The Renaissance is a term that referred to a period in Europe history from the 13th to the 16th century and is considered to be a cultural channel between The Middle Ages and Modern history. It sprang up in Florence, Italy, thus in literature, this term is also named as Italian Renaissance, and signaled an enormous break-out of cultural movements in Italy and soon spread to the rest of Europe. This name was given to particular period after famous volume of history by Jules Michelet La Renaissance (1855).
The Renaissance art, painting, sculpture and other decorative arts produced at the time, rapidly increased along with philosophy, literature, science and thus, marked a rebirth of ancient traditions. Italian renaissance art re-established stiff forms of the art .The inspired artists seemed to challenge the history and so was unchanged until Pablo Picasso and Cubism. In spite of the development of new technologies and discoveries of that period, the revival of classical art, especially the ideas of ancient Greece and Rome, became a central theme in Renaissance. The deepening into primary sources, nature, unique individual views and approaches are those basic characteristics of renaissance art that gave birth to powerful cultural movement up to Early Modern age.
Renaissance art was infused with a philosophy of Humanism that meant new peoples’ imagination of themselves and the world around them. That encouraged artists to collect the artifacts of Greek and Rome culture and to explore the ancient ruins and remnants of sculptures. Therefore, the alternate understanding of spiritual had appeared, and a new path to awareness of opportunities had been discovered. The traders became the craftsmen and creators, who were the sculptors, architects, painters. They achieved incredible successes and had a significant impact on Italian and European art.
The pre-Renaissance period stepped into the late 13th century and involved a great number of painters and sculptors who initially developed their activity in the Gothic art. Such changes on cultural basis were caused by political background at the time. The conflict between England and France erupted in the Europe. An interference of Pope into the dispute shattered a prestige of his authority. The effort that clergy put into the political landscape of Europe resulted in crisis. Thus, Аvignon became a new cultural center, where the most famous painters as Simone Martini (1288-1344) and Matteo Giovannetti (1322-1368) from Viterbo arrived and who had to decorate new Pope Residency. Striving to spiritual renewal became too strong and soon found its leaders – St. Francis of Assisi with his associates. They rejected any forms of ownership, encouraging only Bible principles of love and patience to relatives. The Franciscans respected intellectual occupations as well. All that things seemed to be close and organic to the artists, and they were filled with the idea of vivid spiritual movements.
Thus, The Franciscans successfully insisted on a building of Church in Assisi that later was named after their Franciscans order-Church of St Francis. The mosaics were replaced by frescoes, and such change occurred due to a desire of than orders to avoid luxuriance. During the creation of images, the painters tried to combine conventional ornaments with innovative ones that marked the main Christian values. The architectural symbols of reformed styles and beliefs were the lancet arches that emphasized meeting of Francis and Pope. The new symbol replaced semi-circular arch. The strict Christian principles, depicted in architecture, were underlined with scenes from Apocalypse, especially the breakdown of Babylon. The fresco scenes illustrated the main values of Francis order and were rather realistic than mystic.
At the time Giotto (1267-1337)-the Father of Painting-occupied an important place in the history of Italian Renaissance and he was believed to be the first ‘modern’ painter. He played an important role in the development of naturalism in fine art. Giotto decorated the Arena Chapel or Scrovegni Chapel with fresco murals. The art inventions of Giotto produced the imageries that exactly related to main targets of The Franciscans who encouraged the faithful to witness life way of Christ and other Bible scenes. Giotto’s three-dimensional figures in the real space became final overcoming of a stylized design of Byzantine and Rome arts. Giotto succeeded in clearness of plot, replacing symbolic attributes by specific details and thus, made his imageries more understandable for all viewers. Apparently, the most major Giotto’s invention was a depiction of gestures and mimics on the paintings which could reveal all the people’s emotions.
In the pre-Renaissance period, the leading place belonged to so-called Siena school as well. The famous painters such as Duccio de Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and Lorenzetti brothers and sculptors-Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano embodied the ideas of a new wave of building and projects that were developed in Siena. The building of Siena church and Palazzo della Signoria took a lot of strengths for local government as the authorities wanted to combine all the details and fine points. So the government employed the painters, sculptors, and jewelers for this job and let them find new means of imageries displaying. Nicola Pisano and his son tried themselves in the style of classical sculpture, for instance, Giovanni Pisano repeated the classic virgin pose of Venus that represented a revival of interest in nature.
It is worth focusing on Maesta altar holy picture of Duccio that was created for Siena church. It took 3 years for him to finish it.
Another disciple of Siena school was Simone Martini. He took part in decorating of Palazzo Pubblico. It’s Great Council Hall (Sala del Mappamondo) was decorated with two frescos that are traditionally attributed to Simone Martini. Ambrogio Lorenzetti adorned Palazzo Pubblico with fresco Allegory of Good Government. The wall was enriched with a circular wall-mounted map and belonged to Lorenzetti as well.
Proto-Renaissance period was an impact for the development of completely new style and vision in all Western European art and laid the basis for one of the most significant periods in the world of art that remained unparalleled till Modern and Post-Modern culture. During that period all main Renaissance art characteristics were formed and defined.
Early Renaissance 1400-1490
Early Renaissance in Italy
Early Renaissance period spread out in Florence in 1401. At the end of 14th century in Florence ascendant position was covered by merchants and trades people who cooperated in guilds. The members of seven main guilds of Florence donated a lot of money to local government coffers, and thus city became the center of trades, financial and commercial activities and the third biggest city in Italy. The Baptistry of St John-one of the oldest church of the city- was decorated again. In 1401 the fabric trades guild announced a competition for a project on building the pair of bronze doors. Seven sculptors were selected for this, and all of them should have depicted the scene of Sacrifice of Isaac. The winner became Ghiberti (1378-1455), and afterward, he was honored as one of the most famous sculptors in Florence. In 1418 the competition for a construction of a dome was announced. Despite the confusion which was caused by unusual construction that consisted of two building envelopes which came into each other, the dome of Filippo Brunelleschi was the best in the competition. So the Florence established as the cultural capital with its specific art style that mainly was based on Renaissance features and inspiration.
The preference of Florence traditions revealed in the range of literary masterpieces which praised either preferences of local dialects or glorious past of the city and its outstanding characters as Dante.
In the architectural sense, the Florence traditions materialized into a building of Ospedale degli Innocenti which initially operated as children’s orphanage. Instead of decorative style that was related to Gothic of the end of 14th century with its lancet arches, the guild approved the project of Brunelleschi which was based on semi-circular arches, and thus the Gothic style was gradually replaced by specific local Florence style.
Among the corporations, the Ghiberti works were truly considered to be the best in the sphere of sculpture. So, better off corporations could afford the Ghiberti’s work, and thus he created the statues of John the Baptist, Saint Matthew. These creations along with ideal and sophisticated imageries demonstrated the wealth of corporations and using of bronze, one the most expensive material, should have spoken about their riches. Saint George, made for a guild of armorers, was a masterpiece as well.
In 1425, Tommaso Masaccio started painting a series of frescoes, demonstrating the Life of St. Peter in the family chapel of the Brancacci family, at the Santa Maria del Carmine Church in Florence. Masaccio gave up on out-of-date fine arts ideas, oriented towards court culture and began using of straight and plastic ornaments. The most remarkable Masaccio’s frescos are The Tribute Money, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and major altarpiece the Pisa Altarpiece.
Paolo Uccello took up the Brunelleschi’s ideas about linear perspective and three-dimensional depictions which were developed by his ancestor Masaccio and embodied them in his works. The most famous Uccello’s creation is the cycle of painting- The Battle of San Romano, consisting of Battle of San Romano: Niccolò da Tolentino, Battle of San Romano: Bernadino della Ciarda unhorsed and Battle of San Romano: Micheletto da Cotignola. All three works demonstrated an overwhelming patriotism above religious feelings and signaled about a vivid interest of humanists in historical background. Moreover, Uccello used the new concepts of Brunelleschi in that groundbreaking work.
Piero della Francesca was a painter who combined geometric and mathematical concepts in his works. His major creation is a cycle of frescoes, depicting the Legend of the True Cross.
Antonello da Messina overtook the skills of oil painting and introduced it to Venetian Renaissance
Domenico Ghirlandaio made a mark on fresco painting in Florence during the 1480s and was a talented painter who worked mainly on drawing portraits, altarpieces, and details. One of his most noticeable portraits is Portrait of a Young Woman which outlined the plastic and smooth style of Ghirlandaio.
Early Renaissance in France
In the 15th century the people who earned enough money in trading, especially in textile industry, started buying the fine arts works as it was prestigious. So the Renaissance art pieces spread out in the north of Western Europe. Son of John II, following his father, collected manuscripts with outstanding miniatures. The famous ones decorated the Horologion, showing seasons change with specific for them activities. Holidays, hunters were depicted on the Horologion’s pages. Another son of Jon II, Dutch of Burgundy, owned his own residency in Dijon and built there a temple. An altarpiece, painted by Broederlam, should have shown the direct connection to the French crown.
Limbourg brothers were famous painters associated with courts where they created a range of altarpieces and devotional paintings.
In the Flemish painting a new species of perspective- aerial perspective erupted, where a sense of depth was achieved with the help of weakening of color by the removal from the forefront.
Early Renaissance in Netherlands
At the time the Burgundy court was through its blossom, and Jan van Eyck with his brother Hubert van Eyck worked there as court painters. Hubert and Jan Van Eyck’s masterpiece is the great Ghent Altarpiece of the Adoration of by Lamb, at St Bavo’s Cathedral. This polyptych, with its multiplicity of small panels, is obviously the work of men trained as miniature painters and unable to cope with the problem of filling large spaces. It is a joint work of the two brothers. By Hubert alone, who is a more nebulous figure than Jan there are, besides the Milan-Turin miniatures, two wings of an altarpiece at Leningrad, and the Three Marks at the Sepulchre, now in the van Beuningen Collection in Holland.
By Jan Van Eyck there is an impressive list of signed and dated works, of which the most important is probably the Arnolfini Portrait. During the period of the late 15th century, the using of oil paints was spread in Flanders, owing to Eyck brothers. They practiced mixing of pigments and butyric fat. Painting with oils took more time and patience than any other kind of paints, but this demonstrated to modern people a new step into art and culture and willingness of artists to improve their pieces of art.
Period of early Renaissance introduced main artists and art pieces up to the north of Europe while early Renaissance art characteristics became the basis in forming of the significant and continuous period in history and art.
High Renaissance Period 1490-1530
The development and extension of Renaissance in Italy and other countries of Western Europe chimed with major changes in history. At the time France and England came to the fore what meant the relaxation of Rome’s rule. Apparently, the prestige of Pope should have been consolidated. At the beginning of 16th century, Pope Julius II took power and made a great rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica and Vatican palaces, inviting such outstanding artists as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. Julius II paid enough attention to building the bridges, temples, churches in Rome in order to catch up the missing culture processes while the residence of Pope till 1378 was located in Avignon. He charged Donato Bramante of developing the project of St Peter’s Basilica reconstruction and encouraged to put into force a new architectural style.
Approximately in 1505 Bramante built in Rome a small chapel. Although that building had conventional round shape, the painter stepped fore, using zela material, surrounded with colons. Using of classical elements showed that Bramante was acquainted with classical theory and that was approved by Julius II. Donato Bramante was honored to extend Vatican palace, and he tried to experiment with forms, shapes and other details. The painter projected two long galleries, which joined already existing palace with Belvedere villa. Between the galleries, there was small open space, divided into 3 porches. Bramante established spiral stairs which were supported with different colons-ionic, Corinthian and others.
In 1505 Julius II ordered Michelangelo a design of his sepulchral and decoration with frescoes the Sistine Chapel and that decision of Pope was epochal. In the beginning, it was decorated with gold stars in a deep blue sky, revealing the ideal sky imagery and that was a new in a decoration of fornications.
Following his antecedents, Julius II decided to renew the decoration of his own apartments. Pope’s library was painted by Raphael with four big frescoes related to four scholastic attainments: Theology, Philosophy, Poetry, and Jurisprudence. A traditional personification of these 4 spheres was depicted on the ceiling. At each fresco, the most outstanding representatives of the corresponding sphere were embodied. They have been vividly speaking, and their conversation symbolized ideal intellectual freedom.
Ever since Giotto abandoned medieval hieratic art in favor of depicting nature, his successors from the quattrocento managed to find more and more ways to improve their portrayal of the real world. Techniques involving linear perspective and vanishing points, foreshortening, illusionistic devices, chiaroscuro and ‘sfumato’ shading – all these methods were mastered during the High Renaissance. During the Cinquecento, the near universal adoption of oil painting eliminated the matt colors of the 15th century and made it possible for distance to be conveyed solely through the gradation of tones – a process known as aerial or atmospheric perspective.
The founder of a new stage of art the development was Leonardo da Vinci, the most phenomenal figure in the history of world culture. He personalized an ideal human of Renaissance. He realized himself as a sculptor, painter, and musician, left a great number of records about art that after his death were published with the title of ‘Book of Art.’ He was into anatomy, zoology, geography, mechanics, and mathematics. A plenty of his ideas advanced in a century, for instance, the invention of the parachute, helicopter and tank, construction of hoisting crane, screw-jack, and roller-bearing. However, Da Vinci’s sculptors were not preserved till our days, and his architectural projects were not embodied.
All of that could be explained by a unique approach of the inventor, who was interested in the very process of training and knowledge more than in final result. His most famous paintings are Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. The last one is the most reproduced religious scene of all times. His sketch of Vitruvian Man in pen and ink was considered to be a canon of proportions and depicted a correlation of human proportions. Among his significant paintings are Virgin and Child with St. Anne with its theme of figures in a landscape, the Virgin of the Rocks- a large complex altarpiece and demonstrated the graceful figures kneel in adoration around the infant Christ in a wild landscape of tumbling rock and whirling water. Leonardo painted The Battle of Anghiara fresco as well for the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
The Last Supper was a true masterpiece and the most major Da Vinci’s work of his Milan period and the most important work of his maturity. Leonardo depicted the most dramatic moment- Christ’s announcement of betrayal. The human characters and temperaments were demonstrated through apostles, and thus all of them reacted to Christ’s words differently. The Christ character was a spacious center of a composition, as a dot with all perspective lines is above his head. Gloom –and-doom Judah did not take part in a conversation, and moreover he turned his back from Christ, having a wallet with money.
Leonardo’s experiments with different fresco’s techniques caused a short life of work but gave it a spirit of mystery.
Even so, despite the growing realism being achieved in their art, High Renaissance artists aspired to beauty and harmony more than realism. Their paintings may have been based on nature, but they had no interest in mere replication. Instead, they looked for ultimate truth in a study of the classical world of Greek and Roman culture. It was this that provided artists with an ideal of perfection: their aesthetics.
Thus, Greek philosophy provided the secret of the perfect human type with its proportions, muscular structure, oval face, triangular forehead, straight nose, and balance – with the weight on one hip – all of which can be seen in the paintings of Raphael and the immensely expressive sculpture of Michelangelo. The latter in particular was never afraid to bend the realistic rules of anatomy and proportion, in order to increase his power of expression.
It was through Classical Greek philosophy that Renaissance theorists and artists developed their idea of ‘Humanism.’ Humanism was a way of thinking which attached more importance to Man and less to God. It imbued Renaissance art with its unique pattern, as exemplified in works like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (a non-religious painting), Michelangelo’s David – a more human than religious statue – and Raphael’s cool secular fresco School of Athens. Even when High Renaissance artists painted religious paintings, or sculpted a religious scene, very often, they were not glorifying God but Man. They were exalting the ideals of classical aesthetics. Paradoxically, a few mythological works – such as Jupiter and Io (1533) by Correggio – do the opposite: they don’t glorify men but Gods!
In the 15th century, the North Europe countries occupied the political landscape of Europe. Almost all first-half of 16th century Italy was a European battlefield. France, Spain and Holy Roman Empire struggled for its lands. In 1527 Rome was robbed by troops of Emperor Karl VI. All the political convulsions, demolitions, and general turmoil could not leave the art with no traces. Harmony and smoothness were replaced by complication and asymmetry. Attitude to antiquity was changed as well. The painters gave up the straight lines of Renaissance, inspiring by only technical freedom and professionalism.
A composition and poses of figures became more complicated. Anxiety, gloominess, a great number of curved lines in their style depicted an unrest of the period. Some painters like Correggio used illusive painting for the achievement of dramatic effect. In his Assumption of the Virgin fresco, which decorated the dome of the Cathedral of Parma, he used the ‘bottom-up’ perspective in order to increase the dramatics in a traditional theme.
Modern art history offers a term ‘mannerism’ in order to find some common features of different styles
in the 16th century. However, this term is not insightful as it is hard to determine some historical periods or events of previous epochs. The only thing we know for sure is that changes in European art of 16 century were a recall of political and social turmoil.
Mainly, the term ‘mannerism’ related to the style I architecture, sculpture, and painting after 1520.This style predominated in Europe during the 16th century and up to the beginning of the Baroque period (the 1590s).
The term is commonly used for Italian art of that period. Mannerism was not just the congeneric phenomenon and combined different means and sophisticated personalities. Mannerism as a term was established in 17 century and outlined an art that replaced a classical pureness of High Renaissance. That art seemed to be apart from classics and was amenable to cold stylization. However, a definition ‘mannerism’ was not always used directly. For Vasari, who worked in the middle of 16 century, individual manner or style was the most important feature of new art which differed it from Middle Ages epoch. ‘Nature’ and ‘art’ in mannerism represented rather different as in Renaissance system-inharmonic and unbalanced. Nature was considered to be an art piece of God, and an artist of mannerism was related to that and would willing to change the forms with contents and transform them into art pieces in order to increase their influence on the audience. Italians even offered a new term form mannerism works-‘rough beauties’.
Those instructions were directed to mannerism environment. Attitude to first generation mannerists works varied from recognition and respect to suspiciousness, censor and total control through the range of interdictions (the Council of Trent). The process of creativity for mannerist was a conflict with nature and deformation which were the pre-condition for radical individualism. The success of the Reformation, appearance of Protestantism provoked the church for real repressions, aggression, and total power control.
Among the most recognizable Mannerist Artists were:
Michelangelo noted for his Sistine Chapel frescoes, for instance, The Last Judgement (1536-41);
Correggio who made his mark in illusive paintings and who was the first to portray light radiating from the child Christ;
Andrea del Sarto’s two pupils Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino);
Parmigianino (1503-40) the outstanding master draftsman and portraitist from Parma;
Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72), noted for his allegorical masterpiece known as An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1540-50);
Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) a second generation painter but fine writer of works like Lives of the Artists (1550), as well as an architect who designed the Uffizi art gallery in Florence;
the Venetian Jacopo Bassano (1515-92), Tintoretto (1518-94) one of the great prolific composer of large religious paintings executed in the grand manner verging on the Baroque – see for instance The Crucifixion (1565);
Federico Barocci (1526-1612) the pious religious painter active in Urbino and central Italy;
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-93) known for his fruit and vegetable portraits;
Paolo Veronese (1528-88) the Venetian colourist;
Domenikos Theotocopoulos, known as El Greco (1541-1614) the Venice-trained Greek artist who worked in Spain, known for his highly individualistic style of art reflecting his vision of Christianity;
Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), also from Bologna, honored for his historical Farnese Gallery frescoes (1597-1608); and Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610), whose exquisite landscapes and nocturnal scenes – poised between tenebrism and chiaroscuro – influenced the likes of Claude Lorrain, Rubens, and Rembrandt.
For developments in Venice, see Venetian Altarpieces (1500-1600) and Venetian Portrait Painting (1400-1600).
Renaissance period was an indispensable link between medieval society and well-educated, thhe humanistic culture which was developed during the establishment of Renaissance in West Europe. All the events, connected to broad-minded society of late 15 and 16 centuries, brought about great changes in different branches. Renaissance period had a strong impact on the creation of music and rise of musical genres. Apart from an onset of new ideas and concepts, the Renaissance epoch aroused a spiritual mood of the people and thus, provoked other movements to spread out, for instance, the Reformation in Europe. The major thing about Renaissance as a harbinger is the widespread culture rise and that, in turn, facilitated a significant invention –book printing. On average European culture from late 13 century passed unusual and complex stages of the development. In the very end of 16 century the basis for the establishment the national cultures what is corresponded to modern time.