The word renaissance has often been associated with the European renaissance that occurred sometime during the 14th-17th centuries. One of my early articles is a list of Renaissance Humanists. The names on that list are some of the most important names for historical studies because they are credited with retrieving colossal amounts of ancient and mediaeval records.

This article explores the meanings and history of the word “renaissance”.


Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defined renaissance as:[1]
1 – capitalized
1a – “the transitional movement in Europe between medieval and modern times beginning in the 14th century in Italy, lasting into the 17th century, and marked by a humanistic revival of classical influence expressed in a flowering of the arts and literature and by the beginnings of modern science”
1b – “the period of the Renaissance”
1c – “the neoclassical style of architecture prevailing during the Renaissance”
2 – “often capitalized a movement or period of vigorous artistic and intellectual activity”
3 – “REBIRTH, REVIVAL” defined it as:[2]
1 – “the activity, spirit, or time of the great revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe beginning in the 14th century and extending to the 17th century, marking the transition from the medieval to the modern world.”
2 – “the forms and treatments in art used during this period.”
3 – “(sometimes lowercase) any similar revival in the world of art and learning.”

Lexico defined it as:[3]
1 – “The revival of European art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries.”
1.1 – “The culture and style of art and architecture developed during the Renaissance.”
1.2 – “(a renaissance) A revival of or renewed interest in something.”


“1830–40; <French, Middle French: rebirth, equivalent to renaiss- (stem of renaistre to be born again <Latin renāscī; re-re- + nāscī to be born) + -ance-ance”[2]

1837 – Defined as 1a above.[1]
“French, from Middle French, rebirth, from Old French renaistre to be born again, from Latin renasci, from re- + nasci to be born — more at NATION”

1840 – “”great period of revival of classical-based art and learning in Europe that began in the fourteenth century,” …from French renaissance des lettres, from Old French renaissance, literally “rebirth,” usually in a spiritual sense, from renastre “grow anew” (of plants), “be reborn” (Modern French renaître), from Vulgar Latin *renascere, from Latin renasci “be born again, rise again, reappear, be renewed,” from re- “again” (see re-) + nasci “be born” (Old Latin gnasci, from PIE root *gene- “give birth, beget”).

An earlier term for it was revival of learning (1785). In general usage, with a lower-case r-, “a revival” of anything that has long been in decay or disuse (especially of learning, literature, art), it is attested from 1872. Renaissance man is first recorded 1906.”[4]

“In his 1855 work, Histoire de France, Jules Michelet was the first historian to use and define the word Renaissance, as a period in Europe’s cultural history that represented a drastic break from the Middle Ages, creating a modern understanding of humanity and its place in the world. Historian François Furet wrote that his History of the French Revolution remains “the cornerstone of all revolutionary historiography and is also a literary monument”.”[5]

“The term “Renaissance” was first prominently used by the French historian Jules Michelet in 1858, and it was set in bronze two years later by Jacob Burckhardt when he published his great book The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.”[6]

“From French renaissance, from re- ‘back, again’ + naissance ‘birth’ (from Latin nascentia, from nasci ‘be born’).”[3]

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[1] – “Renaissance.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[2] – Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[3] – Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[4] – Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[5] – Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[6] – Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

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