A Brief History of Renaissance Art

A Brief History of Renaissance Art

A combination of painting and sculptures dating back to the 1400s in Italy, Renaissance art is one of the most celebrated and iconic periods of art history still coveted by the most discerning collectors from around the world. A true transition from the medieval ages to early modern civilization, it is arguably one of the most elegant styles of art featured in the eminent galleries and museums around the world.

For most of the renowned artists of this period, their art was an expression that ran parallel to the times focusing on the times development in philosophy, architecture, the arts and the sciences, theology and politics. Inspired by classical antiquities, the Renaissance art style spread like wildfire through Europe resulting in far more paintings than you’ll ever hear about in your lifetime. The famous works known from that period are only a very small fraction of the number of pieces produced by artists we rarely hear of or simply don’t even know. Most of the painting of the time are gone either having been destroyed or uncared for to the point they disintegrated.

When Italian artists began to learn the practices of oil painting from artists in Netherland in the later part of the 1400s, it resulted in a global adoption of the medium. With oil painting, some of the most iconic artists in Florence began to improve the quality of their work since it had unique abilities to add more emotion and personality to the piece.

Sculpture aside, the oil painting allowed artists to create a far more natural and lifelike painting which is why so many of these paintings are considered masterpieces in the fine art community today.

The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

The Early Periods

It wasn’t until the 1400s that Renaissance art, as we know it today really, became prominent, first in the Netherlands, thanks to artists like Jan and Hubert van Eyck, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes and other notable paintings. The godfathers of Renaissance art, their style was inspired by the tempera styles, book illumination and stained glass of the bygone medieval era. They began using oil paints on canvas realizing their capabilities as many shields and pieces of leather were painted with it due to its durability. The oil paints used by these early Renaissance artists were of such great detail with incredible deviations in tone and texture. They used the Medieval perspective of hierarchy and symbolism to create their works with newfound realism thanks to the new medium. In 1475, Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes was sent to Florence, which immediately impressed the local painters and inspired Domenico Ghirlandaio to paint an exacting altarpiece.

Hugo van der Goes Portinari Altarpiece

Hugo van der Goes Portinari Altarpiece

It was thanks to this that Renaissance art took off in Italy despite having made its way there at the beginning of the century when a competition was held to sculpt the doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral. Despite the architect of its dome, Brunelleschi and now-famed artist Donatello having bidden on the project, the winner was none other than Lorenzo Ghiberti. Still the other two artists went on to achieve greatness with Brunelleschi being a successful sculptor of a life-size Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella and the Church of San Lorenzo. Donatello became a prolific sculpture as well and is today often considered the most important sculptor of the early Renaissance periods for his work of David and the first equestrian bronze to be made since Roman times.

It was these sculptors that influenced painters in the Renaissance era to achieve a very natural, lifelike look in their work. Artists such as Michelangelo, Masolino and Masaccio went forth and created many panel paintings known for their fresco styling. Using newfound developments such as perspective and light, artists from across Italy became obsessed with getting the perspective so accurate that many went mad trying to achieve it. As the Renaissance period continued, painters throughout Italy began using oil paints for portraits and other paintings that were done on a smaller scale.

Inside the Sistine Chapel

Inside the Sistine Chapel

Italy Inspires

Just as the Early Renaissance in Italy began thanks to a piece of art that was transported from the Netherlands, it ceased as well with a marking when numerous artists in Italy teamed together to decorate the wall of the Sistine Chapel with fresco cycles to showcase the life of Christ and Moses. Cosimo Rosselli, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino came together to create the incredible sixteen pieces. Despite having their styles, they cooperated with each other and agreed on certain techniques of anatomy, foreshortening, characterization, atmospheric and linear perspective and lighting to create paintings that would be considered harmoniously intertwined.

The Last Supper by da Vinci

The Last Supper by da Vinci

The High Renaissance

As the Early Renaissance was coming to a conclusion in Italy, it was in fruition throughout much of France where artists were being commissioned to provide illuminated manuscripts as well as portraits for nobles and the courts. Jean Fouquet, who was known for his painting of Charles VII and his painting of the Royal Court was influenced by many of the Early Renaissance painters in Italy. Fouquet, who was a brilliant painter, is widely believed to have been the creator of the miniature portrait. As the Early Renaissance was primed in France, the High Renaissance period was beginning in Italy as Leonardo da Vinci was leading the way to perfect the art styles of many of the Early Renaissance artists. Known for his eye and ability to study naturalism, da Vinci was known as one of the few artists who only worked with oil paintings when he could help it since it was able to help him showcase the natural elements in his work that many other mediums couldn’t capture. His most famous works are, of course, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper which are perfect examples of his magnificent ability to depict naturalism and effect. To prepare for the Mona Lisa among other works, it is said he would dissect human bodies to better understand the anatomy and showcase it in his art.

Even though many artists were influenced by da Vinci and other natural painters, some artists such as Michelangelo showed little interest in making any of his work appear natural with the exception of man as shown in David. Michelangelo decided to become more expressive in his art and used this unique style which is how he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which is the quintessential example of figurative composition which earned him praise as being the second best painter in Italy next to his mentor, Leonardo da Vinci. Finally, there was another member entered into this trifecta of artists. The young Raphael who accomplished a remarkable amount in his short time on earth, became famous for his lifelike portraits of two Popes, the Madonna and Christ Child.

Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael

Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael

Many other artists became well known as well, and despite Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael being considered the greatest artists of the High Renaissance, there is a wide range of others who are celebrated by the modern fine art communities.

Despite Italy and, in some ways, France, being considered the capitals of Renaissance art, the practices and styles evolved and migrated throughout much of Europe and the world.

From fresco cycles and religious masterpieces, artists around the world were inspired by the works of many of the predominant painters and sculptors in Italy, often commissioned by the Catholic Church as well as members of nobility and the courts.

The Louvre in Paris is one of the worlds most prolific galleries for Renaissance art

The Louvre in Paris is one of the worlds most prolific galleries for Renaissance art

Famous Artists of the Renaissance

ArtistCountry
Leone Battista Alberti (1404–1472)Italy
Fra Angelico (c. 1395 – 1455)Italy
Biagio d’Antonio (1446 – 1 June 1516)Italy
Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337)Italy
Donatello (c. 1386 – December 13, 1466)Italy
Leonardo da Vinci (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519)Italy
Michelangelo (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564)Italy
Raphael (April 6 or March 28, 1483 – April 6, 1520)Italy
Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510)Italy
Masaccio (December 21, 1401 – 1428)Italy
Domenico Veneziano (c. 1410 – May 15, 1461)Italy
Filippo Lippi (c. 1406 – 8 October 1469)Italy
Andrea del Castagno (c. 1421 – 19 August 1457)Italy
Piero di Cosimo (2 January 1462 – 12 April 1522)Italy
Paolo Uccello (1397 – 10 December 1475)Italy
Antonello da Messina (c. 1430 – February 1479)Italy
Pisanello (c. 1395 – c. 1455)Italy
Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431 – September 13, 1506)Italy
Luca Signorelli (c. 1445 – 16 October 1523)Italy
Alessio Baldovinetti (14 October 1425 – 29 August 1499)Italy
Piero della Francesca (c. 1415 – 12 October 1492)Italy
Masolino (c. 1383 – c. 1447)Italy
Titian (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576)Italy
Andrea del Verrocchio (c. 1435 – 1488)Italy
Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 – 11 January 1494)Italy
Benozzo Gozzoli (c. 1421 – 1497)Italy
Carlo Crivelli (c. 1435 – c. 1495)Italy
Marco Cardisco (c. 1486 - c. 1542)Italy
Pietro Negroni (c. 1505 – c. 1565)Italy
Frane Vranjanin(c. 1430 – 12? March 1502)Croatia
Juraj Dalmatinac (c. 1410 – 10 October 1475)Croatia
Nikola FirentinacCroatia
Andrija Aleši (1425–1505)Croatia
Nikola Božidarević (1460? – 1517)Croatia
Ivan Duknović (c. 1440 – c. 1514)Croatia
Julije Klović (1498 – January 5, 1578)Croatia
Andrija Medulić (c. 1510/1515–1563)Croatia
Jean Bellegambe (c. 1470 – 1535)Netherlands
Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516)Netherlands
Dirk Bouts (1415 – 6 May 1475)Netherlands
Robert Campin (c. 1380 – 1444)Netherlands
Petrus Christus (1410/1420–1472)Netherlands
Jacques DaretNetherlands
Gerard David (c. 1455 – 1523)Netherlands
Hubert van Eyck (1366?–1426)Netherlands
Jan van Eyck (1385?–1440?)Netherlands
Geertgen tot Sint JansNetherlands
Hugo van der GoesNetherlands
Adriaen Isenbrant (c. 1490 – 1551)Netherlands
Limbourg brothersNetherlands
Quentin Matsys (1466–1530)Netherlands
Hans Memling (c. 1430 – 1494)Netherlands
Joachim PatinirNetherlands
Rogier van der Weyden (Rogier de la Pasture)Netherlands
Hans Baldung (c. 1480 – 1545), AlsatianGermany
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)Germany
Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586)Germany
Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)Germany
Matthias Grünewald (c. 1470 – 1528)Germany
Hans Holbein the Elder (c. 1460 – 1524)Germany
Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497 – 1543)Germany
Ambrosius Holbein (1494–1519)Germany
Jean Fouquet (1420–1481)France
Jean Clouet (1480–1541)France
François Clouet (c. 1510 – 22 December 1572)France
Barthélemy d’Eyck (c. 1420 – after 1470)France
Nicolas Froment (c. 1435 – c. 1486)France
Jean Hey (formerly known as the Master of Moulins) (ca. 1475 – ca. 1505)France
Simon Marmion (c. 1425 - 24/25 December 1489)France
Enguerrand Quarton (c. 1410 – c. 1466)France
Bartolomé BermejoSpain
Pedro BerrugueteSpain
Ayne BruSpain
Juan de FlandesSpain
Luis de MoralesSpain
Jaume HuguetSpain
Paolo da San LeocadioSpain
Alonso Sánchez CoelloSpain

Recommended Reading

Here are few books worth checking out if you’re interested in learning more about Renaissance art.

Renaissance: The Art of the Italian Renaissance Hardcover by Achim Bednorz and Rolf Toman

A team of art and architecture experts and authors joined forces to create the ultimate guide on Renaissance art and within its pages is a virtual guide to everything the art lover should know about one of the most prolific and glamorous periods of European art. Click here for a copy.

Renaissance Art: A Beginner’s Guide by Tom Nichols

A lecturer in Renaissance Art History at the University of Aberdeen, author Tom Nichols uses this beginners guide to explore what the term ‘Renaissance art’ actually means and describes. This is an excellent source for those unfamiliar but interested in fine art. Click here to buy a copy.

Art of Renaissance Florence, 1400-1600 by Loren Partridge

Like touring the galleries and museums, this illustrated tour of the history of the early and high Renaissance showcases its history and achievements in spectacular fashion. This is probably one of the most exceptional books you can find on fine art. Click here to get a copy.

An Art Lover’s Guide to Florence by Judith Testa

An astounding concentration of information is what makes this book so worthy of the art lovers’ library. A detailed and rich history guide, it offers more than the usual brief descriptions and, like Gentleman’s Gazette tries to give a very in-depth perspective into the subject matter. Click here to obtain a paperback copy.

Conclusion

Today, much of the world’s collection of fine Renaissance art can be viewed at historic religious landmarks as well as in museums such as the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and of course, the renowned Louvre in Paris.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles on individual artists as well as some of the world’s best collections of fine art. What is your favorite painting or sculpture from the Renaissance period?

Summary
Article Name
The Renaissance Art Primer
Description
A quick primer on the history of Renaissance art and its famed artists.
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