern renaissance focused more on social reform.
  4. The best classical work from the Italian renaissance period is The Prince by Machiavelli. On the other hand, the dominant classical text from the northern renaissance is The Utopia by Thomas More.
  5. Italian renaissance promotes secularism more. Contrarily, the Northern renaissance embraced the Christian ideas prominently.
  6. Artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael had belonged to the Italian renaissance period. Artists like Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein had belonged to the Northern Renaissance period.
  7. Petrarch, Machiavelli, Ludovico Ariosto are some famous writers from the Italian renaissance era. Thomas More, William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe are some famous writers from the northern Renaissance era.
  8. Galileo Galilei, Leonardo Da Vinci were two important contributors in science and technology from the Italian renaissance. John Gutenberg was a significant inventor from the northern renaissance period.

Similarities between Italian and Northern renaissance

Despite the difference between Italian and Northern Renaissance, there are some similarities also. Let’s take a look at some below:

  • Both phases of the renaissance were driven by Humanism: probably the most dominant similarity between the Italian renaissance and the Northern renaissance.
  • Both of the renaissances were inspired by classical texts.
  • Northern renaissance art was inspired by Italian techniques like linear perspective.
  • The wealth of rich citizens stimulated both the renaissances.
  • Italian renaissance and Northern renaissance ended almost for the same cause: Mannerism.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs):

What is the difference between the English Renaissance and the Italian Renaissance?

The English renaissance was different from the Italian renaissance in several manners. Primarily, the English Renaissance was a part of the Northern Renaissance.
While the English Renaissance’s dominant art forms were literature and music, the Italian renaissance emphasized visual art and paintings.

What is the difference between Northern and Southern Renaissance?

The Northern renaissance occurred in the north of the Alps, while the southern renaissance occurred in the southern part of Europe.
The southern renaissance started in the 14th century, while the Northern renaissance started in the 15th century.
The Northern renaissance was vastly inspired by Christianity and churches. On the other hand, the southern renaissance focused more on scientific experimentations, literature, architecture, and politics.

What is the difference between Northern and Italian humanism?

Italian and Northern renaissance both heavily inspired by humanism. The concept of humanism has rooted in classical literature and antiquity. 
However, while the humanism of the Italian renaissance was inspired by ancient Rome, Northern renaissance humanism focused more on Christian sources and ancient Greek texts, such as the Republic by Plato.

Who were two of the most famous writers of the Northern Renaissance?

The two most famous writers of the northern renaissance are Thomas More and William Shakespeare.

What do the Northern Renaissance and the Italian Renaissance have in common?

-Classical sources inspired the Italian renaissance and the Northern renaissance both.
-Both of the renaissances were inspired by humanism.
-Wealthy people backed the Italian renaissance and the Northern renaissance.


The Renaissance encompasses 300 years in European history when many regions in the continent witnessed great artistic, rational, and cultural transformations surpassing the misery and disaster of the medieval period. These transformations largely contributed to the development of future Europe. Here in this article, we have discussed the difference between Italian and Northern renaissance from multiple points for the sake of readers’ understanding.

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