What is Humanism:

Humanism was an intellectual movement started in Italy in the 15th century with the Renaissance and spread throughout Europe, breaking with the strong influence of the Church and the religious thought of the Middle Ages. Theocentrism (God as the center of everything) gives way to anthropocentrism , making man the center of interest.

In a broad sense, humanism means valuing the human being and the human condition above all. It is related to generosity, compassion and concern for valuing human attributes and achievements.

Humanism seeks the best in human beings without using religion, offering new forms of reflection on the arts, sciences and politics. In addition, the movement revolutionized the cultural field and marked the transition between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age .

Specifically in the field of science, humanistic thinking has resulted in a departure from church dogma and dictates and has made great strides in fields such as physics, mathematics, engineering, and medicine.

Humanism in the arts

Through their works, intellectuals and artists began to explore themes related to the human figure, inspired by the classics of Greco-Roman antiquity as models of truth, beauty and perfection. Sculptures and paintings now displayed very high degrees of detail in facial expressions and human proportions, and the period was marked by the development of various techniques.

The  vanishing point perspective
The vanishing point perspective (also called the Renaissance perspective) was one of the painting techniques developed during the humanist movement, providing symmetry and depth to the works.

In fine arts and medicine, humanism has been represented in works and studies on the anatomy and functioning of the human body.

Main names and works of humanism

Some of the leading humanist artists of the time of birth, followed by some of their works are:


  • Francesco Petrarca : Cancioneiro eo Triunfo, My Secret Book and Itinerary for the Holy Land
  • Dante Alighieri : The Divine Comedy, Monarchy and Coexistence
  • Giovanni Boccaccio : Decameron and The Philocolon
  • Michel de Montaigne : Essays
  • Thomas More : Utopia, The Agony of Christ and Epitaph


  • Leonardo da Vinci : The Last Supper, Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man
  • Michelangelo : The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel Ceiling and Judgment Day
  • Raphael Sanzio : Athens School, Sistine Madonna and Transfiguration
  • Sandro Botticelli : The Birth of Venus, The Adoration of the Magi and Spring


  • Michelangelo : La Pieta, Moses and Madonna of Bruges
  • Donatello : Saint Mark, Prophets and David

Humanism in Literature

Humanism also corresponds to a literary school that had a preponderance in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

In literature, stands out the palatial poetry (which appears within the palaces), written by nobles who portrayed the uses and customs of the court. Some Italian writers that most impacted were: Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy), Petrarch (Cancioneiro) and Bocaccio (Decameron).

Humanism and Renaissance

The historical context of humanism is mixed with that of the Renaissance, given that it was humanist thinking that laid the ideological foundations that underpinned the Renaissance movement.

Between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, humanism determined a new stance on the religious doctrines in force at the time, proposing a departure from them and a more rational and anthropocentric interpretation of the world.

During the Renaissance, humanist thought was also characterized by attempts to free man from the rigid rules of medieval-era Christianity. Broadly speaking, humanism at this time served as a struggle against medieval obscurity, and led to the creation of scientific behavior free of theological norms.

Learn more about the meaning of Renaissance.

Humanism and Classicism

Humanism is often related to classicism since both were anthropocentric movements that occurred during the Renaissance.

Classicism became evident in the sixteenth century (a century after the rise of humanist thought), functioning as a strand of humanism aimed at establishing rationalism and anthropocentrism by rescuing the Greco-Latin classical values ​​prior to the influence of the church. Thus, it can be said that classicism was one of the forms of manifestation of humanist thought.

Despite having a major impact on culture and philosophy, the respect for Classical Antiquity brought by classicism had greater visibility in the visual arts, which is why the classicist movement is seen as predominantly aesthetic.

Secular Humanism

Secular Humanism, also known as Secular Humanism , is a philosophical current that addresses social justice, human reason and ethics.

Followers of Naturalism, secular humanists are usually atheists or agnostics, denying religious doctrine, pseudoscience, superstition, and the concept of the supernatural. For secular humanists, these areas are not seen as the foundation of morality and decision making.

Secular humanists are based on reason, science, learning through historical accounts and personal experience, which are ethical and moral supports, giving meaning to life.

Humanism and Psychology

Humanistic psychology originated in the mid-twentieth century, and its importance increased significantly in the 1960s and 1970s. As a branch of psychology, specifically psychotherapy, humanistic psychology emerged as a reaction to an exclusively behavioral analysis. It is considered as an additional approach, along with behavioral therapy and psychoanalysis.

Based on humanism, phenomenology, functional autonomy and existentialism, humanistic psychology teaches that the human being has a potential for self-realization within . Humanistic psychology is not intended to review or adapt existing psychological concepts, but to be a new contribution in the field of psychology.

Characteristics of Humanism

Among the main renaissance humanism characteristics stands out:

  • Transition period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance;
  • Appreciation of the human being;
  • Emergence of the bourgeoisie;
  • Emphasis on anthropocentrism, that is, man at the center of the universe;
  • Human emotions began to be valued more by artists;
  • Removal of dogmas;
  • Appreciation of divergent debates and opinions;
  • Appreciation of rationalism and the scientific method.

Humanism is an ethical, cultural, philosophical and artistic posture that emerged in the fifteenth century in Europe, which emphasizes the importance of human beings themselves as a source of value formation.

Humanism is taken as a progressive view contrary to supernaturalism (belief in the existence and participation of supernatural entities in worldly events). Since the humanist current began during the Renaissance, it contributed to the diminishing influence of the church at the time.

With anthropocentric foundations, humanist philosophy offered new ways of reflecting on various aspects of life and soon found manifestations in the arts, literature and philosophy.

Know the main characteristics of humanism:

1. Values ​​rationalism

Humanists believe that only scientific evidence makes it an acceptable and accurate concept. According to the current, reason, speculation and the scientific method are tools perfectly capable of obtaining satisfactory answers about the world, without the need to resort to the supernatural.

2. Founds ethics and morals in human values

Humanism states that values ​​such as love, respect and honesty must be developed through individual and worldly experiences. Thus, the humanist current rejects the idea that external forces should dictate the morality of human acts, as well as disregarding any religious concept on the subject.

For humanists, it is necessary to observe the common desires and needs among humans and, through reason and social dynamics, to evolve moral values, beliefs and standards as a means of achieving happiness, freedom and progress.

3. Gives full responsibility to humans

Considering that humanism disregards the influence of supernatural beings on human relations, the philosophical current gives humans the full responsibility for their actions.

For humanists, humanity has control over all aspects of life and has the power and knowledge to solve any problem. So any crisis that develops is your complete responsibility.

4. Values ​​the contrast of ideas and beliefs

Humanists recognize the advantages of adopting divergent views as a way of evolving as a society. With regard to religion, humanists are classified as “not theistic,” since their adherents are often atheists, agnostics, or even deists.

5. Aims for personal fulfillment

Humanism aims at the personal fulfillment of all human beings. The absence of belief in supernatural forces or in the afterlife means that there is only one life to be lived. Thus the gift must be valued and any wish or dream must be pursued as soon as possible.

6. Absence of dogmas

Adoption of absolute certainties or truths is incompatible with humanism. Considering that the focus is always the human being, the plurality of opinions added to the natural transformations in society make the humanists always open to questions and to the revision of their precepts.

7. Development of new techniques and artistic interests

In the field of the arts, humanism instigated a transformation in the interests and inspirations of artists. Sculptures and paintings now displayed very high degrees of detail in facial expressions and human proportions. Moreover, it was during the Renaissance that painters developed the techniques of linear perspective and vanishing point.

Renaissance sculpture
Renaissance sculpture

Main names and works of humanism

Humanism has had a great influence on all branches of the arts, inspiring some of the world’s best-known works. Check out the main humanist artists of the Renaissance era, followed by some of their works:


  • Francesco Petrarca: Cancioneiro eo Triunfo , My Secret Book and Itinerary for the Holy Land
  • Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy , Monarchy and Coexistence
  • Giovanni Boccaccio: Decameron and The Philocolon
  • Michel de Montaigne: Essays
  • Thomas More: Utopia , The Agony of Christ and Epitaph


  • Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper, Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man
  • Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel Ceiling and Judgment Day
  • Raphael Sanzio: Athens School, Sistine Madonna and Transfiguration
  • Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus, The Adoration of the Magi and Spring


  • Michelangelo: La Pieta, Moses and Madonna of Bruges
  • Donatello: Saint Mark, Prophets and David

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