Famous renaissance painting

Renaissance Art: History, Its Artists and How It Gained Its Legacy

Italian renaissance art
Credit to: history.com

Throughout the history of the world, as we know it, the human race has witnessed millions of inspiring artworks. With many genius creators from all over the planet, there have been over thirty art periods to date. From ancient cave drawings created millions of years back to the present-day contemporary. 

In spite of the many iconic art periods and movements, there is arguably one period that stands out among them all. The Renaissance art period is considered one of the most infamous periods for artwork. In this article, we will examine this awe-inspiring art genre’s history and the legacy it’s left behind.

Before The Renaissance

Gothic style window with stained glass art
Credit to: britannica.com

Whilst the Renaissance art period will be taking the spotlight, topic-wise, we must acknowledge the movement that precluded it, the Gothic Era.

Starting in the heart of medieval Europe, the Gothic art period spanned well over four centuries. This era received its name from Italian architect and painter, Giorgio Vasari, who had negative connotations with this style. Referred to as “barbarous German-style,” Vasari claimed it was “the Goths” who “ruined” the architectural integrity of Europe.

Rather than creating mainly framed works of art, this period focused heavily on the structural form. Inspired by French architecture of the time, this era consisted mainly of depictions of religious events in history. Said works are typically found in churches or cathedrals, such as the Notre Dame in Paris. A popular form of art was created via stained glass windows.

Although much of the Gothic period focused on creating magnificent structures and sites, large sculptures were made as well. Keeping with the trends of this time, many statues were of religious figures. This included the likes of the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ himself. There were also representations of the everyday mortal, an example being the Bamberg Rider, which shows an unknown man riding horseback.

Toward the end of the 1500s, the Gothic era began to die out. In spite of the dying period, many of the great cathedrals are still standing today.

A New Era of Art

As the Gothic period came to an end, Europe prepared for a new wave of artists, philosophers, and various geniuses to take off at full speed. However, before the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo took center stage, there were other artists who had to create the benchmark.

As the Middle Ages came to a close in dated Europe, a new emergence of knowledge, interests, and art came to the forefront. This was known by many as the Renaissance Period

The “Proto-Renaissance” Period (1280 – 1400)

14th century Florence, the birthplace of renaissance art
Credit to: britannica.com

Meaning “rebirth” in the traditional French language, this spacious period didn’t receive its iconic name until the mid-19th century. Used most prevalently by the French historian, Jules Michelet, in 1858. However, the original term to describe this new wave came from creator Giorgio Vasari in the late 14th century. Rinascita, also meaning “rebirth.”

The beginning of this long movement earned the nickname “The Proto-Renaissance” period. It began in the late 13th century, though some would argue it didn’t take off until the following century. 

Its roots began in the heart of Florence, Italy. Many creators, writers, and thinkers sought to “reawaken” Greco-Roman ideas. This was shocking, as the fall of the Roman Empire dated back to the sixth century. They find inspiration via reading their works, learning the language, and appreciating past achievements.

Giotto (1267? – 1337)

Early example of Giotto's art
Credit to: britannica.com

During the beginning and early stages of this ground-breaking era, the most famous work came from the Florentine artist, Giotto. This artist spent a great deal of the 14th century creating artworks all over the Italian landscape. His magnificence began after his creation, known as Magnus Magister (“Great Master”) of Florence, gained quite a fanbase in 1334.

Other works created by Giotto also gained infamy for their “groundbreaking” stylization. Choosing to ignore techniques from the Byzantine era, which glossed over human features, Giotto decided to work toward a more realistic image. Arguably one of his most iconic works, the Scrovegni Chapel Frescoes (c.1303-10) in Padua follows this modern technique.

There are many accounts of his iconic paintings. However, historians have found it quite difficult to attribute concrete evidence to said work. Many credit the famous artist for making “large advances” toward painting a realistic human body using a unique technique of his own.

After nearly a century of new wave techniques, knowledge, and artwork, the plague hit Europe. These life-altering years of illness resulted at the end of what was known as the “proto-Renaissance” period.

Renaissance Revived (1400 – 1490s)

Renaissance art
Credit to: egypttoday.com

Following a painful period of illness and creativity-stifling plague, Europe found itself searching for a revival in humanity. Many found this awakening via good ‘ole Renaissance art. This began the next chapter, known as the Quattrocento era.

During this second wave of the renaissance, the main concept was humanism. This concept was known to be a belief that “placed human life at the center of the universe.” New philosophers and various geniuses in Europe began to study humanities from other areas. Many of the first great humanists were those who led the church, such as priests and missionaries.

Lorenzo Ghiberti (c. 1378 – 1455)

Ghiberti's infamous door, art made of bronze
Credit to: arthive.com

Within the first few years of the 15th century, many new sculptures made their way to the forefront. Credited with winning a design competition held by the Cathedral of Florence, architect Lorenzo Ghiberti made his way to fame after 21 years of hard work. Ghiberti sculpted rather large bronze doors depicting the New Testament’s version of the life of Christ. Moreover, they found a place in the cathedral in 1424.

The following year, Ghiberti became commissioned yet again for another pair of doors to accompany his beloved original. After 27 plus years of labor, a second job came to prominence. Also fashioned entirely out of bronze, this work was later nicknamed by the famous Michaelangelo as the “Gates of Paradise.” In summary, both works are located at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore to this very day.


Masaccio (1401-1428)

Madonna with Child, art by Raphael
Credit to: britannica.com

In spite of the many sculptures and thinkers catching the beloved attention of the public majority, there were a few artists that made headway during the early 1400s.

Italian artist Masaccio, born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, was credited as the most influential creator of the early Renaissance period. Masaccio, meaning “messy” or “clumsy” Tom, was a name created by the artist to separate himself from his collaborative artist, who shared the same name.

During his extremely brief artistic career, Masaccio created many works you would find in a church or cathedral. His best-known work is in the form of frescoes (mural paintings using plaster and watercolor) in the Brancacci Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine Trinity and the Church of Santa Maria Novella. Masaccio founded techniques such as linear perception, which gave a three-dimensional effect on flat surfaces.

Although Masaccio’s career lasted just six short years after passing away at the age of twenty-six, his naturalistic point of view was an inspiration for many future artists to come.

Renaissance Art Reaches Its Peak

As the 15th century came rolling to a close, inspiration sources began to change. As Rome became increasingly populated, Florence, the birthplace of the renaissance, was displaced. Thus began the peak of the renaissance, where arguably it gained its legendary title.

Raphael Sanzio (1483 – 1520)

Raphael early work
Credit to: history.com

Most commonly known to the public as Raphael, this artist was considered one of the most masterful, and youngest, creators of the High Renaissance. 

The small family came from Urbino. Moreover, this city in Italy gained prominence for staying developed regarding cultural appreciation. After his mother passed in 1491, Sanzio’s father developed a keen interest in finding talent for his young son. To him, the world of painting was the way to go. This became a shock to many, as 16th-century biographer and artist, Giorgio Vasari described Raphael’s father as a painter “of no great merit.” Interestingly, before his father’s death in 1494, Raphael became introduced to court, where he learned about humanism from many philosophers.

After the premature death of his parents, Raphael made his voyage from his hometown of Urbino to Perugia. Throughout his lengthy apprenticeship, Raphael did his work under the stewardship of Umbrian master Pietro Perugino, who created many frescoes for Perugian churches at the time. Finding his technique incredibly early in his career, the young painter received many commissions during the early 1500s.

Continued Raphael Sanzio Works

Madonna with Child, art by Raphael
Credit to: britannica.com

Inspired by the likes of Michelangelo and da Vinci, Raphael later moved to Florence. Some of his well-known works during this period included several Madonnas’, such as The Madonna of the Goldfinch (1505), the Madonna del Prato (1505), and the Esterházy Madonna (1505–07). He spent a great deal of time learning Florentine techniques of composition and Da Vinci’s lighting methods.

At the end of his career, Raphael began making frequent visits to Rome, where he ended up making a permanent home. Commissioned for many important works, such as Pope Julius II’s own private apartment, the Stanza Della Segnatura in St. Peter, and many others. At the end of his life, Raphael created arguably his most famous piece, The School of Athens, depicting many important philosophers, like Aristotle and Socrates.

Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)

Statue of David art sculpture
Credit to: wikipedia.org

There are not many who haven’t heard of this multi-talented individual. Born in the small village of Caprese (known now as Caprese Michaelangelo) near Tuscany as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, he is one of the most well-documented creators of the 16th century. This was due to the extreme amount of work that survived over time, including poetry, scripts, and, of course, art.

Over the next ten years, the young artist became commissioned for many, many important works of different varieties. His first apprenticeship as a paid artist, given to him when he was just fourteen years old, was under a famous humanist artist, Domenico Ghirlandaio. He attended the Platonic Academy under the court of the Medici. During this time he sculpted many works, including Madonna of the Stairs (1942.)

Continued Michael Angelo Art Works

After the death of Lorenzo de Medici, the artist returned home. This is when his real work began. Moreover, he soon left to Florence and travelled to Venice, Bologna, then Rome. In all, Michelangelo became commissioned yet again for many sculptures. Ranging from the Virgin Mary to a larger-than-life marble of Hercules, the next few decades were of great success. During this time, the multi-faceted artist created the well-known work, The Statue of David.

The Sitine Chapel art
Credit to: smarthistory.org

Following the next several years of work, came the most well-known renaissance artworks in history. Located in the Apostolic Palace in Venice, spanning over 500 square meters, lies the iconic Sistine Chapel ceiling. Regardless of the fact that this turned into an unfamiliar medium to the experienced creator, it became finished four years later, in 1512. Containing over 300 figures in total, the piece is still around for visitors to see in all its glory.


Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Of the many infamous artists during the high renaissance period, there is one individual known to all as the “Renaissance Man.” Known to many as an avid painter, inventor, sculptor, and scholar, Leonardo (or “II Florentine) was born in Vinci, Tuscany to his unmarried parents. His father, an attorney, offered him a lot of access to creative opportunities. 

The Mona Lisa, da Vinci's most famous art piece
Credit to: en.wikipedia.org

In spite of having no formal education beyond the basic school subjects, da Vinci received his first apprenticeship at the age of fifteen. Working under sculpture and artist Andrea del Verrocchio, the amateur artist spent the following decade polishing his skills. Da Vinci later left Verrocchio to become his own master in 1478. His first commissioned work came four years later, creating the unfinished Adoration of the Magi, for Florence monastery.

Additional Leonardo Da Vanci Facts

Before completing this work, da Vinci became relocated to work for the court of Milan. He spent nearly twelve years working on projects for the Milan royals. During this time, one of his most famous surviving oil paintings came to fruition. The Last Supper, depicting The Holy Spirit and his apostles, was created for the Monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. After Milan became invaded, da Vinci escaped with a group of young students. During this time, approximately between 1503 and 1506, da Vinci created the mystery woman known by millions: The Mona Lisa. 

Although a great many of Leonardo da Vinci’s works became lost or destroyed over time, there are still a few examples present in modern times. For example, famous works are proudly located in museums across France. He still stands as one of the most famous artists, not only from the renaissance period but of all time.

The Decline of Renaissance Art

Decline of renaissance, art example
Credit to: history.com

Years passed and the talent of renaissance artists continued on. Many creators, such as Titian (1488-1576) and Giorgione (1478-1510), made steps toward developing the ever-popular oil painting. Creating a method that would allow the ability to modify the painting if one wished, as this wasn’t achievable before.

However, as iconic as this era was, the Mannerist style of art took center stage. Focusing on “artificial” features, this next period counteracted many of the concepts used in the renaissance. Regardless of the new style gaining popularity trend, art appreciators and the general public of present-day will always appreciate the unique style that began with Giotto in the 14th century.

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