When considering three major movements in world civilization and history; Romanticism, the Enlightenment, and the Renaissance, one theme that runs throughout is that of rebellion. More specifically, this rebellion in all three movements was against past traditions and each of these periods in history was geared toward eradicating old ways of thinking. While the reasons for rebelling against the old social and artistic order vary for each of these movements, the fact remains that all three were successful at changing many aspects of society and all each movement has had an enormous impact on history and artistic expression.
Romanticism was a movement that took place in Europe throughout the latter part of the 18th century. This period in history was a direct rebellion against many of the artistic and societal values of the previous era, which was the Enlightenment. While the Enlightenment movement focused on ideas of reason, rationality, and empiricism, romanticism went the complete opposite direction and explored new ideas about emotions and beauty. The main part of this rebellion was centered around the notion that not everything could be coldly rationalized and that beauty and aesthetics were important parts of existence. Although it was in direct opposition to the Enlightenment, romanticism as a movement did also build off of some of the new ideas that were part of that period such as a renewed interest in the individual. Romanticism was a movement in history that went one step further and began to focus on individual experience as well as the human brain—mostly as it related to feelings and personal thoughts. In general, however, it could be easily argued that without the Enlightenment movement there would not have been romanticism, mostly because the former had to exist for the rebellion in ideas to take place.
The Enlightenment, a movement in Western history that came just before romanticism, was itself a rebellious movement that developed out of a prior period that emphasized ideas such as religion. In addition, before this period, there was more weight given to speculations about god and the natural order of things whereas with the Enlightenment empiricism became one of the core ideas. During the Enlightenment movement new rebellious ideas about the nature of man’s connection to the universe as well as the concept of the individual with natural rights emerged. These were rebellious notions, especially since before this time people viewed themselves as part of a hierarchy based on many religious and social notions such as class. Science and observation were at the forefront of this movement and many thinkers of the time wished to know the truth through their own experience and process of experimentation and hypothesis. This period in artistic history was a rebellion against the old order because before many people were content to believe in disprovable truths, such as the nature of the heavens or of things such as weather or medical phenomena. Although the Enlightenment sought to keep people rational, this would not be enough for later rebellious movements such as Romanticism, where people began to look behind facts and closer into the individual experience.
The Renaissance was a rebellious movement as well but not in the reactionary sense that the previous two movements in history discussed here were. This is because the Renaissance was more like an explosion in knowledge and learning that caused a huge intellectual shift throughout Europe, especially since it came on the heels of the advent of printing processes. What is, however, rebellious about this period is that it saw so many new ways of thinking and doing things. Artists, writers and philosophers were breaking out of the “dark ages" and allowing themselves to experiment with new ideas. Men such as da Vinci were engaging with topics such as art, medicine and technology just as writers were finding new ways to tell stories or represent truths about their time period. What is most interesting about this movement is that it is in many ways the most rebellious since it saw so much change yet much of this change seems almost organic. It was rebelling against anything in particular but the changes were so vast and sweeping that it was the ultimate rebellious movement in Western civilization. Without the many new developments that arose out the of the Renaissance the world might never have experienced successive movements such as those discussed here.
Without rebellion there can be no history; time would just go on without anything to mark off significant or important periods. In these three movements it is possible to detect a string of rebellions that led to major intellectual shifts. It all started with the ultimate rebellion in thinking—the Renaissance. After the Renaissance, new ideas, particularly about science and experimentation, went on to inform the events of the Enlightenment. After this, thinkers during the era of romanticism picked and chose some of the ideas of these previous movements and developed their own new, rebellious, and unique understanding of the world. In sum, all intellectual movements that influence history are part of a grand chain of rebellion and it seems that this will always be the case if history is any teacher.