Art Appreciation Topic IV:Renaissance Art 1420-1610
The term “renaissance” means “rebirth,” and stems fromideas formulated by the Italian poet Petrarch. Petrarch believed that heand his contemporaries had revived Greek and Roman ideas andthought after a period of cultural stagnation in the Dark Ages followingthe collapse of the Roman Empire. The Italian city of Florence is oftendescribed as the cradle of the Renaissance. The new middle classes achieved a status for themselves, andinstead of bowing to the inevitability of death and focusing on theafterlife, they took pride in their contribution to society in this world, acultural shift called “humanism.” For the first time since classicalantiquity, a new naturalism appeared in art. Religious subjects remained the most common theme, butpainting and sculpture became realistic, representing the living, visibleworld rather than, as in medieval art, symbolically portraying theheavenly realm. Painting had a convincing illusion of three dimensions,with solid-looking figures set in a unified space. The figures have nobleproportions and features, and show believable emotions.
After the High Renaissance in Italy there followed a period inwhich painting, sculpture and architecture broke with many of theclassical conventions. The term Mannerism was later adopted todescribe both the period and its stylistic characteristics. Mannerism began to develop in Italy around the time ofRaphael’s death in 1520. Some scholars see Mannerism as a reactionagainst the classical harmony of Raphael and his High Renaissancecontemporaries such as Leonardo and Michelangelo, and others see itas an evolution from elements in their work. It has been defined aseither an effected, decadent distortion, or an emotional refinement, oflate Renaissance ideals. It was a courtly style, but beneath the elegance and technicalbrilliance there is often an element of emotional disturbance. Tensionand drama were achieved by the use of elongated figures inexaggerated poses, bold colors and lighting, and a dramatic distortionof scale and perspective.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, artists in northern Europe—as inItaly—began to depict the world in a more realistic way. In the 15thcentury, the Northern Renaissance centered on Flanders (modern-day Belgium and northern France) and Germany. Many scholars creditthe French king Charles V (reigned 1364-80) and the Holy RomanEmperor Charles IV (reigned 1355-78) for the start of the NorthernRenaissance. While Italian artists attained a greater naturalism through thestudy of anatomy, perspective, and classical art, northern artistsachieved it by developing and mastering oil paint and paying preciseattention to detail. The figures in Flemish painting are oftenextraordinarily lifelike—they are not the flat figures of medieval art, norare they idealized as in Italian Renaissance painting. Many of the best artworks of the 15th century were altarpieces.There were also highly detailed prints, both woodcuts and copperplateengravings. In the 16th century, Northern Renaissance paintersinstigated the genre of landscapes and anticipated genre of the still-life.
Expatriate Italians and artists trained in Italy helped spreadMannerism to other countries in Europe throughout the 16th century.Italian artists were employed at several foreign courts and Manneristinfluence was also spread widely by engravings. The courts at Fontainebleau in France and Prague in Bohemiawere the most impressive settings for Mannerist art outside Italy. InFrance, Mannerist artists created a distinctively elegant style—featuringlong-limbed, small-headed figures—that formed an influential currentin French art until the end of the 16th century. In essence, it is a sophisticated, sometimes rather inbred style,so it is not surprising that its most refined manifestations wereproduced for courtly settings. The most powerful and personalinterpretation of Mannerism outside Italy, however, is that of ElGreco, who spent most of his career in Spain. Although his work isintensely individual, his elongated figures have a stylistic kinship withthose of other artists of the time.