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8.2: Renaissance Artists

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    Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) was born in France and became one of the most well-known architects of the time. Architecture at the beginning of the Renaissance was a revival of classicism, moving away from the traditional gothic style of design and construction. The main church in Florence, Italy, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) (8.3), began in 1296 based on the Gothic style. The building design included an immense octagonal dome, and the church was theoretically to be the largest constructed in the world. The only problem - for 200 years, no one could produce a viable plan to construct the dome - so the dome left uncovered and open to the elements. From the concepts of antiquity, Filippo Brunelleschi revived the linear perspective construction techniques adopted by the Greeks and Romans and designed a dome to fit the opening.

    8.3 Dome of the cathedral

    In 1418, after convincing the city fathers of his radical design to build two domes, one inside of the other, Brunelleschi was awarded the contract to build the dome. The double-walled (fig. 8.4) system from lightweight bricks, allowed the dome to rise higher and more substantial than ever before. The dome was built 43.2 meters high, and Brunelleschi invented a herringbone brick design (8.5) spiraling upwards, adding support while the weight was shifted outwards to the dome supports. Brunelleschi had to design, create, and use numerous hoisting machines to lift the materials to the workers. The dome was a mathematical and architectural wonder, and visitors can still climb to the lantern for magnificent views of Florence.

    8.4 Brunelleschi dome plan
    8.5 Brunelleschi dome exterior

    Originally, Brunelleschi wanted the interior of the dome covered in gold to reflect the light, however, he died, and the dome was simply whitewashed. Later, the Duke of Florence commissioned artists to paint the inside of the dome with stories (8.6) representing The Last Judgement from the bible.

    8.6 Inside of the dome

    READING: Brunelleschi's Dome: Construction and Structure

    Donato di Niccolo di Betto (aka Donatello) (1386-1466), born in Florence, the center of the new movement, was one of the original Renaissance artists. Cosimo De Medici—the first Medici dynasty leader—sponsored Donatello, and in 1430, Donatello created the first freestanding nude sculpture of David (8.7). Donatello studied Greek and Roman art along with Brunelleschi before designing the statue.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Paste Caption Here
    8.7 David 8.8 David close up

    The traditional stance of a freestanding sculpture was one of the first since the Greek and Roman statues of the ancient past, making this statue revolutionary and exciting to view. The tall, lithe body of the young David is resting on one leg and his sword, leaving the other leg to bend forward over the head of Goliath. David has an enchanting (8.8) smile; his hands are by his side against smooth polished skin and his long curly locks flow from underneath his helmet.

    The provocative statue stood on a column in the middle of the Medici Palazzo courtyard instead of the town square, indicating it may have been controversial to display a nude male figure at this time in the 15th century. Donatello was undoubtedly ahead of his time as an artist, leading the Renaissance revolution of acceptance and humanistic qualities in art.

    Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone (aka Masaccio) (1401-1428) was one of the best painters of the quattrocento period of the renaissance. During his short tenure as a painter, he had a profound influence on other artists and their methods of using perspective, changing Western painting forever. Unfortunately, he died at the young age of twenty-six.

    Quattrocento – the 15th century as a period of Italian art or architecture

    Moving away from the traditional, flatter Gothic style, Masaccio used perspective (Latin to “see-through”) in his painting, a departure from standard painting methods. His use of a linear one-point perspective changed painting and drawing forever. The vanishing point (8.9) begins as a set of parallel lines like a train track, vanishing into the other side of the picture. His magnificent painting, the Trinity (8.10), located in the church, Santa Maria Novella in Florence, is a large fresco above a tomb.

    8.9 Perspective of Trinity
    8.10 Trinity

    The Roman triumphal arches in the Roman Forum may have been the inspiration for Masaccio. His barrel vaults are drawn to the exact perspective shown by the coffered ceiling receding into the background. The realistic illusion of space creates depth with the use of the columns and ceiling. Christ on the cross is the center of the painting, the body painted in a muscular form looking down on Mary. The entire painting is located on top of an open tomb with the inscription: “As I am now, so you shall be. As you are now, so once was I”. The incredible cavernous space shows the perspective point as right below the bottom of the cross. The significant advancements Masaccio used in this painting went on to influence the great artists of the Renaissance.

    In 1436, Johannes Gensfleisch Zur Laden zum Gutenberg (1398-1468) invented the movable type printing (8.11) press in Europe. An inventor, craftsman, blacksmith, and publisher, he was well educated and from a wealthy family. Books during the 14th century Europe were each unique, monks in monasteries copying each one by hand. Gutenberg saw an opportunity when libraries were first opened, and scholars wanted access to many copies of the same books. Gutenberg started experimenting with text, cutting it up into individual letters, gluing them to small blocks of wood to use as stamps, each block inked individually. Then he invented metal text and a letter block mold, so all text was equal in size, giving typesetters the ability to form lines or pages of print. The form was inked and pressed by hand on paper. Gutenberg used a design similar to wine or apple presses with a screw design for pressure.

    8.11 Model of the printing press

    For two years, Gutenberg and his staff worked on printing the bible in black text, illuminated by hand with colored inks. The first edition of 180 identical books was highly successful and began the printing revolution. Two years after Gutenberg invented the press, book production increased, and illiteracy fell. Although a printing press was invented in China and Korea a few centuries earlier, the technology had not migrated to Europe. Gutenberg’s printing press is regarded as one of the most critical inventions in European history.

    Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) was an Italian painter who was a student of Roman archeology and informed by antiquities, an influence showing up in the backgrounds of most of Mantegna’s artwork. He was a master of optical illusion and practiced drawing the perspectives before beginning a painting. St. Sebastian, (8.12) painted in 1480, depicts the saint tied to a Greek column, impaled with arrows. The pale, agonizing figure of St. Sebastian is contradicted with the blue sky and puffy white clouds between a town and the column to which he is tied. The Greek architectural influence frames the pale skin and white robe of the saint with the gray-white marble of the columns.

    8.12 St. Sebastian
    8.13 Christ as the Suffering Redeemer

    Another beautiful painting by Mantegna is Christ as the Suffering Redeemer (8.13). The painting was completed fifteen to twenty years after St. Sebastian and represents the growth in Mantegna’s skill as an artist. Christ is wrapped in a white drape, flanked by two angels. In the background is the tomb, the recently buried and now resurrected Christ just emerged from, making the painting a complete story, while maintaining the focus on Christ in the center.

    Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filpepi (aka Sandro Botticelli) (1445-1510) was an early Renaissance painter who attended the school of Florentine under the sponsorship of Lorenzo de Medici. Botticelli apprenticed at the age of fourteen to Fra Filippo Lippi and found himself in the middle of the golden age of Renaissance art.

    In 1485, Botticelli painted one of the most iconic paintings of the Renaissance, The Birth of Venus, (8.14), based on an ancient goddess of love, and a Greek statue de Medici had in his collection. Standing on a seashell after being born from the sea, Venus is floating gracefully towards the shore. The god of wind Zephyer blows her gently to the shore, where an attendant greets her with a red flowing robe.


    8.14 The Birth of Venus


    8.15 Close up of Venus

    The background is unrealistic and does not have the depth seen in the Maccacio painting, and an exciting illusion, the bodies not grounded on land, appearing to be floating, uncharacteristic for Renaissance artists. The sensual body and face (8.15) of the Venus, painted in soft pastel colors, lack depth, her face melancholy, her hair moved by the wind, all unusual thematic painting by Renaissance standards.

    Jheronimus van Aken (aka Hieronymus Bosch) (1450-1516) was an early Netherlands painter and well known for the eccentric landscapes and detailed imagery depicting moral and religious chronicles. Bosch’s most famous work is the Garden of Earthly Delights, painted in 1490. The triptych, painted on oak wood panels, are hinged with black and white painting on the outside cover, and a colorful depiction of heaven, earth, and hell with the panels opened. The cover of the painting is in black and white (8.16) depicting the earth as a globe, yet a flat landscape with clouds gathering at the top resembling the atmosphere. When the panels close, the beautiful colorful curiosities painted inside are unexpected.

    clipboard_e6bf3a089624d442887fedd4a995134b2.png clipboard_e712ce8a93d0d645c05d95714d43d11fe.png

    8.16 Garden of Earthly Delights exterior 8.17 Garden of Earthly Delights panel


    8.18 Garden of Earthly Delights

    Opening the wings reveals a radiating picture of the earth (8.17), inhabited with numerous nude people in all states of humorous yet sinister poses. The Renaissance allowed freedom for religious imagery, and Bosch took the idea and rendered an inventive and playful painting so far ahead of its time, could have been painted today.

    When the triptych is open, the eye moves around the images, emotions on high alert as though living in a dream. One part of the panel (8.18) portrays people eating giant fruit, oversized birds flying, horses racing, all with repulsive and beautiful images next to each other. The painting is a composite of a dream-like world, a world where no one grows up or has responsibilities. In a science-fiction quality of painting, the viewer is led through an imaginary world between heaven and hell. Hieronymus Bosch was a man ahead of his time; unfortunately, he did not leave any written word about his ideas, paintings, or drawings. Bosch has left the viewer to wander and explore on their own, the Garden of Earthly Delights.

    Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (aka Leonardo da Vinci) (1452-1519) is one of the Renaissance’s most famous painters, architect, scientist, mathematician, astronomer, botanist, writer, engineer, inventor, musician, and sculptor. Leonardo Da Vinci was born into a prominent Tuscan family and moved to Florence at the age of seventeen to begin his art career. Leonardo joined the artist guild and soon flourished in the intellectual atmosphere. Da Vinci bounced around from patron to patron, painting, drawing, and designing. He drew anatomy from stolen corpses, learning how the (8.19) body and brain worked and drawing elaborately detailed pictures of the elements of the human body, including a fetus in the womb (8.20). Leonardo had an insatiable curiosity for knowledge, which led to thousands of drawings in the sciences.

    8.19 Brain physiology
    8.20 Fetus in the womb

    Leonardo Da Vinci left a large body of drawings of his scientific concepts for us to study. One can imagine Leonardo observing the natural world, looking at every detail, and thinking about every line. Before he even lifted a paintbrush, Leonardo completed a series of drawings, setting the stage for the actual painting. Leonardo only painted nineteen pictures in his lifetime; however, he was a prolific illustrator and writer. His Italian script was written backward and can be easily read in front of a mirror.


    8.21 Flying Machine

    Leonardo designed and engineered a wide variety of tools, machines, and other conceptual inventions. One of the most iconic drawings is the (8.22) Vitruvian Man, drawn in 1492, with ink on paper, the man surrounded by a circle based on ideal human proportions. In Leonardo’s journals, page after page describes drawings of flying machines, musical instruments, pumps, cannons, and many others. The central framework of the human-powered ornithopter (8.21) shows a lightweight structure designed to enable a person to fly. Mechanical wings give the ornithopter its power for lift.


    8.22 Vitruvian Man

    READING: Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci

    Leonardo’s work still guides and inspires artists, philosophers, and scientists centuries after his death. The genius of Da Vinci's work and drive for knowledge places him at the top of the list of great artists of all time. The enigma of the Mona Lisa (8.23) remains one of Leonardo’s mysteries. Everyone wants to know who she was, is it a disguised self-portrait, are there numbers painted in her eyes, are among the many theories about the painting? It was supposed to be a portrait of a cloth merchant’s wife, a portrait Leonardo did not give to the merchant. The image is painted in half-length as she sits on a chair, dressed in unremarkable clothing. There is an appearance of a window behind her as she displays the emblematic smile. The complete wonder of the painting is what draws us into the painting.


    8.23 Mona Lisa

    Albrecht Durer (1452-1519) was a German woodcarver, painter, and printmaker, establishing a reputation across Europe when he was in his twenties. Durer created a vast body of work with classical motifs, and religious portraits, one of his most famous engravings is Melencolia I, (8.24), an allegorical composition with many iconic subjects. The engraving was completed in 1514 and included tools of a carpenter, a magic square, an hourglass showing time running out, a scale, compass, and the despondent winged figure in the foreground with her head resting on her hand. Melencolia 1 is linked to astrology, theology, and philosophy, suggesting it is a self-portrait of the artist himself, perhaps an idea of the limitations of the earthbound realm and the inability to imagine advanced states of conceptual contemplation.

    Durer always believed he could achieve perfect proportions and measurements in his figures and created Adam and Eve (8.25) in idealized positions, surrounded by animals, reflecting perfection. Durer used thousands of fine lines to develop the image and then added his name on the sign above Adam’s shoulder. He did not make the print as a final piece of artwork, rather a print to be reproduced and distributed advertising his ability, a Renaissance ad.

    clipboard_e5e2f6fab1478c3c5b6589249a6fd01a6.png clipboard_e07333d5a3a862a16d33ce39718c2085a.png

    8.24 Melencolia I 8.25 Adam and Eve

    Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (aka Michelangelo) (1475-1564) was born during the high Renaissance, one of the most famous artists as a sculptor, painter, architect, engineer, and poet. His unparalleled genius and artistic abilities and his organic style brought marble to life, reflected in all the statues he created. One of his first major commissions was a statue of the Pieta (8.26) for one of the side altars in the church of Saint Peter’s in Rome. The writer of the time stated, “No sculptor…could ever reach this level of design and grace, nor could he, even with handwork, ever finish, polish, and cut the marble as skillfully as Michelangelo did here, for in this statue all of the worth and power of sculpture is revealed.” The folds of her dress appear to cradle the lifeless body of Christ, a body sculpted in exquisite and sublime detail, his face gentle in death.

    8.26 Pieta
    8.27 David
    Leg and hand
    8.28 Leg and hand
    8.29 Head

    David (8.27), one of the most breathtaking masterpieces made of lustrous white Carrera marble, was Michelangelo’s most massive sculpture, measuring 4.10 meters, and exhibiting a perfect young man, muscular, contemplative, and ready for the fight. Generally, most artists portray David after the battle with Goliath, whose head lies on the ground. However, Michelangelo’s David is caught in the tense pre-battle position. The details Michelangelo carved (8.28) were far more advanced than other sculptors, on his hands, the tendons are visible under the skin, the veins running down his arm. The look on David’s face (8.29) is deep in thought of the upcoming battle, summoning the courage for the yet expressing the soft veil of fear.

    Michelangelo was also a great painter even though he thought painting should be left to others; however, he knew he had to paint the Sistine Chapel (8.30) ceiling or face the wrath of the pope. The ceiling is over 20 meters high, and Michelangelo designed scaffolding so he could stand up under the curved ceiling and paint. He began the work in 1508, drawing figures and preparing the ceiling for the frescos.

    clipboard_e29a95f4056f9e581071f6c994be47126.png8.30 Sistine Chapel

    The central ceiling consists of nine panels from the Book of Genesis, starting from the story of creation to Noah and the flood. The very center panel is the iconic outstretched hand of God (8.31), giving life to Adam, whose finger extended to God, but not quite touching, creating the magnetism between man and God. The Libyan Sibyl (8.32) with her Hellenistic features is one of the most profound figures on the ceiling. Painted in her regal orange dress, she is lifting a large book off the shelf. The powerful arms and back are twisting the body, causing her clothes to fold as they flow around her legs, creating an illusion of tension.

    Creation of Adam
    8.31 Creation of Adam
    Libyan Sibyl
    8.32 Libyan Sibyl

    To paint the fresco style, Michelangelo covered a small section of the ceiling in plaster and then painted it into the wet plaster, which dried in a few days, revealing the final image. Over and over again, Michelangelo painted as he moved slowly down the ceiling, four long years on the scaffolding, with his neck craned upward until he completed the most iconic ceiling fresco in the world.

    In 1979, restoration began in the Sistine Chapel to clean and repair the ceiling frescos and to recondition them to their previous glory as first unveiled by Michelangelo. The restoration process started in 1980 to clean the soot and dirt of 500 years and repair cracks in the plaster, a long-involved process not completed until 1994. The image (8.33) of Daniel on the left side is how the image appeared after 500 years of dirt, and on the right is the result of the restoration process to reestablish the original beauty. The legacy of Michelangelo continues well past the Renaissance, and he has continued to be remembered as one of the greatest artists of all time.

    Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (aka Raphael) (1483-1520) was an Italian painter living in Florence, a contemporary of Leonardo and Michelangelo. Although he died at the early age of thirty-seven, he left a sizeable body of work. Raphael commissioned to paint the walls of the Vatican library, a building right next door to the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo was simultaneously painting the chapel’s ceiling. The library was a small room, and Raphael painted a different allegorical fresco on each wall representing the four branches of human knowledge; philosophy, theology, poetry, and justice, one on each wall.

    The first painting on the east wall, Raphael, painted the famous School of Athens (8.34), portraying knowledge of the future. In the center of the painting, Aristotle in blue and brown and Plato in red and purple, holding their books appear to be walking forward. In the left lower corner, Pythagoras is demonstrating the importance of mathematics. There are statues of ancient Greek gods on either side of the great-coffered ceilings linking antiquity with the Renaissance. The second painting on the west wall, The Dispute (8.35), represents theology divided horizontally into earthly life and heavenly life. In the top half, Christ is depicted on a bench of clouds, surrounded by saints. The spiritual figures in the bottom half represent popes, priests, and leaders of the church, bringing together celestial knowledge through the divine host.

    8.34 School of Athens
    8.34 School of Athens
    The Dispute
    8.35 The Dispute

    The third painting on the south wall, The Cardinal and Theological Virtues (8.36), illustrates the cardinal qualities as personified by three women: Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance. Fortitude is holding a branch from an oak tree shaken by the cupid, Charity. Prudence is looking into a mirror showing two faces with the cupid Hope holding a torch, and Temperance is guarding the cupid Faith. The fourth painting on the north wall, The Parnassus (8.37), illustrates the Mountain Parnassus where Apollo resides. Twenty-seven people from Greece flank Apollo, who is in the center under a laurel tree, playing a musical instrument. The nine muses who portray art, nine poets from antiquity, and nine contemporary poets all flank Apollo.

    8.36 The Cardinal and Theological Virtues
    8.36 The Cardinal and Theological Virtues
    The Parnassus
    8.37 The Parnassus

    All four paintings together tell a story of the journey to the Renaissance period. The compositional harmony is apparent in all the frescos, and the visual counterpoint of the different groups of people creates a superior set of frescos. These frescos all demonstrate Raphael’s unique and illustrative approach to painting.

    Properzia de Rossi (1490-1530) was an Italian sculptor whose talent emerged at an early age. Because it was difficult for young girls to find any training except in managing a household, de Rossi learned to carve peach and apricot pits, an unusual material to use for anyone. The small sculptures generally based on religious themes, and after carving her intricate scene of the crucifixion on a peach pit, her talent acknowledged, she received training in marble at the university. She acquired a commission for a bas-relief panel and sculpted Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (8.38) displaying her talent to carve marble, a talent not well received by other artists who frequently discredited her.

    Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife8.38 Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

    Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) was fortunate to be in a family of the nobility who believed in training for the arts. During this period, most women could not become an apprentice to a master artist and had to learn from a family member. However, her father was able to find an artist who trained her in painting and the importance of design. A letter written by her father described how fortunate she was to meet, and perhaps studied, with Michelangelo. She painted over twelve self-portraits, a striking image for an artist of this period. In an early self-portrait (8.39), she depicts herself painting the Madonna and child, although stopped in mid-stroke and looking as though she was interrupted. Her later self-portrait (8.40) was painted when she was seventy-eight, still a master of portraits.

    Self-portrait 1556
    8.39 Self-portrait 1556
    8.40 Self-portrait 1610

    As a female artist, Anguissola did not have access to male models and frequently used her family members to paint group portraits. She painted her other siblings in The Chess Game (8.41), one sister looking outward, the subtle smile on her face seems to say, I won the game. Anguissola’s attention to detail involved changing textures of the brocade clothing, delicate laces, and perfectly braided hair. These family portraits and her self-portraits, the attention to elegance painted of the clothing and her perfection seen on faces, helped Anguissola build her reputation. When she was only twenty-six, she was invited to become a painter in the Spanish Court, spending several years creating official court paintings of royalty and other dignitaries. Using muted, darker colors, the official portrait for Phillip II of Spain (8.42) displays the delicate lace around his neck and perfect buttons on his gown, an indication of her successful career.

    The Chess Game
    8.41 The Chess Game (Lucia, Minerva, Elena)
    Phillip II of Spain
    8.42 Phillip II of Spain

    Lucia Anguissola (1536 or 1538 – 1565 to 1568) was the younger sister of Sofonisba Anguissola, both of them received education in the humanities and arts and became painters. Unfortunately, Lucia died at the early age of thirty and did not have the opportunity to establish an extensive portfolio. The man in the painting is Portrait of Pietro Manna (8.x), believed to be a relative of the Anguissola family. He was painted with a limited palette with hues of brown and grey, a sense of personality on his face demonstrating Anguissola’s capability as an artist.

    Self Portrait
    8.43 Self Portrait

    Tiziano Vecelli (aka Titian) (1490-1576) was an Italian painter and part of the Venetian art school. Titian is well known for his dynamic use of color, rendering beautiful, realistic fabric in his paintings. The Assumption of the Virgin (8.44) is 23 feet tall and is one of Titian’s largest altarpieces. Assisted by angels, Mary is moving from the earthly world into the heavenly world. The over-sized figures on the bottom of the painting have outstretched hands as though trying to assist Mary on her ascent into heaven. The foreshortening of Mary is rendered exquisitely, and looking up to the clouds, and she is surrounded by a halo of luminous golden light.

    Assumption of the Virgin
    8.44 Assumption of the Virgin

    A Venetian painter, Jacopo Robusti (aka Tintoretto) (1518-1594), was one of the great Italian Mannerist painters of the Renaissance. Tintoretto attended the Venetian school of art and was influenced by Michelangelo, Vasari, and Giorgione when he painted (8.45) Finding of the Body of St Mark. One of Tintoretto’s early paintings and showed a mastery of drawing and painting with the use of one-point perspective.

    Finding the Body of St. Mark
    8.45 Finding the Body of St. Mark

    Looking at the art, it appears the viewer could walk into the painting and down the long hall. The exquisite use of light illuminating the body, drawing the eye to the left corner, then traveling upward to see a noble figure is pointing at people to stop them from raiding tombs anymore. In the back of the picture are two figures opening the tomb, finding the body of Saint Mark, and dragging him out. Through collapsing time and space, viewers see Saint Mark lying on the ground in the foreground; and Saint Mark also the noble figure standing in the front left, gesturing to the people to stop raiding the tombs. The long hallway of the tomb is dark; however, the architectural details are lit with the faintest of light, giving it extreme depth and the dramatic effects of perspective. The painting was completed in 1566 and is one part of a cycle of paintings for the patron Saint Mark of Venice.

    The age of the Renaissance was one of the most important periods for the development of human awareness, individualism, and self-awareness, a bold contrast to the Middle Ages dominating Europe for centuries. The Renaissance started the conversation about science, art, mathematics, engineering, and cultural advancement. It was a period of the rejuvenation of antiquity, a time when innovation steered the art movement.

    This page titled 8.2: Renaissance Artists is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .