This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Art & Artists

Renaissance is the name of the social and cultural renewal current that emerged in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages in the 15th and 16th centuries, characterized by the rediscovery of the interest for classical antiquity culture and art.

Renaissance is an era in the history of Europe that includes, in general, the 15th and 16th century, during the beginning of the collapse of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism. Renaissance has led to a change in human values – an avant-garde of energy and trust in human potential – which has had many consequences. Among the most spectacular consequences can be found the flowering of arts and the new vision of the role of arts and artists in the life of society. The current began in Italy, the richest country in Europe that possessed a long artistic tradition. It had many independent, economically thriving cities populated with traders and bankers who were anxious to see their name immortalized in various portraits, in new palaces that were built or in the sumptuous chapels of their families. In Italy, the Renaissance includes the following periods: Pre-Renaissance (14th century), Early Renaissance (15th century), Full Renaissance (1500-1530), Late Renaissance (end of the 16th century) in the following main centers: the 15th century – in many local schools in Florence, Siena, Venice, Padua, Urbino, etc., the 16th century in Rome and Venice.

 Pre-Renaissance (XIII-XIVth century)

It is a preparation period, distinct from the Renaissance, a transition phase in which international Gothic elements meet with the new Renaissance ideas gradually emerging. These innovative ideas are first presented in the literature of the time, Dante, Petrarca, or Boccaccio making the first jump to humanism, bringing to their works the new ideals about man. Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Luca or Pistoia are the most powerful cultural-artistic centers, with a fundamental role in the formation of a new artistic taste in opening up to antiquity culture. Gradually, changes in the taste and mentality of the new class that forms, the bourgeoisie, are gradually occurring. Although cathedrals continue to be built as a symbol of faith, they no longer represent the center of constructive activity, the interest being progressively directed towards secular buildings, palaces or public buildings.  Now there is a profound change in the attitude of the artists, emphasizing a gradual evolution towards another way of thinking about the artwork. Talking to individualism and the appreciation of their talent or creative spirit, artists are no longer enough formulas and dogmas to represent the scenes imposed by the Church or the community of the city, they will begin to observe nature, work by model, try to render it consistent with their observations. They will begin to judge their work by the skill of man, his anatomical details, or the richness of detail in the surrounding reality. Progress is much faster in the field of architecture and sculpture due to the existence of ancient remains revealed by archeological excavations and slower in painting due to the lack of examples (the findings of frescoes and mosaics from Pompeii and Herculanum take place much later, in the eighteenth century). However, in sculpture, artist’s attitudes are changing more slowly, due to teamwork and their organization in guilds dominated by strict rules. During this period there are two categories of artists: traditionalists, who remain tributaries to the canons and rules of the past, and modern artists, innovators looking for new solutions.

The development of sculpture.

This period is dominated by the predominance of basorelief, which is already noted for the influences of Roman sarcophagi. The sculptural compositions are mostly crowded with many characters and details. However, the number of characters is gradually decreasing and the compositions are getting easier to read. The characters are no longer placed in the frieze, but are grouped on several planes to suggest the depth in this way, they are no longer schematically treated, but they begin to get volume, they are dressed in Roman togas (paying special attention to the foldings), presents more and more expressive faces. Also, there are more and more obvious attempts to place scenes in a space that is no longer abstract, by suggesting the landscape or even the elements of architecture. Among the most prominent sculptors of this transition period are: Arnolfo di Cambio and the Pisano family (Niccolo, Giovanni, Andrea). Niccolo Pisano the father of the family makes the transition from the Gothic spirit to the new Renaissance. Its compositions continue to be crowded, yet the aeration attempts and compositional simplification are noted. His most beautiful achievements are: The bas-relief of Fontana Maggiore in Perruggia, The Lucca Cathedral Portal, The Baptistery Pulpit in Pisa (with scenes from Jesus life), The Pulpit of the Cathedral in Sienna. The one who takes a significant step towards the new Renaissance spirit is Andrea Pisano, the nephew who decorates the cathedrals of Orvieto, Pisa, Venice. But his most important work is the bas-relief on the South Gate of the Baptistery of Florence, which he finished in 1336. At this gate, the sculptor brings as novelty elements: dividing the door surface into rectangular panels (keeping as reminiscent of the Gothic only the shape of a four-leaf clover sculpture), the very low number of characters, their representation in calm, natural attitudes and the fitting of religious scenes into the landscape (which he realize it by bringing real details). 


The development of painting.

Unlike architecture or sculpture that is much more intense in change, painting will record a much slower pace in introducing novelty elements. It has to fight with Gothic and especially Byzantine traditions, much more powerful and difficult to replace.

It is known that the 11th-13th century painting is dominated by the Byzantine school, which includes many artists working on the territory of Italy. The painting of this period is predominantly mural, which decorates the numerous cathedrals, and less the easel painting, executed on wooden panels. Progress, though slowly due to the lack of ancient models, is nevertheless recorded by Duccio (1260-1318 / 20), a florentine painter who also remains a tributary of the Byzantine canons (the frescoes of St. Francis of Assisi) at Simone Martini (1284 1344), and the Lorenzetti family (Pietro and Ambrogio), who make very shy steps towards breaking the tradition, to the most famous painter of the period Giotto di Bondone  (1266-1337). Among his famous works are: Frescoes from the Church of St. Francis of Assis, Frescoes from the Arena Church in Padua, the Frescoes of the Santa Croce Church in Florence (the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels).

Sculpture during the Renaissance

The Renaissance sculpture returns to the noble materials of antiquity, to marble with fine grains, and to the bronze that allows for fine modeling and live movements.

Sculpture and painting are detached from architecture and, besides monumental art (mural painting and sculptural decorations), the easel painting and the sculpture of the basement develop. The drawing is appreciated as a self-contained work, and the engraving is widely spread, the possibility of multiplication, as well as the text printed in the new printing houses, answer the needs of the large public of the cities. Renaissance art created new genres: bust – portrait, medal, equestrian statue. Sculpture focuses on the look and look to express the essence of the personality. The bust-portrait is a tribute to the individual, the medals served to glorify the individual by revealing the profile of the person and by the frontal vision of the head the physiognomy of the character, and the equestrian statue was the supreme homage to the glory of an illustrious character, to an army commander. These were placed in public squares on high sockets, as tributes to public admiration. In this respect, the statues of Donatello and Verrocchio are known. Donatello’s works are incomparable by the intensity of expression. Express the soul movements through the gestures and actions of the body. Figures are macerated by inner life, consumed by passions, expressive. His work also includes the famous David bronze sculpture which constituted the beginning of a new period of Renaissance. The statue was the first large piece of work, representing a nude, standing.

In sculpture, Donatello’s work summarizes the evolution of art, from the statues that adorned the church to the portrait and the equestrian monument (Ghiberti, Jacopo, della Quercia, Verrocchio, Luca della Robia … ) Sculpture represented the supreme art for Michelangelo. He fused in an unprecedented form the two tendencies of the Renaissance: the cult of bodily beauty and the pathetic of the Christian religion that divinizes the suffering.

In the painting the new features of Giotto de Bondone‘s creation are developed at the beginning of the 15th century, in the mural painting by Florentine Masaccio, who was the first painter to create monumental images in the naturalist spirit, then in the second half of the century, by Mantegna, by Botticelli, and the easel painting is illustrated especially in Venice . In the 16th century, peak of the Renaissance painting is achieved in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Sanzio, Michelangelo Buonarroti and those of the venetians: Giorgione, Tiziano, Veronese.

The greatest painter representative of this style, was Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510), whose firm outlines, colors in a very rich palette and distinct characters, gave his paintings a special note. The Adoration of the Magi, the masterpiece of the painter Botticelli, is an example of a religious scene in which the artist’s owner is also present, a proud Medici, preoccupied with his own person, in obvious contrast with Madonna and the Child. The most famous works of Botticelli, Primavera, and the Birth of Venus are representative works for another Renaissance ideal – the passion for classical mythology and mystical philosophical ideas.

Birth of Venus

The period between 1500 and 1530 is known in the history of the arts as the Late Renaissance. Generations of artists who have come to their artistic maturity have perfected the art of using the perspective, “scarce” (shadowing) and even other techniques to convince spectators on the realism of characters and scenes.

During the late Renaissance, there were three great artists, considered to be genius: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rafael. Also in this period appeared the conviction that the artist is a special person, rather than a simple craftsman, who fulfills a contract. Like Leonardo, Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475 – 1564) was Florentine. He was a sculptor and painter of genius and spent four years of life painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a masterpiece of biblical scenes, beginning with Creation.

Raphael (1483 – 1520) was the purest of the classics, creating true masterpieces of serenity and harmony even when it rappresent a powerful action. His paintings illustrating Madonna, have laid the foundation for a new style of painting that has lasted for centuries. His most remarkable works include frescoes painted for Stanza, the Vatican papal apartments. Among these, the most famous is the fresco of the School of Athens, which represents the advent of classicism from the late Renaissance period.

From Italy, Renaissance spreads to other western European countries. Learners, artists, tradesmen or craftsmen travel to Italian cities and return to France, Flanders or the Hanseatic area not only with new knowledge but also with a different taste in art and lifestyle. The decline of feudalism and the centralization of political power open the way for cultural, social and economic change. Unlike Italy, where Latin and Greek languages are cultivated, Western European countries, under the influence of Protestantism, use national languages, which contributes to the formation of new national states – characterized by a unitary language.

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    1. adrianobalan Post author

      The name of the period refers to the movement of so-called barbarian peoples, including the Huns, Goths, Vandals, Bulgars, Alani, Suebi, Franks and Germanic peoples, when there was no Roman (or Holy Roman) emperor in the West.
      As you can see not everyone in Europe was civilized and this situation persist even this period.
      Thanks for passing.