• A new artistic culture emerged and expanded
in Italy in the 15th century.
• Humanism also fostered a belief in individual potential and
encouraged individual achievement.
• Humanism also encouraged citizens to participate in the social,
political, and economic life of their communities.
• Shifting power relations among the numerous Italian city-states
fostered the rise of princely courts and control of cities by despots.
• Princely courts emerged as cultural and artistic centers.
• Their patronage contributed to the formation and character of
The Italian Renaissance is divided into three phases for study:
• The Early Renaissance in the early and mid 1400s.
• The High Renaissance in the late 1400s-early 1500s.
• And Mannerism in the mid to late 1500s.
• Renaissance means rebirth.
• Artistic leaders lived in Florence which was dominated
by the Medici – a powerful family who were great
patrons of the arts.
• Florentine artists, fueled by a renewed interest in
ancient Greece and Rome as well as science and math,
created a “New Athens”.
Sculpture and Civic Pride
in the Early Renaissance
• The republic of Florence cultivated civic pride and responsibility
resulting in competitions to embellish the
• The competitive nature of these projects, which were usually
sponsored by civic or lay-religious organizations, promoted
innovation and signaled official approval of the new, classically
• The emulation of antique models, however, was also
supplemented by a growing interest in the anatomical structure
of the human body and the desire to show a naturalistic illusion
The “Gates of Paradise”
• One such competition was to create the doors to the baptistry
at the Cathedral of Florence.
• Artists submitted brass relief panels on the subject – the
“Sacrifice of Isaac”.
• The following panels were submitted for the competition.
shows a sturdy and
interpretation of the
Sacrifice of Isaac.
1401-1402. Gilded bronze
relief, 21" x 17".
del Bargello, Florence.
Gilded bronze relief
21" x 17”
Museo Nazionale del Bargello
• Lorenzo Ghiberti
won the competition.
• His "Gates of
comprised of ten gilded
bronze relief panels
depicting scenes from
the Old Testament.
View of the completed doors
on the Baptistry, in Florence
• In Isaac and His Sons, Ghiberti creates the illusion of space using
perspective and sculptural means.
• Ghiberti also persists in using the medieval narrative method of
presenting several episodes within a single frame.
• Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, universally known as Donatello,
was born in Florence around 1386 and died there in 1466.
• The powerful expressive qualities of his work made him the greatest
sculptor of the early Renaissance.
• Donatello's early works, still partly Gothic in style, are the impressive
seated marble figure of St John the Evangelist for the cathedral
façade and a wooden crucifix in the church of Santa Croce. The
latter, according to an unproved anecdote, was made in friendly
competition with Brunelleschi, a sculptor and an architect.
• The wooden Crucifix in the Church of
Santa Croce is attributed to Donatello,
although this attribution is not shared by all art
• The dating of this work is also controversial.
Some scholars consider it as one of the first
sculptures by Donatello while others think it
was made around 1425.
• The study of the iconography suggests the
• Brunelleschi hated the intensely life-like face
of the dead Christ and accused Donatello of
having, in Vasari's words, “crucified a
• The work reflects Donatello's creative force,
his search for new forms of expression and
liberation from established rules.
Wood, 168 x 173 cm
Church of Santa Croce, Florence
• Donatello’s St John
which, together with
the other Evangelists
by Nanni di Banco,
Niccolo Lamberti and
were to be placed on
the facade of Santa
Maria del Fiore in the
tabernacle at the side
of the central door.
• This statue, of St. John, which was
commissioned by the Opera del
Duomo but executed much later - the
payments go from 1413 to 1415 -
almost seems to anticipate the works
• Particularly remarkable are the saint's
acute and penetrating expression, and
the realistic treatment of his open
hand on the book.
St John the Evangelist,1410-11
Marble, height: 210 cm,
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
• Donatello's bronze statue David
is the first freestanding nude bronze since
• The biblical David was a symbol of the
independent Florentine republic.
• The figure stands in a relaxed classical
David, ca. 1428–1432.
5' 21/4" high.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.
• The International Style persisted but became increasingly
suffused with a variety of naturalistic detail.
Italian Painting in
the Early Renaissance
• The painter Masaccio (1401-1428), however, introduced
a new monumental style that revolutionized Italian painting.
• Masaccio's manipulation of light and shade (chiaroscuro) give
an almost tangible sense of three-dimensional substance to his
• his application of the new linear perspective to create the
illusion of spatial depth or distance provided models of innovation
and direction for future generations of painters.
Masaccio's fresco of the Tribute Money in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa
Maria del Carmine in Florence shows psychologically and physically credible
figures illuminated by a light coming from a specific source outside the
Masaccio, Tribute Money, ca. 1427
Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy, Fresco, 8' 1" x 19' 7".
• The light models the
figures to produce an
illusion of deep
• The main group of
figures stand solidly in
a semi-circle in the
foreground of a
• Masaccio employs
enhance the sense of
space and distance.
Detail: Tribute Money, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del
Carmine, Florence, Italy, ca. 1427. Fresco, 8' 1" x 19' 7".
• Masaccio's Holy Trinity fresco in Santa Maria Novella embodies
two principal Renaissance interests:
– realism based on observation,
– and perspective.
Fresco, 21' x
Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) (1400-55)
• A Dominican friar, “Brother Angel” was in fact a highly
professional artist, who was in touch with the most advanced
developments in contemporary Florentine art.
• He probably began his career as a manuscript illuminator, and his
early paintings are strongly influenced by International Gothic.
• His most famous works were painted at the
Monastery of San Marco in Florence.
• He and his assistants painted about fifty frescos.
Fra Angelico's fresco of the Annunciation is simple and serene.
Fra Angelico, Annunciation, San Marco, Florence, 1440–1445. Fresco, 7' 1" x 10' 6".
• Many of the frescos are in
the friars' cells and were
intended as aids to devotion;
– with their immaculate
– their economy in drawing
and composition, and
– their freedom from the
accidents of time and
place, they attain a sense
of blissful serenity.
Presentation in the Temple
1440-41, Fresco, 158 x 136 cm;
Cell 10, San Marco, Florence.
• The brilliance of the early
morning is real enough, but
the irradiating light, the
floating rather than walking
figure of Christ, the wealth of
natural detail in the garden,
are for devotional reasons
and intended to stimulate the
meditation of the monk who
lived in the cell.
Noli Me Tangere,1440-41
Fresco, 180 x 146 cm
Convento di San Marco, Florence
• Angelico would repeat
his success with the
frescoes at San Marcos
with commissions for
altarpieces that made
their way to churches
around the world.
• In this altarpanel
which was sold to
Spain we see his
recreated in egg
tempera on a
Alessandro Botticelli (1445 - 1510)
• After Masaccio, Sandro Botticelli comes as the next great
painter of the Florentine tradition.
• The new, sharply contoured, slender form and rippling
sinuous line is synonymous with Botticelli .
• Nothing is more gracious, in lyrical beauty, than Botticelli's
mythological paintings Primavera and The Birth of
Venus, where the pagan story is taken with reverent
seriousness and Venus is the Virgin Mary in another form.
• He often used mythology and allegory as metaphors
Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, ca. 1482. Tempera on canvas,
approx. 5' 8" x 9' 1". Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus is a lyrical and courtly
image. The nude figure of Venus was derived from ancient
Venus statues of Roman times.
Botticelli's Venus is so
beautiful that we don’t notice
the unnatural length of her
neck, the steep fall of her
shoulders and the queer way
her left arm is hinged to the
Botticelli took liberties with
nature in order to achieve a
graceful outline and add to the
beauty and harmony of the
design because they enhance
the impression of an infinitely
delicate being, wafted to our
shores as a gift from Heaven.
• In Primavera (Spring). Venus is standing in the center
of the picture, above her Cupid is aiming one of his arrows
of love at the three dancing Graces.
• The Garden of the goddess of love is guarded by Mercury
(he is wearing winged shoes) on the left.
• From the right, Zephyr, the god of the winds, is pursuing a
• Next to her walks Flora, the goddess of spring, who is
Botticelli. Primavera. c.1482. Tempera on panel. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.
La Primavera, "Allegory of
Tempera on panel
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
La Primavera, "Allegory of
Tempera on panel
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
This painting marks the
end of Botticelli's
‘Medici” period, from
this point onwards the
subject-matter of his
paintings changes and
Pallas and the Centaur, 1482,
Tempera on canvas, 207 x 148 cm,
Galleria degli Uffizi,
Alessandro Botticelli. Portrait of
Giuliano de' Medici. c.1476-1477.
Tempera on panel. National
Gallery of Art, Washington, DC..
Perhaps the most authentic
portrait of Giuliano
assumed that to be painted
in the lifetime of Giuliano.
However, the death
symbols (the dove sitting
on the dead branch and
the half-open door) on the
picture contradict this
• Many of Botticelli's paintings are undated, but this
Adoration of the Magi has been dated by
modern scholarship to c. 1475.
• This is important because it provides evidence of
Botticelli having already secured the patronage of
the Medici whose portraits appear in the picture.
Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi, Tempera on panel, 27 ½ x 41”, Uffizi, Florence
Early 15th century Architecture
• Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) adopted a
classically inspired rational approach to architecture that
employed both classical architectural forms (e.g., round
arches, columns) and a system of design based on
carefully proportioned shapes (e.g., the square, circle) or
units fitted together in strict but simple ratios.
• Brunelleschi studied the ancient monuments in Rome.
Brunelleschi's double-shelled dome for the Florence Cathedral is
original in section and designed around a skeleton of twenty-four
ribs, of which eight are visible on the exterior.
The structure is anchored at the top with a heavy lantern.
• The architect
Leon Battista Alberti (1404-
1472) designed a façade for
the Church of
Sant'Andrea that linked
together a Roman temple
front and a triumphal arch.
• The façade's vertical and
horizontal dimensions are
Plan of Sant'Andrea, Mantua, Italy, designed ca. 1470.
Interior of Sant'Andrea, Mantua, Italy, designed ca. 1470
The vaults in the interior may have been inspired by the
Basilica Nova of Constantine in Rome.
• A profound understanding of ancient Roman
architecture was achieved by Alberti, who advocated (in
his own treatise on architecture) a system of ideal
proportions expressed in simple numerical ratios.
• He also proposed a more rigorous and correct application of
Roman architectural principles.
• Alberti's design for the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence
includes classical elements such as flat pilasters, a classical
cornice, and rustication.
• The flat façade is modeled on the Colosseum and uses
different capitals for each story: Tuscan for the ground floor,
Composite for the second story, and Corinthian for the third
LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI,
Palazzo Rucellai, Florence,
Italy, ca. 1452–1470.
• The design also includes the use of scrolls to unite the
broad lower part and the narrow upper part of the
façade, and to screen the sloping roofs over the aisles.
Alberti,, west façade of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, ca. 1458–1470.
• Alberti's design for the façade of Santa Maria
Novella in Florence follows a Romanesque model but
organizes the elements according to a system of
proportions that can be expressed in simple numerical
Diagrams of west façade, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy.
Review: Early Renaissance
• The spread of humanism and the growing interest in
classical antiquity contributed significantly to the growth and
expansion of artistic culture in 15th-century Italy.
• Also important were political and economic changes that
contributed to the rise of a new class of wealthy patrons
such as the Florentine Medici who fostered art and learning
on a lavish scale.
• As part of Civic pride, artistic competitions become popular.
Lorenzo Ghiberti wins the competition to design the “Gates
• Humanism's emphasis on individual achievement and
recognition gave new impetus to portraiture, both private
• In architecture, an understanding of ancient Roman
architecture was achieved as well as systems of ideal
proportions expressed in simple numerical ratios. In
another competition Filippo Brunelleschi wins the
commission to build the dome to the Cathedral of
• The use of new humanist-inspired ideas and features
contributed to a growing secularization of traditional
religious subject matter. Donatello creates his David,
the first freestanding nude since antiquity.
• Masaccio's fresco of the Tribute Money
psychologically and physically credible figures illuminated
by a light coming from a specific source outside the
• Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus is a lyrical and
• Fra Angelico brings a human touch to his religious
scenes in the Monastery of San Marcos.
• Besides in Florence, the princely courts of Naples,
Urbino, Milan, Ferrara, and Mantua, rulers nurtured the
• in the Ducal Palace in Mantua, Andrea Mantegna
produced the first consistent illusionistic decoration
applied to an entire room.
• In his fresco of the Resurrection Piero della
Francesca used a triangle of figures to organize and
stabilize the composition.
• 15th-Century Art in Italy: The Early Renaissance
• Gates of Paradise (Web gallery of Art)
• Frescoes in the Convento di San Marco (Angelico)
• Filippo Brunelleschi
• Allegorical paintings by Botticelli
• Quattrocento (lesser known paintings)
• Renaissance (AICT)
• Overview of Italian Painters from 1200 to 1750