Through the Ages – Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance saw the birth of art as we now know it (and not a just few Ninja Turtles). The most treasured legacies in museums and university lectures all seem to be relics of this place and time.
So what, exactly was the Renaissance?
The Renaissance was a period of rebirth in arts and culture, which began in Italy and spread across Europe, especially in France and England.
After a dark age with few contributions in the artistic realm, people began to rediscover the past. A nostalgic fascination with the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome arose, and with it came an inclination toward Greek and Roman techniques in sculpture, theatre, architecture and more.
NeoClassicism was the new pink. Greek and Roman artistic ideals were sought after as the highest quality in artwork. Secular subjects were explored, as were mythological and old historical themes. But the renaissance was not just a time of glorified copycats.
The ancient artistic models of Greece and Rome inspired new explorations in artistic technique, forms, and style.
And for the first time ever, really, artists began to be valued as individual creative entities, rather than simply talented craftsmen. Imagination became a valued commodity. Art became a means of personal, emotional expression.
Although it is difficult to draw such lines, and these distinctions are arbitrary and shaky, Italian Renaissance art is traditionally divided into three broad phases: Early, High, and Late Renaissance.
The Early Bird Catches….the Shape?
The earliest figures in Renaissance art appraised their world from an intellectual, nearly scientific, perspective. The first generation of Renaissance artists included such men as the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, the painter Masaccio, and the sculptor (and ninja turtle) Donatello.
Artists in this period focused mainly on artistic theory, development and progress. They attempted to create artistic forms that were as consistent with nature and humanity as possible. In other words, these men sought after realism, in both visual and emotional fronts.
They saw rational inquiry as the appropriate approach to such realism, and thus set about studying the world around them, searching for innate laws of proportion in the natural world, in architecture, and even in the human body. In their quest for universal laws, they tended to generalize unfortunately, and extrapolate one-time phenomena into artistic canon.
It is important to note that, in spite of their quest to learn to render accurate portrayals of the world around them, early renaissance painters sought also to capture an intangible essence, and instil their work with a greater significance; thus, they would paint an ideal form, rather than the literal appearance.
The Early Renaissance includes most art from the 15th century. By 1450, a new generation of artists had emerged, centered in Florence. Linear Perspective, Antiquarianism and Realism were important techniques developed in the Early Renaissance, which became basic notions intrinsic to the works of High Renaissance. And the sense of Idealism overshadowing the importance of Realism remained true.
Reaching New Heights (such as the Chapel ceiling)
Whereas many Early Renaissance paintings focused so intently on the new laws on perspective, etc, that the overall craft of works were ignored, High Renaissance works focused on consistent quality in representation and composition. The intent was to create the most powerful, forceful work of art through a unified strength in all aspects of the work.
This sense of balance was so precarious that the high renaissance style could last only as long as no one chose to put special focus on any distinct aspect of artistic craft. Thus, the High Renaissance period was short-lived, lasting only from about 1495 to 1520.
The few artists who emerged during this period, however, have created such enduring works that High Renaissance art remains very much alive to this day. The greats of High Renaissance art include Bramante, Titian, Rapheal, Leonardo, and Michelangelo (for those keeping track, the last three, like Donatello, have been revitalized as mutant cartoon superheros).
Leonardo seems to typify Renaissance thinking. A polymath involved in scientific invention, endless curiosity, and artistic creativity and talent, Leonardo was a true renaissance man. Michelangelo, for his part, stands as an icon of the artist as the manic, solitary genius.
Falling from Great Heights
As Rome fell from power in 1527, artistic tendencies began to stir and change again. Anticlassical tendencies had been manifest in Rome even before Raphael’s death in 1520.
Soon, various new styles were emergent, most notably, Mannerism, a movement led by Pontormo, Parmigianino, and Fiorentino, and taken to extremes by Vasari and Bologna.
Mannerism sought to portray particularly graceful elegance, a certain refined ‘manner’ or style.
The Late Renaissance was dominated by a focus on artistic individuality and virtuosity. We can thank the Late Renaissance for the cult of the individual, which continues to pervade the artistic scene.
And we can thank the Renaissance in general for the most enduring artistic creations of all time.
Join us soon for another Through the Ages