Ancient art and architecture are not only for historians but for people like us who’ve always been interested in periodic art and crafts.
Renaissance art began to emerge in Italy in the 13th century (1400 - 1600) as a distinct style of artworks that were created at a period of European history known as the Renaissance Period.
During the middle ages, Italy's wealth was largely derived from trade with the Far East, and one of the objects of high trade were works of art. As the elite and political leaders competed fiercely in expressing their tastes, grandeur, and power, numerous opportunities evolved for the local artists and this was reflected in their works.
Artists were usually attached to courts and loyal to specific towns and often wandered through the cities of Italy disseminating both artistic and philosophical ideas. Even the church employed them to paint works that explained its doctrine, views, and history to its people.
Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319) was the first of the Italian painters to enlarge biblical manuscript sketches and illustrations used as hanging wall decorations. He was hired throughout his life to complete many important works in both government and religious buildings around Italy.
Simone Martini (1284 – 1344) like Duccio, painted in a style similar to that of the Byzantine mosaic works and Gothic illuminated manuscripts. It is suspected (but not proven) that Simone Martini and Duccio di Buoninsegna were both tutored by Byzantine artists who visited Florence around the year 1260.
Many localities developed their own group of artists and had their own minor schools of painting while the major centres were mostly sited in Venice and Florence.
The Renaissance Periods
There were two periods during the renaissance era, namely the:
- Early Renaissance
- High Renaissance.
While the Early Renaissance period (1400 - 1490) witnessed new discoveries in the techniques of painting, like foreshortening, perspectives, foreshortening, subject-matter, and new ways of using traditional subject matters, the High Renaissance period (1490 - 1530) developed and built upon the earlier discoveries, fine-tuned them, and introduced more subtle techniques of painting them.
This includes all forms of decorative arts, painting, and sculpturing.
The renaissance artists style of art reached its peak between the late 13th-century and early 14th-century with famous Italian master artists like Michelangelo, Raphael Sanzio, Giotto di Bondone and Leonardo Da Vinci whose paintings and sculpture themes ran parallel with the developments that occurred in philosophy, literature, music, and science.
Early Renaissance Period
The early Renaissance which spanned a period between 1400 and 1490 emerged in Florence during the first decade of the 15th century eventually spread throughout Italy but remained centred on Florence and largely patronized by the Medici family.
Early Renaissance artists attempted to achieve greater realism in all their artworks in contrast to the flat, stiff images painted by Byzantine artists. Postures in portraitures became more realistic, faces more life-like, while figures began to express real emotion.
And they tried, with much effort, to create realistic-depth in their paintings, using scientific perspective. Although Giotto made developments in perspective, it wasn't until the arrival of the architects Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti that the technique became formalized as a creative method. The technique soon became a major obsession for many Renaissance painters.
Subjects of the early renaissance artworks portrayed flat symbolic figures painted in bright colours on gold backgrounds while placing more emphasis on the expression of "religious sentiments", than any other subject.
Some famous Early Renaissance artists include:
- Tommaso Masaccio, the first Renaissance painter to understand and use linear perspective.
- Paolo Uccello, whose works combines International Gothic decoration with the more scientific Renaissance idiom.
- Piero Della Francesca an early Renaissance artist who had a passionate interest in mathematics which he used to construct geometrically exact and strictly proportioned spaces.
- Fra Filippo Lippi, best known for his frescoes in Prato and Spoleto cathedrals
- Domenico Ghirlandaio, an outstanding fresco painter and famous portraitist in Florence towards the end of the Early Renaissance period.
- Antonello da Messina, a Sicilian portraitist who learned the methods of Jan Van Eyck’s oil painting and introduced it to the Venetian Renaissance.
By the end of the century, the movement reached its high point notably in the works of Raphael, Titan, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
High Renaissance Period
The High Renaissance spanned a period the four decades from 1490 to roughly 1527 and represents the peak of Renaissance art. By this time, the ideals of classical humanism (when the style of Renaissance art became more emotional and dramatic) were fully implemented in both sculpture and painting. Renaissance artists by now had become skilled at utilizing painting techniques of shading, linear perspective, and other methods of realism.
The High Renaissance, unlike the early Resistance period, was centred around Rome and paid for by the Pontiffs and not the Medici family as it was before.
Six of the most notable artists of the High Renaissance in Rome include:
- Leonardo da Vinci, a master of oil painting and sfumato (the technique of oil painting in which colours are blended in a subtle manner without visible transitions, lines or edges).
- Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor and fresco painter of the Renaissance era.
- Raphael, known as the finest artist of the High Renaissance period.
- Correggio, a painter who was famous for his illusionistic art.
- Donato Bramante who was the leading architect of the High Renaissance.
- Luca Signorelli, a provincial painter whose murals and frescoes are believed to have been an important influence on Michelangelo.
The High Renaissance unfolded against a backdrop of mounting religious and political tension, which affected painters and sculptors, as well as patrons of the arts throughout Italy. After 1527, it was superseded by the more dramatic style of Mannerism.
Famous Italian Renaissance Artists
Some of the famous Renaissance artists include:
- Raffaello Sanzio (1483 – 1525)
- Giotto di Bondone (1266 – 1337)
- Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
- Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564)
- Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (1386-1466)
Raffaello Sanzio (1483 – 1525)
Raffaello Sanzio was a famous Italian Renaissance painter known to most people as Raphael. Known to be highly prolific, he was a painter, a mural decorator, a designer of tapestries, an architect, and an artist of easel pictures. In his youth, he started off as a minor artist who worked as a Majolica pottery painter and 'ornamenter'.
Though he possessed unique capabilities of imagination coupled with a high intellect, many of his paintings seemingly lacked virility and appeared ‘cold’.
His career which eventually made him famous can be said to fall within three clearly distinguishable phases.
- His early years in 15th century Umbria
- His learning of the artistic traditions of Florence in the very early 16th century which lasted from 1504 to 1508
- The last twelve years which he spent in Rome, was a period of prolific creations of his works and triumphant times of fame and popularity. It was at this time that he had the golden opportunity of working for two Popes and their close acquaintances.
Raphael, who died young in 1520 at the age of thirty-seven, was a master of composition who borrowed ideas from a number of painters.