by Gerald Boerner
Today we will start a consideration of the artists who worked during the Renaissance period in Europe. During this time, art was either commissioned or done for the church, which essentially meant the same thing: the churches, monasteries, and other religious organizations gathered together a store of art that reflected the emotions and reality of people.
We are focusing on the latter Italian Renaissance today and the principle artists involved during that period and look at some of their best works. In general, the renaissance represented a transition from highly stylized art of only religious subjects to art that incorporated the sense of light and color available in the new media available. In addition, innovations in the use of perspective gave these artworks a greater sense of reality.
We hope that this will provide you with food for thought regarding the Holy Week celebrations on which we are also focusing this week. GLB
“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
— E. O. Wilson
“Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry, the cry of the human spirit to be free.”
— Anne Sullivan Macy
“In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization’s hardest winters.”
— John Fowles
“Actually I like the idea of being a Renaissance hack. If tombstones were still in style, I would want to have the two words chiseled right under my name.”
— Dennis Flanagan
“Great effort is required to arrest decay and restore vigor. One must exercise proper deliberation, plan carefully before making a move, and be alert in guarding against relapse following a renaissance.”
“No account of the Renaissance can be complete without some notice of the attempt made by certain Italian scholars of the fifteenth century to reconcile Christianity with the religion of ancient Greece.”
— Walter Pater
“In the West there has always been the attempt to try make the religious building, whether it’s a Medieval or Renaissance church, an eternal object for the celebration of God. The material chosen, such as stone, brick, or concrete, is meant to eternally preserve what is inside.”
— Tadao Ando
“New needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements… the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.”
— Jackson Pollock
This posting is intended for the educational use of photographers and photography students and complies with the “educational fair use” provisions of copyright law. For readers who might wish to reuse some of these images should check out their compliance with copyright limitations that might apply to that use.
The Renaissance: Italian Renaissance Painting
The Renaissance (French for "rebirth"; Italian: Rinascimento, from ri- "again" and nascere "be born") was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Florence in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historic era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not uniform across Europe, this is a general use of the term. As a cultural movement, it encompassed a resurgence of learning based on classical sources, the development of linear perspective in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform. Traditionally, this intellectual transformation has resulted in the Renaissance being viewed as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term "Renaissance man".
There is a general, but not unchallenged, consensus that the Renaissance began in Florence, Tuscany in the 14th century. Various theories have been proposed to account for its origins and characteristics, focusing on a variety of factors including the social and civic peculiarities of Florence at the time; its political structure; the patronage of its dominant family, the Medici; and the migration of Gr
eek scholars and texts to Italy following the Fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
Italian Renaissance (Part 2)
Italian Renaissance painting is the painting of the period from the early 15th to mid 16th centuries occurring within the area of present-day Italy, which was at that time divided into many political areas. The painters of Renaissance Italy, although often attached to particular courts and with loyalties to particular towns, nonetheless wandered the length and breadth of Italy, often occupying a diplomatic status and disseminating both artistic and philosophical ideas.
The city that is renowned as the birthplace of the Renaissance and in particular, Renaissance painting, is Florence. A detailed background is given in the companion articles Renaissance and Renaissance architecture.
Italian Renaissance painting can be divided into four periods:
- Proto-Renaissance, 1290–1400…
The Proto-Renaissance begins with the professional life of the painter Giotto and includes Taddeo Gaddi, Orcagna and Altichiero.
- Early Renaissance, 1400–1475…
The Early Renaissance was marked by the work of Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Uccello, Piero della Francesca and Verrocchio.
- High Renaissance, 1475–1525…
The High Renaissance period was that of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. The Mannerist period included Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo and Tintoretto.
- Mannerism, 1525–1600…
Stylistically, Mannerism encompasses a variety of approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals and restrained naturalism.
The influences upon the development of Renaissance painting in Italy are those that also affected Philosophy, Literature, Architecture, Theology, Science, Government and other aspects of society.
The following list presents a summary, dealt with more fully in the main articles that are cited above.
- Classical texts, lost to European scholars for centuries, became available. These included Philosophy, Poetry, Drama, Science, a thesis on the Arts and Early Christian Theology.
- Simultaneously, Europe gained access to advanced mathematics which had its provenance in the works of Islamic scholars.
- The advent of movable type printing in the 15th century meant that ideas could be disseminated easily, and an increasing number of books were written for a broad public.
- The establishment of the Medici Bank and the subsequent trade it generated brought unprecedented wealth to a single Italian city, Florence.
- Cosimo de’ Medici set a new standard for patronage of the arts, not associated with the church or monarchy.
- Humanist philosophy meant that man’s relationship with humanity, the universe and with God was no longer the exclusive province of the Church.
- A revived interest in the Classics brought about the first archaeological study of Roman remains by the architect Brunelleschi and sculptor Donatello. The revival of a style of architecture based on classical precedents inspired a corresponding classicism in painting, which manifested itself as early as the 1420s in the paintings of Masaccio and Uccello.
- The development of oil paint and its introduction to Italy had lasting effects.
- The serendipitous presence within the region of Florence of certain individuals of artistic genius, most notably Giotto, Masaccio, Brunelleschi, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, formed an ethos which supported and encouraged many lesser artists to achieve work of extraordinary quality.
- A similar heritage of artistic achievement occurred in Venice through the talented Bellini family, their influential inlaw Mantegna, Giorgione, Titian and Tintoretto.
Patronage and Humanism (High Renaissance, 1475–1525)
In Florence, in the latter 15th century, most works of art, even those that were done as decoration for churches, were generally commissioned and paid for by private patrons. Much of the patronage came from the Medici family, or those who were closely associated with or related to them, such as the Sassetti, the Ruccellai and the Tornabuoni.
In the 1460s Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder had established Marsilio Ficino as his resident Humanist philosopher, and facilitated his translation of Plato and his teaching of Platonic philosophy, which focused on humanity as the centre of the natural universe, on each person’s personal relationship with God, and on fraternal or "platonic" love as being the closest that a person could get to emulating or understanding the love of God.
In the Medieval period, everything related to the Classical period was perceived as associated with paganism. In the Renaissance it came increasingly to be associated with enlightenment. The figures of Classical mythology began to take on a new symbolic role in Christian art and in particular, the Goddess Venus took on a new discretion. Born fully formed, by a sort of miracle, she was the new Eve, symbol of innocent love, or even, by extension, a symbol of the Virgin Mary herself. We see Venus in both these roles in the two famous tempera paintings that Botticelli did in the 1480s for Cosimo’s nephew, Pierfrancesco Medici, the Primavera and the Birth of Venus.
Meanwhile, Ghirlandaio, a meticulous and accurate draughtsman and one of the finest portrait painters of his age, executed two cycles of frescoes for Medici associates in two of Florence’s larger churches, the Sassetti Chapel at Santa Trinita and the Tornabuoni Chapel at Santa Maria Novella. In these cycles of the Life of St Francis and the Life of the Virgin Mary and Life of John the Baptist there was room for portraits of patrons and of the patrons’ patrons. Thanks to Sassetti’s patronage, there is a portrait of the man himself, with his employer, Lorenzo il Magnifico, and Lorenzo’s three sons with their tutor, the Humanist poet and philosopher, Agnolo Poliziano. In the Tornabuoni Chapel is another portrait of Poliziano, accompanied by the other influential members of the Platonic Academy including Marsilio Ficino.
The Papal commission (High Renaissance, 1475–1525)
In 1477 Pope Sixtus IV replaced the derelict old chapel at the Vatican in which many of the Papal services were held. The interior of the new chapel, named the Sistine Chapel in his honour, appears to have been planned from the start to have a series of 16 large frescoes between its pilasters on the middle level, with a series of painted portraits of popes above them.
In 1479, a group of artists from Florence was commissioned with the work: Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli. This fresco cycle was to depict the Life of Moses on one side of the chapel and the Life of Christ on the other with the frescoes complementing each other in theme. The Nativity of Jesus and the Finding of Moses were adjacent on the wall behind the altar, with an altarpiece of the Assumption of the Virgin by Perugino between them. The four paintings on the end walls were unfortunately destroyed.
The remaining 12 pictures indicate the virtuosity that these artists had attained, and the obvious cooperation between individuals who normally employed very different styles and who had very different skills. The paintings gave full range to their capabilities as they included a great number of figures of men, women and children and characters ranging from guiding angels to enraged Pharaohs and the devil himself. Each painting required a landscape. Because of the scale of the figures that the artists agreed upon, in each picture, the landscape and sky take up the whole upper half of the scene. Sometimes, as in Botticelli’s scene of the Purification of the Leper, there are additional small narratives taking place in the landscape, in this case the Temptation of Christ.
Of the paintings, one stands out. It is Perugino’s scene of Christ giving the Keys to St. Peter. This picture is remarkable for the clarity and simplicity of its composition, the beauty of the figurative painting, which includes a selfportrait among the onlookers, and especially the perspective cityscape which includes reference to Peter’s ministry to Rome by the presence of two triumphal arches, and centrally placed an octagonal building which might be a Christian baptistry or a Roman Mausoleum.
Leonardo da Vinci (High Renaissance, 1475–1525)
Leonardo, because of the scope of his interests and the extraordinary degree of talent that he demonstrated in so many diverse areas, is regarded as the archetypal "Renaissance man". But it was first and foremost as a painter that he was admired within his own time, and as a painter, he drew on the knowledge that he gained from all his other interests.
Leonardo was a scientific observer. He learned by looking at things. He studied and drew the flowers of the fields, the eddies of the river, the form of the rocks and mountains, the way light reflected from foliage and sparkled in a jewel. In particular, he studied the human form, dissecting thirty or more unclaimed cadavers from a hospital in order to understand muscles and sinews.
More than any other artist, he advanced the study of "atmosphere". In his paintings such as the Mona Lisa and Virgin of the Rocks, he used light and shade with such subtlety that, for want of a better word, it became known as Leonardo’s "sfumato" or "smoke".
Simultaneous to inviting the viewer into a mysterious world of shifting shadows, chaotic mountains and whirling torrents, Leonardo achieved a degree of realism in the expression of human emotion, prefigured by Giotto but unknown since Masaccio’s Adam and Eve. Leonardo’s Last Supper, painted in the refectory of a monastery in Milan, became the benchmark for religious narrative painting for the next half millennium. Many other Renaissance artists painted versions of the Last Supper, but only Leonardo’s was destined to be reproduced countless times in wood, alabaster, plaster, lithograph, tapestry, crochet and table-carpets.
Apart from the direct impact of the works themselves, Leonardo’s studies of light, anatomy, landscape, and human expression were disseminated in part through his generosity to a retinue of students.
Michelangelo (High Renaissance, 1475–1525)
In 1508 Pope Julius II succeeded in getting the sculptor Michelangelo to agree to continue the decorative scheme of the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was constructed in such a way that there were twelve sloping pendentives supporting the vault that formed ideal surfaces on which to paint the Twelve Apostles. Michelangelo, who had yielded to the Pope’s demands with little grace, soon devised an entirely different scheme, far more complex both in design and in iconography. The scale of the work, which he executed single handed except for manual assistance, was titanic and took nearly five years to complete.
The Pope’s plan for the Apostles would thematically have formed a pictorial link between the Old Testament and New Testament narratives on the walls, and the popes in the gallery of portraits. It is the twelve apostles, and their leader Peter as first Bishop of Rome, that make that bridge. But Michelangelo’s scheme went the opposite direction. The theme of Michelangelo’s ceiling is not God’s grand plan for humanity’s salvation. The theme is about humanity’s disgrace. It is about why humanity needed, and in the terms of the faith, needs Jesus.
Superficially, the ceiling is a Humanist construction. The figures are of superhuman dimension and, in the case of Adam, of such beauty that according to the biographer Vasari, it really looks as if God himself had designed the figure, rather than Michelangelo. But despite the beauty of the individual figures, Michelangelo has not glorified the human state, and he certainly has not presented the Humanist ideal of platonic love. In fact, the ancestors of Christ, which he painted around the upper section of the wall, demonstrate all the worst aspects of family relationships, displaying disfunction in as many different forms as there are families.
Vasari praised Michelangelo’s seemingly infinite powers of invention in creating postures for the figures. Raphael, who was given a preview by Bramante after Michelangelo had downed his brush and stormed off to Bologna in a temper, painted at least two figures in imitation of Michelangelo’s prophets, one at the church of Sant’ Agostino and the other in the Vatican, his portrait of Michelangelo himself in The School of Athens.
Raphael (High Renaissance, 1475–1525)
With Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Raphael’s name is synonymous with the High Renaissance. However, he was younger than Michelangelo by 18 years and Leonardo by nearly 30. It cannot be said of him that he greatly advanced the state of painting as his two famous contemporaries did. Rather, his work was the culmination of all the developments of the High Renaissance.
Raphael had the good luck to be born the son of a painter, so his career path, unlike that of Michelangelo who was the son of minor nobility, was decided without a quarrel. Some years after his father’s death he worked in the Umbrian workshop of Perugino, an excellent painter and a superb technician. His first signed and dated painting, executed at the age of 21, is the Betrothal of the Virgin, which immediately reveals its origins in Perugino’s Christ giving the Keys to Peter.
Raphael was a carefree character who unashamedly drew on the skills of the renowned painters whose lifespans encompassed his. In his works the individual qualities of numerous different painters are drawn together. The rounded forms and luminous colours of Perugino, the lifelike portraiture of Ghirlandaio, the realism and lighting of Leonardo and the powerful draughtsmanship of Michelangelo became unified in the paintings of Raphael. In his short life he executed a number of large altarpieces, an impressive Classical fresco of the sea nymph, Galatea, outstanding portraits with two popes and a famous writer among them, and, while Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, a series of wall frescoes in the Vatican chambers nearby, of which the School of Athens is uniquely significant.
This fresco depicts a meeting of all the most learned ancient Athenians, gathered in a grand classical setting around the central figure of Plato, whom Raphael has famously modelled upon Leonardo da Vinci. The brooding figure of Heraclitus who sits by a large block of stone, is a portrait of Michelangelo, and is an obvious reference to the latter’s painting of the Prophet Jeremiah in the Sistine Chapel. His own portrait is to the right, beside his teacher, Perugino.
But the main source of Raphael’s popularity was not his major works, but his small Florentine pictures of the Madonna and Christ Child. Over and over he painted the same plump calm-faced blonde woman and her succession of chubby babies, the most famous probably being La Belle Jardinière ("The Madonna of the Beautiful Garden"), now in the Louvre. His larger work, the Sistine Madonna, used as a design for countless stained glass windows, has come, in the 21st century, to provide the iconic image of two small cherubs which has been reproduced on everything from paper table napkins to umbrellas.
Influence of Italian Renaissance Painting
Michelangelo and Titian both lived into the second half of the 16th century. Both saw their styles and those of Leonardo, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Antonello da Messina and Raphael adapted by later painters to form a disparate style known as Mannerism, and move steadily towards the great outpouring of imagination and painterly virtuosity of the Baroque period.
The artist who most extended the trends in Titian’s large figurative compositions is Tintoretto, although his personal manner was such that he only lasted nine days as Titian’s apprentice. Rembrandt’s knowledge of the works of both Titian and Raphael is apparent in his portraits. The direct influences of Leonardo and Raphael upon their own pupils was to effect generations of artists including Poussin and schools of Classical painters of the 18th and 19th centuries. Antonello da Messina’s work had a direct influence on Albrecht Dürer and Martin Schongauer and through the latter’s engravings, countless artists including the German, Dutch and English schools of stained glass makers extending into the early 20th century.
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling and later The Last Judgment had direct influence on the figurative compositions firstly of Raphael and his pupils and then almost every subsequent 16th century painter who looked for new and interesting ways to depict the human form. It is possible to trace his style of figurative composition through Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Bronzino, Parmigianino, Veronese, to el Greco, Carracci, Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin and Tiepolo to both the Classical and the Romantic painters of the 19th century such as Jacques Louis David and Delacroix.
Under the influence of the Italian Renaissance painting, many modern academies of art, such as the Royal Academy, were founded, and it was specifically to collect the works of the Italian Renaissance that some of the world’s best known art collections, such as the National Gallery, London, were formed.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Italian Renaissance Painting…
Web Sites and Blogs:
Brainy Quote: Renaissance Quotes…