Think about it, my dear friends, if you could time travel to a different era or century and visit the past with your own eyes, where would you go? Well, if you are an art keeper and lover, you would stop over in the time when Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo composed the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, or Raphael was working on legendary and famous Madonnas. Though the time frames of all the events are different, the period they all belonged to is the same, i.e, Renaissance. It was the time of the 14th and 16th centuries in Europe that belonged to some of the finest and greatest styles in painting, sculpture and architecture. Hence, it is never enough to read and research about them. Renaissance is an enormous period, and so is its art. Therefore, you will have to sit longer and comfortably set your back for this epic read. I promise we will go slow so that you understand all the concepts of Renaissance art, and I will even try to give you the glossary of a few confusing words from the art dictionary. Get ready for the super ride to time travel with the internet!
What Is the Renaissance Period?
Often called the ‘rebirth‘, Renaissance derives from the French and Italian words Renaissance and Rinascità. I will give you a rough idea of the history of the particular period before we move ahead. The period coincided with the emergence of commercial activities in the cities and the transformation of feudal societies into market economies. In brief, it was a changing period for people, the economy, art, and architecture. However, in the mid-century, this trend became slower as the dark period of Europe or the devastating Black Death approached, which formed a new urban aristocracy where the merchants and banking power were tied to the princes and popes of the era. Perhaps you are wondering why we are talking about it, but it is because the event dominated politics and culture during the 15th and 16th centuries. Additionally, one more component that affected the Renaissance art period was philosophy focused on human values and individual abilities.
You can also think of it as a way of getting back to the man influencing visual art. There was a certain kind of self-confidence and individualism in the period that further made it a great age of exploration. With traces from the past in hand, let me briefly conclude that Renaissance was the period of revival for literature, rhetoric, art, sculpture, and architecture.
Let us move on further to know it completely.
History of Renaissance Art Period.
The history of any period is crucial to understand the motive and effects, and this is the sole reason; why I cover it every time I write an article. In the previous section, I told you about the societal and industrial changes in the cities that caused further alteration in the structure of society. And everyone knows that the economy of any place shapes the craftsmanship and fashion of the same. But indeed, you must raise the question of the beginning. How does it start? We are discussing the arrival of Renaissance art in this section. So, let us dive into the sea of information.
According to historians, Renaissance art did not come out of nowhere in a miraculous rebirth of ideas and talent. Still, many of its elements were experimented with starting in the 14th century CE. If we look back to the book, The Arts Reborn by Giorgio Vasari, a great biographer of Renaissance artists, he praised an artist, Giotto Di Bondone, an early 14th-century Florentine painter. The artist painted extraordinary compositions instead of using the out worldly manner of the Byzantine style, and surprisingly everybody knew that it was a revolutionary style. Now you might think about the Byzantine style. Let me tell it briefly. It was composed of flat, compartmentalized figures with bright colours derived from close observation of the real world.
Furthermore, other Renaissance artists used their observatory skills and began to study the human body so that they could form similar figures in their artworks. They started infusing human figures in religious backgrounds, landscapes, and known places. In contrast to traditional formations of images based on the naked eye, this was a time of close calculations and observations. It further formed the greatest invention of all time, the one-point perspective. The artists tried to give an illusion of depth in their artwork though they knew nothing about the mathematical parts of small objects kept at a distance. It was only in 1435 that Leon Battista Alberti formed a painting, giving the linear perspective, which is one of the crucial components of the Renaissance period.
Further, Alberti’s theory contributed eminently to the development of realism in Renaissance art. Well, there is a whole lesson which we can not learn without a book. In reference to The Art Bulletin by Edward Zurko, I would like to give you a brief overview. There is no way we are skipping anything.
The principle of Alberti’s theory of form and function is that architecture should be,
“of the greatest convenience to Mankind in all respects.” ,
“Beauty is a harmony of all parts… fitted together with such proportion and connection that nothing could be added, altered or diminished, but for the worst.”
Since you are more knowledgeable about Renaissance history than anyone in your group, unless you are with art historians, let us move on to our following two sections, which are ideas and concepts used during the Renaissance.
Learning about Humanism.
Do not let yourself confuse it with anything since it simply means to depict humans in an emotional way to showcase that civilization is devoted to the honour and dignity of a man. According to Humanism, man is the centre of the universe. In its view, man has the inherent capacity to be creative.
Now it is crucial to learn about the effects of its use in the Renaissance art period. Briefly, its pillars were,
- Instead of using a symbolic figure, there is the emergence of an individual figure.
- There was consequent attention to detail as it developed the linear perspective. There was increasing realism to human faces and bodies.
Let us learn about another crucial thought from the Renaissance period.
The Revival Of Classical Antiquity is not an adaption of some motif or style but an implementation of new thought and ideas.
Initially, Petrarch, a fourteenth-century poet, and scholar, began to read classic older manuscripts from Latin. Similarly, many artists fled to read more from manuscripts, which rediscovered the works of Vitruvius.
Sculptors learned about the systematic study of Greek and Roman art, inspiring them to form rigid and well-proportionate figures, whereas the imagination of painters rose increasingly.
Congratulations Legend! We have completed the first section of the article, which was dominant and crucial. Moving forward, we will learn briefly about the prime periods of Renaissance art.
Decoding the Chronology of the Renaissance Art Period.
To understand Renaissance art in detail, we have to ladder through centuries, learning the different styles of composition. I assure you will find a fun and compelling read along with intellect and correct information as I have read books for you, which I will attach below for further reading.
Before we finally proceed to the different Renaissance time periods, there is one more crucial aspect you can not miss. The 1300s were called the Trecento period, derived from the Italian word 300. Similarly, the 1400s is Quattrocento, 1500s is Cinquencento. Each Renaissance art phase had many artists, but few of these pioneered the century with a particular art medium and technique, leaving their golden names in its history. If you feel too much about these periods, you can learn about the famous renaissance artists from each time for a good amount of knowledge.
Let us get going!
The Proto-Renaissance Period (1300-1400).
What Is the Proto-Renaissance Period?
The entire timeframe of 1200-1400 includes the Italo-Byzantine period, centred on artistic developments majorly in Italy. When we speak about the Proto-Renaissance, it refers to the precursor or the foundation of the leading Renaissance period. There were activities of masterminds like Giotto (1267-1337), who formed figurative realism, which further developed thoroughly in Renaissance art. However, this period still remarks the Christian Byzantine art or Gothic art, which influenced the murals of Romanesque painting.
Characteristic of Art.
It included fresco mural painting, tempera panel painting, book illuminations, relief sculpture, and goldsmithing.
Fresco is a predominant technique of painting used to decorate the walls and ceilings of public properties, churches and museums. The wall or ceiling is coated firstly with a layer of coarse lime plaster, and after drying, artists directly drew paintings through red earth pigment. You can see the work from the following artwork.
In Panel paintings, first, several coats of a seasonal plank with a size (glue made from animal skin) are done. Then, a piece of linen soaked in size was laid on the panel to protect against surface flaws. Furthermore, coats of gesso (Gypsum) were directly applied, and the drawings or paintings were finally drawn. You can see this work in the below pictures.
Famous Artists from the Proto-Renaissance Period.
Cimabeau, a Florentine illustrator, is one of the first artists who moved away from the Italy-Byzantine style with a sense of naturalism through his Madonna Enthroned with Angels and Prophets. Though it had many similarities with the Byzantine style of art, he developed a new sense of three-dimensional bodies sitting in a naturalistic way. He introduced the early attempts to create depth and perspective. The Santa Croxe Crucifixion depicts a lifelike and realistic Christ figure with a cross.
2. Duccio di Buoninsegna.
Duccio di Buoninsegna developed naturalism during the Proto-Renaissance period while working in the state of Siena. One of his works that marks the beginning of the technique is Virgin and Child Enthroned With Siants, a central panel of his Maestà Altarpiece. He used careful modelling of human bodies which protruded beneath their garments. He further created a real sense of architecture and traditional postures of figures instead of graceful individual poses.
3. Giotto di Bondone.
He is called the father of the Renaissance who painted in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi. He pioneered the illusionistic technique, which was a crucial innovation for Renaissance art. He used to fill a pictorial space with realistic human bodies with rounded forms compared to the flat figures of Byzantine art. Some of his crucial works include Ognissanti Madonna (c. 1300 to 1306) and The Betrayal of Christ (Kiss of Judas) (1305).
The Early Renaissance Period (1400-1490).
What Is the Early Renaissance Period?
The Early Renaissance period denotes the arrival of realism while depicting human form and space and rejecting old styles of Byzantine painting. Previously, we studied the efforts of Cimabue and Giotto in the earlier period. Following their work, during this era, there was a greater extent to portray realism in art, which can be seen in a few compositions of artists such as Andrea Mantegna and Paolo Uccello.
What made them distinct? They created one point perspective and developed the subject matter in their art styles. Furthermore, religion was crucially involved in their paintings, where the subject belonged to mythological series. There were scenes from Greek and Roman stories, Biblical series, etc.
Humanism and Early Renaissance Art .
Humanism was the primary theme at the time of the Renaissance art period. Hence, it becomes crucial to understand the intellectual movement. You do not have to bury deep instead, you can keep little things in your mind. Firstly, it developed in response to the medieval scholastic movements and initiated by writers, scholars and civic leaders. About medieval scholarly movements, you must know that they emphasized practical and scientific studies alone.
An Italian scholar and poet, Francesco Petrarca, founded the movement. You can think of it this way it often centred the human potential.
Moreover, it affected the artistic community, and patronage of arts became a crucial activity. It was the reason why the early Renaissance art and the later depictions displayed humanism theory.
Famous Artists of the Early Renaissance.
1. Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Heading back to the Florence baptistery in 1403, a competition gave the earliest recognization to the Renaissance sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti. His famous work consisted of bronze doors with 28 panels, showing the life of Christ, the four evangelists, and the Church Fathers Saints Ambrose, Jeromy, Gregory and Augustine.
Donatello is an influential sculptor from Florence, best known for his significant 15th-century sculptural developments in perspective illusion. He first received artistic training in a goldsmith workshop and then in Ghiberti studio. Further, he moved to Rome, where he learnt about the excavations of Roman architecture and sculpture. He was best known for his work in bas, low or shallow relief. His famous work includes David for Cosimo’s court in the Palazzo Medici. It
3. Masaccio (1377 – 1446).
Masaccio (1401–1428), the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance, is widely credited with pioneering these techniques in 15th-century Florence. His full name sounds like Tommaso di Ser Viovanni di Mone Cassai. He is best known for his frescoes in Brancacci Chapel, deeply influenced by Giotto innovations in form and naturalism and Brunelleschi’s use of perspective. To create even more convincingly lifelike paintings than his predecessor, Masaccio used linear and atmospheric perspective as well as directional light and chiaroscuro (the use of contrast between light and dark to convey depth in a two-dimensional form).
Legends, you just smashed one more section of the read on Renaissance art period. I hope you are enjoying it. Though I do my best not to fire tons of indigestible information bullets at you, if you feel it anywhere, please do not stop. Read instead!
The High Renaissance Period (1490-1530).
What Is the High Renaissance Period?
Centred in Rome, it lasted from about 1527 precisely. When I discuss the painters during the period, I must say that they were influenced by classical art, and their works were harmonious. Unlike Early Renaissance artists who were biased towards perspective, High Renaissance artists sacrificed technical aspects for a beautiful painting. Another noteworthy point was that they used oil paints to fill the softness and manipulate the beauty instead of frescos.
Famous Artists of the High Renaissance.
In the world of art, the High Renaissance artists are famous. There is no more to remember but no less to study. Let us get started.
1. Leonardo da Vinci.
If you are familiar with my articles, you might know the Last Supper Analysis, but if you did not, you could still read it here. Leonardo Da Vinci was the legendary polymath, painter, sculptor, designer, engineer, sketcher, scientist, and inventor.
Born in the Tuscan town of Vinci, the Italian Renaissance art maker was an apprentice to Verrocchio. He was known for his mathematical analysis and outstanding masterpieces. Looking back in his museum, you will find fascinating artworks like The Last Supper, Mona Lisa, and The Vitruvian Man.
His Madonna of the Rocks shows a skillful glaze of oil paint and an outstanding manipulation of light.
Though his most commemorative artwork of the 1490s is The Last Supper, painted in the Convent of Santa Maria Della Grazie in Milan. The story behind this artwork was about Jesus having his last supper with the twelve Apostles. Following it, the artist completely reinvented the subject, and his work demonstrates high quality.
In the Last Supper painting, you see that Judas are on the same side of the table, instead of the opposite side as supposed. It shows the reaction of Christ and the Apostles, since Jesus announces that one of them will betray them. Da Vinci has perfectly infused psychology into the work by depicting an alarming and upsetting situation.
Due to the painting technique, Da Vinci had chosen, this Renaissance art masterpiece began to deteriorate almost immediately after he completed it. To bring the subtle effects of oil paint to fresco, da Vinci used tempera over gesso instead of the fresco technique. Despite his best efforts, his new practice did not work, and the surface flaked and grew mould.
One of my favorite paintings, the Mona Lisa, is a notable artwork from history. It is a portrait of the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. One of the reasons for its fame is the mysterious and elusive smile on the lady’s face. You will notice that the artist shadowed the corners of her mouth and eyes so that nobody predicts her smile. There is an application of subtle layers of translucent paint, a shadowy quality of work called sfumato in this artwork. There is a dramatic landscape background where the world seems to be in flux, use of subdued colouring and extremely smooth painting application. It is not just an artwork of a woman in a modest manner but something that follows a viewer with her eyes.
Raphael was a High Renaissance artist and architect (1483-1520). Among his works are those praised for their clarity and simplicity and for achieving the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur through their visual beauty. The trio of great masters of that period includes Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. When he died at 30, he left behind a large body of work that remains among the most famous Renaissance era. He gave a more dynamic and complex position to the human figures in his paintings.
According to historians, he first planned a composition by laying numerous stock drawings on the floor and picking them up while drawing. There are 40 of his sketches known to the world.
His Madonna and Child evidenced different sketches he drew with perfect symmetry and a higher degree of finish of the figures, but lacked energy compared to Da Vinci and Michelangelo’s sketches.
Michelangelo is a famous sculptor and painter of the High Renaissance period who believed that sculptures must be the purest and highest form of art. He painted the ceiling of Sistine ceiling in the Vatican, where his Creation of Adam was famous. His famous sculptures included- David, Pieta, and Bacchus.
The classical antiquity of the subject matter, perfect marble finish, and drapery to the figures are noteworthy points in his sculptures.
The Northern Renaissance (1430-1580)
What Is the Northern Renaissance?
When the Italian Renaissance was at its peak, in Northern countries like Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Poland and England, there was a separate art movement called the Northern Renaissance. It included the adoption of classical antiquity and humanist values during this era and the formal rebirth of the previous Italian Renaissance period.
Furthermore, it had the influence of the High Gothic with its complex typologies and the artists rendered religious and secular art.
Characteristics of Northern Renaissance Art.
Comparative to the Italian Renaissance art period, artists from Northern Renaissance were great with observation and technique instead of more concerned with linear perspective, form and proportion. In the early 16th century, religious themes were dominant, but ultimately landscapes and portraiture became more notable. Northern Renaissance art makers used oil paint for painting and wood for sculptures.
Famous Artists of the Northern Renaissance.
1. Robert Campin.
Robert Campin is one of the earliest and most influential masters of Flemish painting. His artworks have a naturalistic conception of form and a poetic representation of objects of daily life. Campin was a painter working for middle-class patrons who portrayed passionate religious feelings and emotions throughout his art.
The Merode Altarpiece is one of his finest works, where he showed three panels show; the donor and his wife on the left panel, The Annunciation in the middle panel and St. Joseph on the right.
In the portraits of Campin, we see his ability to capture the emotions and expressions of the subject, just like a candid picture of this period.
2. Jan van Eyck.
Jan van Eyck is one of the most famous painters family, originating from Maaseik, the diocese of Liege. He painted a masterpiece with his brother Hubert named Ghent Altarpiece of the Adoration of by Lamb at St Bavo’s Cathedral. Though there is an impressive list of dated works of him, we know the least about his life.
His prominent work Crucifixion there is of extraordinary artistic prestige. The landscape portrays a rocky and cracked earth with an endless formation of clouds and details on the blue horizon. He thus brilliantly manipulated the ability to influence the oil medium.
In the Virgin of Canon van der pale, he showed a glinting gold thread of brocaded cope of Saint Donatian with a glow of orbital pearls. His ability to construct unified and logical pictorial works with unusual energy in his masterpieces is noteworthy.
3. Albrecht Dürer.
Dürer is a supremely exceptional German artist of the Renaissance art period. He was born in the Franconian city of Nuremberg.
A fantastic painter, draftsman, and writer, he contributed enormously to the revolution of printmaking by making it into an independent art form. He provided a new conceptual foundation by expanding tonal and dramatic range in his compositions. The Apocalypse, Large Woodcut Passion Cycle, and Life of the Virgin are the earliest famous series of woodcuts by artists on religious subjects.
Besides art, he knew geometry and mathematics, which led him to use perspective, relations of proportion, and moderation in harmony. It made him a crucial intermediary between southern and northern Renaissance art styles.
The Netherlandish Renaissance (1430-1580).
What Is the Netherlandish Renaissance?
The Netherlandish Renaissance art period is about the rapid fine art development in the areas of Flanders and Holland in the 15th to 16th Centuries. Unlike the Italy Renaissance, the artists of this period did not focus too much on perspective and classical antiquity, instead, they were more concerned about mastering oil painting and portraying what they saw.
It is also noteworthy that Christian art was the key theme in their artworks, unlike the Italians. However, the divide between Dutch and Flemish Catholics caused considerable differences in their art.
Artists of the Netherlandish Renaissance.
Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck remained the stars among the painters. The other eminent artists were Roger Van Weyden, Hubert, and Simon Marmion.
A few other Netherlandish meticulous artists were: Gerrit David (1460-1523) of Bruges and Antwerp, Jan Provost (1465-1529) noted for his altarpieces, Quentin Massys (1465-1530), and the Antwerp-based Joos van Cleve (1490-1540), known for his devotional altarpieces and portraiture.
The German Renaissance (1430-1580).
What Is the German Renaissance?
Geographically, due to the Alps mountains, there was less interchange of culture and information of modern ideas of Italy and Germany. So when the Early Renaissance and High Renaissance had already flooded the Italian culture with classical antiquity and humanism principles, German art portrayed the stylistic forms of Gothic Art and International Gothic. At the beginning of the 16th century, they freed themselves from outdated art methods and evolved a distinctive form of Renaissance art.
There was particularly wood carving, printmaking, altarpieces, secular art and devotional paintings in the German Renaissance period.
Artists of the German Renaissance.
Albrecht Dürer was a supreme artist of German Renaissance art, whom we have already studied in the previous section.
Other artists from the same are- Matthias Grunewald, Hans Holbein the Younger and Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Now that we have finally learnt the Chronology of the Renaissance let us move on to the quick characteristics of the art form.
What Are the Attributes of Renaissance Art?
By now, you already understand the characteristics of Renaissance art, but we will still give a pin-point list to cover them again in the most concise way.
- It is known for his master allegory techniques which allow hidden meanings in the artworks. For example, Mona Lisa had a mysterious reason.
- There is invoking of emotions and sentiments through rich compositions in Renaissance art.
- The use of linear perspective and proportion is also worth remembering.
- Classical Humanism dominates Renaissance art.
- There is substantial use of monumentality and dramatic view of posing.
- Lastly, there is classical antiquity in each of the traditional Renaissance art.
Importance of Renaissance Art.
Renaissance art not only influenced modern culture but also incorporated progression in art, society, and freedom of expression.
The Renaissance works incorporate a calmer beauty with an emotional aspect for the viewer. The philosophy from literature to art to science evolved society in different ways. The use of realism and dynamic poses further related the religion and evolved the society spiritually.
The use of symbolism in indirect ways to communicate with the viewer is usual in Renaissance art. For example, canines depict obedience, water indicates existence, and the skull shows demise. Additionally, the mixing of culture and rebirth of primitive art showcases the Renaissance era.
It has such vast importance that even painting furniture and oil paintings are derived from the Italian Renaissance.
Art was at its peak during the Renaissance period. Today when we incorporate realistic elements of art, it is because of Renaissance art. Sculptors and painters were free to portray their beliefs through their compositions. You might know that the human body was a primary subject here, which allowed us to further practice with 3D forms, linear perspective and the creation of depth in compositions.
Renaissance art style is not just an art style but a pure spirit to live.
1. The Inquiring Eye: European Renaissance Art – Part One.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Renaissance originated in Florence, Italy and one of the first artists who experimented with this style was a 14th-century Florentine painter, Giotto Di Bondone. According to The Arts Reborn, the artist converted flat figures of Byzantine styles to curved forms and hence introduced the crucial illusionist technique.
The official timeline of Renaissance art is 14th to 17th century; however, the Proto-Renaissance, which serves as the basis of the art movement existed between the 1200s and 1400s and is crucial to develop realism, later found as a key fragment of Renaissance.
Humanism is most crucial in Renaissance art. It is a style that depicts Humans in an emotional way and uses linear perspective to produce details.
The question is quite technical to be answered and may deviate from personal preferences, but one of the artists who have some of the finest artworks of the time is Raphael.
Giotto Di Bondone, Donatello and Leonardo da Vinci.