Renaissance Art & Artists
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Italian Renaissance Art & Renaissance Artists

Isaac Newton Portrait

The Renaissance is a period in Europe, from the 14th to the 17th century, regarded as the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history. It started as a cultural movement in Italy in the Late Medieval period and later spread to the rest of Europe, marking the beginning of the Early Modern Age.

The Renaissance was a time of re-birth and awakening in Europe. The images that emerged from the Renaissance continue to represent beauty and intellect for people around the world. There has simply never been a time in history when artists stretched their wings to bring their mediums to such new heights. One can also question if there has ever been an era in history in which so many great thinkers and artists were born. The Renaissance birthed the great talents of artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The first blossoms of the Renaissance emerged around the year 1400 A.D. in Italy. It rose from the ashes of medieval Europe to combine the wonders of antiquity with the modern sensibilities that were emerging in a changing world. Beauty, sin, redemption, the sacred and the profane are all represented and celebrated by Renaissance art. The period was formed by a perfect storm of change that created a social landscape that was fertile for encouraging artistic expression. There were a number of factors that contributed to this fertile landscape. Classical texts that had been lost to European scholars for centuries suddenly become available. Everything from poetry and drama to early Christian writings served as inspiration for the emerging batch of artists of the day. The wealth of the Medici Bank in Florence also contributed to a strong appreciation for the arts. This grand level of wealth allowed for the funding of the arts in a way that had never existed before. What is relevant about this tidbit is that it allowed wealthy families to fund little-known artists who would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Art suddenly became a commodity instead of something that was commissioned only by the church. Of course, what people think of most when the Renaissance comes to mind is an expansion of thought and a breaking of barriers. This was a time of questioning when it came to one's identity and role in the universe. The overreaching theme that most people take away from the Renaissance is a desire among artists to express mankind's placement in regards to nature, the cosmos and God. While most art of the Renaissance retained the religious themes of the previous era, it treated the subject differently. The role of art in Europe suddenly shifted from merely praising God to pondering his motives and methods. Exploring the themes of the Renaissance is a satisfying endeavor that can help people in modern times appreciate the beauty and complexity of the era. You are invited to explore the Renaissance to discover a rich world that celebrated the body and soul through art, sculpture and literature.

Renaissance Paintings

Something spectacular happened that allowed the painters of the Renaissance to bring images to life with a new level of vividness. Improvements in the quality of oil paint meant that paintings could really express movement on the canvas. Dutch painters like Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Rogier van der Weyden, Robert Campin and Hugo van der Goes made early innovations that helped to usher in what would become one of the most colorful and splendid eras of art in history. Italy was another place that served as a backdrop for the rise of Renaissance artists. Florentine painters were somewhat obsessed with the idea of how elements of perspective and light should be dealt with in paintings. Artist Piero della Francesca was one of the first painters to transform the way other artists depicted light in their works. In other parts of Italy, artists like Antonello da Messina and Andrea Mantegna were developing techniques that would influence artists from Naples to Venice. The Renaissance developed in France slightly differently than it did in other parts of Europe. Cutting-edge artists there tirelessly worked on ways to bring heavenly inspiration to illuminated manuscripts, devotional paintings, altarpieces and portraits for the nobility. The Limbourg brothers and Jean Fouquet stand out as iconic figures of the Renaissance in France. The Renaissance of Northern Europe is accurately represented by the way the movement took shape in Germany. Most historians consider Michael Pacher to be the first painter to bring elements of the Italian Renaissance to Germany. The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch introduced a whimsical and grotesquely beautiful style that revolutionized the art world in Northern Europe. Of course, it is impossible to talk about the art of the Renaissance without discussing the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Many people consider Leonardo's da Vinci's entrance into the era as the start of the High Renaissance. No name better seems to symbolize that age than Leonardo da Vinci. Other painters of the High Renaissance include Giovanni Bellini, Raphael and Michelangelo. Michelangelo's famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the perfect embodiment of the Renaissance's ambitiousness and dramatic styling.

Renaissance Sculptures

The defiant expressions, stark poses and elegant details that are seen in some of the most iconic Renaissance sculptures can awaken the senses and ignite the spirit. Unlike the stiff, angled bodies of the Byzantine period, Renaissance sculptures embraced the softness of the human body. Mortality was suddenly favored above piety or perfection when it came to representing both saints and sinners. No other sculptor managed to capture the realism and beauty of the Renaissance quite like Michelangelo. The work of Michelangelo represented the power and vulnerability of the human form in a way that still fascinates the world today. Most historians cite the famous competition for the doors of the Florence Baptistery in 1403 as the beginning of the era of Renaissance sculpture. The doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti are still standing today. Something interesting that happened during this period was that it became popular for sculptures to be commissioned for use in both public spaces and the homes of the wealthy. Both busts and full bodies were in favor during the Renaissance.

Renaissance Literature

The written word bounced from the pages in much the same way images came to life on canvases during the Renaissance. Works from this era were often vivid and haunting. The period is perhaps best summed up by the heavy writings of authors like Dante. Boccaccio, Machiavelli and Ariosto are also some of the most notable authors from the period. A love of literature among the people of the day was heightened by Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440. People began to read works that were written in the vernacular instead of classical languages. Many of the most popular works of the Renaissance revolved around man's relationship to God. Themes of sin and salvation are woven heavily into the darkly beautiful tales that captured the interest of people throughout Europe. Another important figure is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare arguably invented a uniquely English version of the Renaissance, for he wove together the plots of ancient tragedies with the histories of medieval England so masterfully that it was difficult to disentangle them. Shakespeare's influence on Renaissance culture was not simply a matter of incorporating works written in foreign languages and times past into his present. Shakespeare is considered the greatest of English writers and one of the most talented creators in history. Today he is the most quoted author in the English language.

Just like Isaac Newton on Physics and Charles Darwin on natural history, Renaissance's impact on art history is tremendous. In addition to its expression of classical Greco-Roman traditions, Renaissance art sought to capture the experience of the individual and the beauty and mystery of the natural world. Ultimately, the achievements of Renaissance artists rivaled, rather than reproduced, the accomplishments of the ancient past, adding a brilliant modern chapter to the history of the classical tradition.

Masterpieces of Renaissance Art

  • The Mona Lisa
  • The Last Judgement
  • The Last Supper
  • David
  • The Vitruvian Man
  • Pieta
  • Sistine Chapel Ceiling
  • The Virgin and Child with St Anne
  • The Creation of Adam
  • Bacchus and Ariadne
  • David by Donatello
  • Galatea
  • Mars and Venus
  • Sacred and Profane Love
  • Sistine Madonna
  • The Assumption of the Virgin
  • The Bacchanal of the Andrians
  • The Birth of Venus
  • The School of Athens
  • Venus of Urbino
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