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Humanities LibreTexts

8.1: Overview

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  • Emerging from the dark ages in Europe, Italy awakened the world with innovative ideas in arts, architecture, and engineering, producing some of the most amazing inventions in history. The Renaissance began in the 15th century and changed European art from utilitarian to aesthetic art, almost overnight. The shift from the old feudal system in Europe to systems of city-state governments diminished the powerful kings and led to a cultural revolution, especially in Italy. Leaving medieval values behind, humanistic learning dominated philosophy and the sciences. The earth was no longer thought to be flat, and is believed to revolve around the sun. Individualism became dominant, creating social and economic changes, and a new market economy advanced social mobility, creating a middle class with free time and spendable money. The expanding trade along the Silk Road created an influx of money and an insatiable need for luxuries from the east.

    Renaissance is French for “rebirth” and is Rinascita in Italian

    The Renaissance became the center of individualism and self-awareness among scholars, philosophers, and artists, a re-birth of the ancient Roman and Greek ideas, flourishing again in Italy and spreading across Europe. The painting style changed dramatically from just fifty years before. Paintings depicting religious scenes became real, with an almost human quality. Gone are the large gold halos, elongated figures, and static, flat holy people depicted in the Madonna (8.1). The new style seen in Madonna with the Child and Two Angels (8.2) appears as a natural mother with her children.

    8.1 Madonna
    8.2 Madonna with the Child and Two Angels

    Churches created the greatest need for art with a boom in the church building and the ultimate adornment of those buildings. The art was typological with the doctrine expressing the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. There was a resurgence in the devotion to the Virgin Mary, and art took on a hieratical appearance with Mary present in most art. A new way to create art for churches, and even small pieces for homes, was oil paint on panels, allowing artists to create small, realistic works. The churches required huge alter pieces with hinged panels that opened and closed, depending on the religious story the artist was portraying.

    The Renaissance movement inspired artists to create in new ways using different methods, concepts, and materials. Linear perspective became important using receding parallel lines to bring the appearance of movement, an illusion of three-dimensional space on a piece of paper or painting. Filippo Brunelleschi, when he was designing the dome for the Duomo in Florence, developed a methodology to draw his plans and demonstrate perspective. Michelangelo masterfully used the technique of foreshortening to create perspective by exaggerating the part of the object closer to the viewer. Michelangelo’s David is an excellent example of how he used foreshortening.

    Oil painting was one of the most significant advancements made in art during the Renaissance period. Like any paint, oil paint is a mixture of pigment (color), binder (oil), and thinner. Because oil is the base, it needs thinning with a chemical thinner. Oils were used as early as the 12th century; however, they were difficult to mix and not readily available. The egg tempera method used in previous centuries was soon replaced by linseed or walnut oil mixed into the colored materials. Oils were more natural to use and provided more depth and realism in the paintings. Although painting was more comfortable with oils, the artists were still limited in the colors they were able to obtain. Depending on where an artist lived, and what raw materials traveled on the Silk Road, determined the color choices the artist could use.

    With the capabilities of oil paint, artists developed deep, vibrant colors and provided the mechanism for the technique of Sfumato, one of the four painting methods of the renaissance, meaning to “evaporate like smoke.” Leonardo da Vinci was one of the best Sfumato artists and used the style for many of his paintings, including the Mona Lisa. Sfumato produces delicate shading with undetectable transitions between objects in the painting.

    The Renaissance symbolized the time of European history when the Middle Ages stopped, and the modern European world began. The rediscovery of ancient books and the invention of the printing press spurred literacy across the continent. The scientific revolution unquestionably started with the Renaissance and continues today. In Chapter 8 Renaissance: The Growth of Europe, the art of the following people is described.

    Artist

    Country

    Approx. Birth

    Filippo Brunelleschi

    Italy

    1377

    Donatello

    Italy

    1386

    Masaccio

    Italy

    1401

    Johannes Gutenberg

    Germany

    1405

    Andrea Mantegna

    Italy

    1431

    Botticelli

    Italy

    1445

    Hieronymus Bosch

    Italy

    1450

    Da Vinci

    Italy

    1452

    Albrecht Durer

    Germany

    1471

    Michelangelo

    Italy

    1475

    Raphael

    Italy

    1483

    Sofonisba Anguissola

    Italy

    1532

    Lucia Anguissola

    Italy

    c. 1536

    Titian

    Italy

    1488

    Properzia de Rossi

    Italy

    1490

    Tintoretto

    Italy

    1518

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