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Renaissance Art in England

Ancient art and architecture are not only for historians but for people like us who’ve always been interested in periodic art and crafts.

What is Renaissance art?

  • It is the revival of the classics – art, literature, and architecture inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome.
  • It was the rebirth of a cultural art movement that spanned 14th to 17th century Europe with its beginnings in Italy towards the end of the middle ages.
  • It marked the transition from medieval times to the modern era which later spread to most of Continental Europe and England.
  • Renaissance art was influenced by an increased awareness of nature and a more liberated view of man.
Renaissance Architectural Style in England

Renaissance Architectural Style in England

English Renaissance

In England, the Renaissance, which started in the late 1400s (15th-century) to the early 1600s (17th-century), is associated with the pan-European Renaissance which began in Italy in the late 1300s (14th century) and according to art history is divided into three periods - Early Renaissance, Middle Renaissance and the Late Renaissance, with each of these periods being subdivided into four distinct eras.

Italian Renaissance

In Italy, the Renaissance which occurred between the 14th and 17 centuries had a profound impact on Italian art.

The period between the early to late 1400s denotes the Early Italian Renaissance and was a time when artists like Botticelli and Fra Angelico began to experiment with the art of realism.

Between the late 1490s and to the early 1500s, famous Italian artists like Michelangelo (an Italian sculptor, painter, and architect), and Leonardo Da Vinci (an inventor, painter, sculptor, and a student of all things scientific) produced particularly celebrated works of art. This period of the Renaissance is often referred to as the “High Renaissance Era".

As the elite and wealthy Italians began to invest in the arts through funding, an increased interest in art evolved and this lasted for several centuries.

The Renaissance had a profound influence on Italian painting, sculpture, and architecture.


How the Italian and English Renaissance Differ

The English Renaissance is unlike the Italian Renaissance in a number of ways. While the dominant art forms of the Italian Renaissance were paintings, sculptures, and architecture, the English Renaissance main emphasis was on music, poetry, and literature. The visual arts in the English Renaissance were of far less import than the arts of the Italian Renaissance.

Even though the English placed less prominence on paintings and sculpting like the Italians, the Renaissance took its form in England with its cabinetry works, furniture making, and wide-ranging ornamentations. And there was the main emphasis on woodworks and carpentry.

For instance, there were different woods for each era with each era’s wood being the ones locally sourced and used for the styling and production of wood furniture, cabinetry and ornaments that distinguished one from the others.

  • Oak age (1500 to 1680)
  • Age of Walnut (1680 to 1710)
  • Age of Mahogany (1710 to 1770)
  • Age of Satinwood (1770 to 1820)

Early Renaissance in England

Early Renaissance in England is synonymous with was the Age of Oak. The era lasted over a century and is sub-divided as follows:

  • Tudor era - 1500 to 1558
  • Elizabethan era - 1558 to 1603
  • Jacobean era - 1603 to 1649
  • Cromwellian era - 1649 to 1660

Tudor Era - This period was during the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queen Mary. At this time, Gothic Art and Architectural forms still dominated the decorative arts scene but were soon to be faded out. Soon, there evolved a gradual introduction and adoption of Italian Renaissance forms.

Elizabethan Era – By this era, there began a faster transition. Renaissance art was gaining popularity and its art features were introduced widely.

Jacobean Era - By now, Gothic features were moving into oblivion and there began a noticeable Flemish influence. Renaissance forms are now freely used and expressed in the decorative arts. Strapwork carving (carved wooden arabesques and rinceau patterns) and ornamentation became popular features of art and décor.

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Cromwellian Era - The Cromwellian era was a period of many religious wars and strife. The arts became unimportant and it was a period of industrial stagnation.

The Middle Renaissance

The Middle Renaissance period was subdivided into:

  • Restoration period - 1660 to 1689
  • William and Mary - 1689 to 1702
  • Queen Anne era - 1702 to 1714
  • Early Georgian period - 1714 to 1750

Restoration Period - This era is also referred to as the Stuart or Carolean era. There was a lot of French Baroque sway and the decorative arts depicted 'formalism' in their design characteristics. Rooms were expansively panelled and interior spaces were furnished with ornately carved furnishings covered in rich lavish textiles.

William and Mary Era - The interior décor of this period was the same as in the previous Restoration era but there were changes in the furniture designs and styles. This was the Age of Walnut and wood carvings became less outstanding and lavish than it was in the past. Enrichment and improvement of art forms were achieved mainly by marquetry and wood graining.

Queen Anne Era - Interior décor became slightly simplified during the Queen Anne era and applying wallpaper suddenly became the trend. There was a marked style where curved lines (curvilinear) became dominant in the works of architects, sculptors and painters. Popular woods of the time were mahogany and walnut. There was an obvious influence of the Orients in the designs, styles, and finishes.

Early Georgian Period – This time was during the reigns of George I and some parts of the reign of George II. At this time, pine and walnut were used for architectural interiors, but the details and proportions of the elements were heavy and bulky. Furniture was built strictly with mahogany, and popular and bespoke furniture works include those of the early Chippendale style of furniture and cabinetry.

Late Renaissance England

The late Renaissance in England began at the tail-end of the Age of Mahogany and continued through the Age of Satinwood. It was sub-divided into:

  • Middle Georgian era - 1750 to 1770
  • Late Georgian era - 1770 to 1810
  • Regency era - 1810 to 1820
  • Victorian era - 1830 to 1901

Middle Georgian Era - George II and George III reigned during this period of art revival in England. This was the Age of Mahogany, and the famous furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, who reached a high peak of fame more than any other cabinetmaker in England, capitalised on the trends of the times by refining them using the finest mahogany woods. He constructed his forms in solid and perfect manners. This period saw a trend towards lighter proportions of form in interior design and handmade furniture making.

Late Georgian Era - The end of the reign of George III fell within the Age of Satinwood and there was a great influence of the Greek decorative arts on art forms and design. The famous Adam brothers were designers of the neoclassic style and were known for their architectural designs, interior design and bespoke furniture. They were primarily the leaders in decorative arts of England. Hepplewhite, Chippendale and Sheraton were the bespoke upholsterers and cabinet makers of the period.

Regency - This was a period of severe neoclassicism, characterised by the simple symmetrical forms of ancient Greek and Roman arts. This style was greatly influenced by Sir John Soane and heralded a decline in the art of handmade craftworks.

Victorian - This was the beginnings of the growth of industrialisation, and subsequently mass production of furniture. Eclecticism reigned during the late Renaissance period. There was a colourless, drab interest in artistic expressions, but in all probability, the most laudable industrial art development during the Victorian Era was the production of textiles like chintz. Flowers, meadows, green fields and brooksides were the source of inspiration for the Victorian era’s textile designers.

Source: Interior Design And Decoration, by S. Whiton

Further Reading:

Famous Italian Renaissance Artists - History of Renaissance Art

© 2011 artsofthetimes


artsofthetimes (author) on October 17, 2011:

Thank you for your nice comments Judi. Glad you like it.

I find art history quite interesting. Knowing what people did, when, where, etc.

Thank you for the vote up and share.


Judi Brown from UK on October 16, 2011:

Thanks for an interesting hub - I tend to think of myself as a history lover, but in fact I confine myself to social/political history, so it was really nice to find out about a different strand of our history. Voted up and shared :-)

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