Essay, Research Paper: Italian Renaissance
As the fourteenth century ushered out the Middle Ages in Italy, a new period of
cultural flowering began, known as the Renaissance. This period in history was
famous for its revival of classical themes and the merging of these themes with
the Catholic Church. These themes of humanism, naturalism, individualism,
classicism, and learning and reason appeared in every aspect of the Italian
Renaissance, most particularly in its art. Humanism can be defined as the idea
that human beings are the primary measure of all things (Fleming, 29).
Renaissance art showed a renewed interest in man who was depicted in Renaissance
art as the center of the world. Pico della Mirandola said that, "there is
nothing to be seen more wonderful than man." (Fleming, 284) This could
almost be taken as a motto for Renaissance art. Michelangelo's David clearly
supports Mirandola's statement. Since Renaissance art focused on representing
tangible, human figures, rather than depicting scenes from the Bible in order to
praise God, the artists had to think in more natural, scientific terms. Artists
became familiar with mathematics and the concept of space, as well as anatomy.
Lorenzo Ghiberti studied the anatomical proportions of the body, Filippo
Brunelleschi was interested in mathematics in architecture, Leone Battista
Alberti, who was skilled in painting, sculpture and architecture, stressed the
study of mathematics as the underlying principle of the arts (Fleming, 285).
Leonardo also looked at the geometric proportions of the human body (Calder,
197). In painting, but especially in sculpture, artists were inspired to express
the structural forms of the body beneath its external appearance. Their
anatomical studies opened the way to the modeling and the movements of the human
body. In painting, naturalism meant a more realistic representation of everyday
objects. In Fra Angelico's Annunciation, he shows an exact reproduction of
Tuscan botany (Wallace, 237). Also, the concept of space was important. In
painting, figures were placed in a more normal relationship to the space they
occupied. Human figures tended to become more personal and individual. Three
clear examples of that are Donatello's David, and Leonardo's Mona Lisa and Last
Supper, in which the twelve different expressions of the apostles were shown.
Every statue, every portrait was an individual person who made a profound
impression. Mary and the angel Gabriel became very human in Fra Angelico's
Madonna (Wallace, 45). Even when placed in a group, every individual figure
stood out separately, as in Boticelli's Adoration of the Magi. One form of art
representing the individual was the portrait. Wealthy families and individuals
commissioned artists to create statues and paintings. High regard for individual
personality is demonstrated in the number and quality of portraits painted at
this time (Flemming, 286). Italian Renaissance humanism were motivated by a
rediscovery of the values of Greco-Roman civilization. An example of
architectural revival is Bramante's Tempietto, a small temple built where St.
Peter is said to have been crucified. Bramante later got a chance to build on a
much greater scale: St. Peter's Basilica. Clearly using classical civilizations
as his model Bramante said of St. Peter's, "I shall place the Pantheon on
top of the Basilica of Constantine." (Flemming, 309-310) Other architects
went back to the central-type churches modeled on the Pantheon, rather than the
rectangular basilica that had evolved over the centuries. They revived classical
orders and "blueprints." Decorative motifs were derived directly form
ancient sacophagi, reliefs, and carved gems. Sculptors revisited the
possibilities of the nude. Painters, however, didn't have the classical
references that sculptors had, so they used mythological subjects. With all of
the studying and learning of art in the Renaissance, it would be of little
wonder that the subject of some of the art was learning itself. The most famous
example of this is Raphael's School of Athens. Raphael, along with Michelangelo,
was placed in the painting among the ranks of artist-scholars. As members of a
philosophical circle intent on reconciling the views of Plato and Aristotle,
Raphael and his friends reasoned that Plato and Aristotle were saying the same
thing in different words. The two philosophers were placed on either side of the
central. On Plato's side, there was a statue of Apollo, the god of poetry. On
Aristotle's side there was one of Athena, goddess of reason. Spreading outward
on either side were groups corresponding to the separate schools of thought
within the two major divisions (Barrett, 87). No matter what theme of the
Italian Renaissance is named, there is always some example of a corresponding
art manifestation of it. For humanism it was David, for naturalism it was
Annunciation, for individualism, it was The Last Supper, for classicism, it was
St. Peter's Basilica, and for learning and reason, it was The School of Athens.
It was these themes, which dominated every other aspect of the Renaissance, that
dominated the artistic aspect.
Barrett, Maurice. Raphael. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1965 Calder, Ritchie. Leonardo
and the Age of the Eye. New York: Simon, 1970 Coughlan, Robert. The World of
Michelangelo: 1475-1564. New York: Time-Life, 1966 Flemming, William. Arts and
Ideas. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1995 Walace, Robert. Fra Anglelico and His Work.
Chicago: Williamson, 1966
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