One thing is clear - an age must have an ego the size of the Mediterranean to label themselves The Rebirth. And in a real sense we can note the Renaissance intellectuals were indeed self-conscious individuals. The grand sweep of defining history didn't end with themselves, but extended back for a millennium as they attempted to put their unique status into an appropriate perspective. They christened their immediate predecessors "Medieval" and saw the age as a dark aberration in European history which separated themselves from their glorious forefathers of Rome.
Preferring the humanism of the classical age posed certain challenges which made dismissing the Middle Age near impossible. The most significant challenge would rest in reconciling pre-Christian classicism in the arts with the realities of a thoroughly Christianized Europe. Praxiteles could sculpt Zeus but could Michelangelo? The challenge resulted in a uniquely western synthesis where pre-Christian pagan arts and ideas were transformed into Christian manifestations forming a wholly new sensibility. Where the Medieval theologian emphasized man's sin and disobedience, the Renaissance scholar could not resist noting that man was after-all created in god's image and as such was a noble creature capable of reaching to the heavens. A glance at but a few Renaissance paintings of the Holy Family demonstrate most forthrightly the contrast from their Medieval brethren. Christianity was the most humanistic of all religions: God becomes MAN.
An easy to use list of all images used in the lecture