Renaissance Art History

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The home of the Renaissance was Italy, with its position of prominence on the Mediterranean Sea.  Italy was the commerce capital between Europe and Eurasia, during this time period, from 1400-1600, and it boasted a large number of wealthy families who were willing to pay for education.  Over all, the Renaissance art movement completely discredited the Middle Ages as being dead both intellectually and artistically, thus rendering the Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic style art as being without value.

The Renaissance came from a revival of the Classical ideas, concepts, and knowledge.  What had once been forgotten was once again the focus of society.  It was also found that in Classical times artists enjoyed a much higher level of prestige than they did during the Middle Ages.  Artists wanted to enjoy this status once again.

The Renaissance took place over a long period of time.  Maybe this is an indication of its immense popularity both then and now.  However, the Italian Renaissance can be divided into three distinct periods known as Early, High, and Late respectively.  These stages were preceded by the Gothic art movement, which acted as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and was followed by Mannerism, which bridged the gap between the Renaissance and the Baroque.  Mannerism hardly had an effect on the popular arts of the time and was not fit into the already neatly categorized art periods when historians looked back upon the era.

Early Renaissance art took up most of the 15th century and was characterized by inspiration from antiquity.  The movement was focused in Florence, Italy because this local had brought attention upon itself through various conflicts within the church and with its neighbors.  The art form focused on the human body, space, and the laws of proportion when it came to architecture.  The belief was that progress and development were the backbone of the evolution and survival of art.  The primary painter of the time was Masaccio.  His work was religious in nature and his inspiration came not from other painters, but from the sculptor Donatello and the architect Brunelleschi.

High Renaissance art was characterized by creating physical presence, drama, and balance than on the behavior and personality that were the focus of Early Renaissance art.  The major painters of the time were numerous.  There was Leonardo Da Vinci, Donato, Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian.  This period was short lived, lasting from about 1495-1520 and served as a transitional period between Early and Late Renaissance.  However, although brief, the art that flowed from this period was exceptional and some of the most famous artists ever produced work during this time.  After all, these artists had such a command over their talents that they were able to produce any natural effect they desired and they had an intellect that allowed for balance and harmony along with fine detail.

The Late Renaissance began with the sack of Rome in 1527.  Artists had to scramble to relocate throughout Italy, France, and Spain.  This period led to what is now called Mannerism.  Mannerism artists turned to producing paintings of people, often nudes, that were portrayed in strange poses and looking somewhat grotesque while odd themes were used and emotion looked horrifying.  Michelangelo was the only painter from the High Renaissance to make into the Late period.

The Renaissance movement ushered in the use of oil paints.  This was a boon to artists as, due to the slow drying time of oil paints, they could edit their paintings, making adjustments over a period of months.  They could now focus more on the quality of light on their paintings and were also more in tune with the architectural accuracy of the buildings in the background of their work.  Themes centered on Greek and Roman mythology as well as Biblical characters and the Madonna was a pre-eminent figure.  When it came to depictions of the human body, emphasis was often put on the nude form and the perfection of the body.

Another important result of the Renaissance was that painters began to communicate more with poets, essayists, philosophers, and scientists.  The boundaries between these disciplines began to blur and they began to share ideas with one another and recognized one another for the visionaries they truly were.

Over all, the Renaissance produced some of the most well known art ever created in human history.  It was a time of revival, of going back to something form the past that worked and bringing that past into new light.  After more than 500 years we still marvel at the works of artists such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo.  This period was unique in its portrayal of the human body and in its enmeshment of art and science.  It was proof that the old and the new can come together in harmony.

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