The Renaissance (14th – 17th centuries) was a period of great social, political, and cultural change spreading from Italy throughout northern Europe. During this time Europe saw unprecedented growth, particularly in the world of art. Renaissance artists rejected the stylized conventions of prevailing Gothic
forms, and believed it was time for a revival, or rinascimento (the Italian word for renaissance), of the ideals and values of ancient Greeks and Romans. They admired the philosophy, literature, and art of classical antiquity and were inspired by the importance of individual will and the power of nature. This caused a significant shift in philosophical theory that became the basis of all Renaissance thought, and ultimately of all Renaissance art.
The basis for this change in thinking was rooted in Humanism. Humanist believed man could become great through his own creativity and possessed infinite power through his divinity. Art, therefore, became a means of self-expression and discovery rather than a means of decoration and ornamentation. Man was regarded as God’s direct creation, and thus considered the center and measure of all things. As such, artists approached their work with a newfound appreciation for classical beauty, portraying men and women in the ideal state, with a youthful appearance, sinuous curves, and graceful lines. Michelangelo’s
renown statue of David
exudes a grandeur that had not been seen before.
Artists emphasized a reverence for the beauty of the world, and intended to render that experience. They believed nature was to be examined and understood as an integral part of man’s being. They assumed the duty of interpreting nature as part of a teaching process to share with the public. Many Renaissance paintings depict individuals against a natural background, as seen in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa
and Raphael’s The School of Athens
Technique and style were also reinvented during the Renaissance. Artists discovered linear perspective, allowing them to create a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional plane. They complemented this technique with a new style of atmospheric perspective that gave depth to the paintings through changes in light and color. In Masaccio’s The Tribute Money
, varied shades of blue create the illusion of distance, giving the painting another dynamic emphasize the imagery. Artists also abandoned the use of decorative surfaces that were popular in Gothic art, instead favoring proportion, light, and color to create Realism
in both figures and landscapes.
The Renaissance revealed man to himself, and that revelation lead to a deeper understanding of his relationship with the world. It was a period of innovation and experimentation. Artistic masters like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Botticelli
embodied the enlightened thought of this time, each expressing the ideals of their age and creating masterpieces that have inspired artists throughout the centuries. Ultimately, the Renaissance allowed artists to discover the beauty in the world, and through their work, they could capture the story of the Renaissance, and the story of mankind.