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Humanism: Exploring the Evolution of a Doctrine Centered on Moral and Intellectual Autonomy From the Italian Renaissance to Modern Human Rights

Humanism is a doctrine that is centered on moral and intellectual autonomy. Humanism emphasizes individuality and has shifted and evolved. The Italian Renaissance ushered in a period that saw a cultural reformation and deviation from the Middle Ages’ way of life. Art thrived in this period and evolved from classical art that sought to express pure beauty and utopian depiction to a realistic representation of life. This paper explores humanism and how it has evolved. The paper also explores how humanism has been expressed in nature and influenced our understanding of art and its significance in culture and society.

Humanism originated from the enlightenment of individuals to reality. Humanism arose after the dark ages that were laden with superstition and brainwashing. People began to question and critically analyze life. People expressed themselves through writing, painting, and sculpturing, addressing reality. Artistic, philosophical, and scientific milestones marked the Italian Renaissance. People were dissatisfied with religion’s view of the world and sought to understand life as it was. Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, drawn in 1490, is not only a portrayal of man but a detailed art piece that attempts to test a theory borrowed from Vitruvius, an architect. Leonardo attempted to combine the concept of a precisely proportioned man with experimental measurements (Thomas et al., 2020).

Humanism shifted from its origins in the Italian Renaissance and spread across Europe to become the fundamental education. Education through analysis and inquiry diversified as humanism spread across Europe and strengthened through the fourteenth century. The printing press increased the availability of reading materials, and there was increased classical literature study. Rhetoric, philosophy, art, and poetry were channels people used to communicate humanism ideas and doctrines. Over time, humanism deviated from religion and encompassed freedom of thought in search of understanding reality. By the eighteenth century, European enlightenment had shifted humanism from religion, while principles of human dignity, reason, and science were highly revered (Zagorin, 2003). The end of the eighteenth century saw the degradation of humanist ideals, and World War I and World war diminished faith in humanist philosophy. Currently, humanism takes the face of human rights. Zagorin (2003) points out that such humanism is limited to democracies only.

Art characterized humanist ideals as it allowed artists and their patrons to express their feelings. Portraits were a show of power and prestige that echoed individual interests. The shift of humanism can be seen through art. In the Renaissance period, for instance, most of the art had a religious theme owing to the patronage of clergy members and the church. Through art, we can see the independence of art from religion through religiously indifferent art themes (Zagorin, 2003). Art preserves and expresses the history of a society hence preserving its culture. Through art, we learn about our past and how change occurred, shaping our culture. (Jangid, 2022).

In conclusion, humanism is a doctrine centered on individuals’ autonomy without a supernatural influence. Humanism originated during the Italian Renaissance and spread through Europe, sparking the European Enlightenment, which diversified and strengthened humanism. However, it declined from the late nineteenth century. The shift of humanism can be seen through art which plays a significant role in preserving culture and history.


Jangid, S. (2022, Apri). The significant role of art in shaping our society

Thomas, D, Gabreath, D. & Boucher, M. (2020, June). Revisiting Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man using contemporary measurements. JAMA Network. Vol 323(22).

Zagorin, P. (2003). On humanism past & present. Daedalus.,%2C%20religious%20indifference%2C%20and%20unbelief.


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