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History of Art: Renaissance

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This post is part of a series called A Beginner's Guide to Art History.
History of Art: The Middle Ages

Welcome back to our series on art history! From the mysterious Middle Ages, we now venture onward to experience the world of art from the Renaissance period. Let's see how history significantly affected the art of this time.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.

The Classical Era

Imagine walking down the steps of the famed Parthenon. Picture the sun weaving through the giant columns as the decorative stonework twinkles with exciting colors.

We can only look back at this Greco-Roman period in great wonder as it remains one of the most important periods to influence art history.

At the time of its most fascinating grandeur, around the 15th century, the Renaissance era existed during the emergence of Europe's newest developments in art, science, and philosophy. And while artists paid homage to this classical antiquity, naturally, the new age of awakening spilled over into the creative arts, influencing the greatest scholars, poets, and artists of its day.

Birth of Venus by Botticelli
Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

But to truly appreciate this era, we must first step back in time. So let's take a look at this period's most prized contributions to the art world today.

Paintings & Drawings

If you take a quick glance at the walls of most museums today, you'll find an incredible abundance of Renaissance paintings decorating them with enigmatic style.

After the introduction of oils as a new medium in Italian art, artists created highly detailed paintings that focused on capturing realistic subjects in their most natural form. They used light to create remarkable drama, and new theories that were developed from architecture led artists to use linear perspective in their work.

The Presentation of the Virgin by Paolo Uccello
The Presentation of the Virgin by Paolo Uccello.

This period also saw incredible improvements in the overall understanding of the human form, as famed artists like Leonardo da Vinci tirelessly worked to study and record it through meticulously drawn observations.

These observations would later go down as some of the most recognizable works of art in history today. The Vitruvian Man, for instance, is a pen and ink drawing that blends his understanding of mathematics and art perfectly together, by noting the correlation of specific proportions to create an idealized human form.

The Vitruvian Man
The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci.

Known as the archetype of the "Renaissance Man" himself, Leonardo would later go on to create The Last Supper, the Mona Lisa, and other incredible works that reflect his exceptional studies in light and color.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

His discoveries, along with the works of other great artists, became the foundation of what we know as Renaissance-style paintings today.

Sculpture

Not to be outdone by his elder Leonardo, Michelangelo was another incredible multi-talented artist who emerged during the Renaissance period.

One of his most renowned works, the Statue of David, lives on as one of the benchmarks of Renaissance sculptural art. At just 26 years old, the young Michelangelo convinced the Operai of Florence to allow him to undertake the contract which would take more than two years to complete.

Statue of David by Michelangelo
Statue of David by Michelangelo.

The final statue, a tall standing man carved from a large block of marble, highlighted the Biblical hero with a classical contrapposto stance and powerful, youthful features.

Even more sculptures were commissioned during this period, as governments adorned their historic cities with great public sculptures and the wealthy decorated their homes.

Woman by Francesco Laurana
Woman by Francesco Laurana

Portrait sculptures became popular as a result. Often created as small busts or metal plaquettes, the subjects were usually of women, esteemed men, or young children.

Medal of John VIII Palaeologus by Pisanello
Medal of John VIII Palaeologus by Pisanello

Decorative Arts

As Europe continued to evolve, the middle class steadily grew, and along with this growth cities saw a great influx of art in public centers and in homes.

No price was too steep for the wealthy. Instead, value was placed more on the creative imagination and skilled mastery of a commissioned artist's unique vision.

Renaissance Hope Chest
Renaissance hope chest. Image by Luis Garcia.

Secular-based art objects were often manufactured to adorn these lavish Italian Renaissance homes. And because important life events like childbirth and marriage were hugely celebrated, objects were created to honor these moments.

Elaborate birth trays, also known as "desco da partos," were created to commemorate a child's successful birth. Meanwhile, elaborate luxury furniture usually consisted of richly styled, handcrafted wood designs.

Renaissance Desco da Parto
Renaissance desco da parto. Image via Wikipedia.

Conclusion

The Renaissance period was a time of great discovery and self-awareness through art, history, and science. Its wide range of culture and influence is a true testament to the evolution of art, and I hope you continue to learn more about these amazing timelines on your own.

For more wondrous tales of art history from the Renaissance period, dive into the links below for further reading. And join me next month when we discuss art from the Indigenous North America.

The following sources were also included in this article:

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