Art in the Renaissance Dates to Remember

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Art in the Renaissance

Dates to Remember

  • 1400 Several Seignories are established

  • 1401 The Sforzas in Milan

  • 1420 Brunelleschi studies Linear Perspective

  • 1434 The Medici in Florence

  • 1455 Gutenberg’s printing press: the Bible

  • 1469 Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence

  • 1492 Discovery of America

  • 1494 Charles VIII in Italy

  • 1494 Michelangelo’s Pietà

  • Leonardo paints The Last Supper

  • 1517 Martin Luther’s 94 theses

  • 1519 Leonardo dies

  • 1519 Charles V of Spain crowned emperor

  • 1525 Cortés destroys the Aztecs

  • 1527 The sack of Rome (Charles V)

  • 1532 Francisco Pissarro conquers the Inca empire

  • 1534 The Anglican Schism(Henry VIII)

  • 1537 Cosimo I Duke of Tuscany

  • 1541 Calvinism

  • 1542 The Church institutes the Inquisition

  • 1545-1564 The Council of Trent and the Catholic Counterreformation

  • The whole history of painting may be strung on this single thread - the effort to reconstitute impressions, first the dramatic impressions and then the sensuous. A summary and symbolic representation of things is all that at first is demanded; the point is to describe something pictorially and recall people’s names and actions. It is a characteristic of archaic painting to be discursive and symbolic; each figure is treated separately and stuck side by side with the others upon a golden background. The painter is here smothered in the recorder, in the annalist; only those perceptions are allowed to stand which have individual names or chronicle facts mentioned in the story. But vision is more sensuous and rich than report, if art is only able to hold vision in suspense and make it explicit. When painting is still at this stage, and is employed on hieroglyphics, it may reach the maximum of decorative splendor. Whatever sensuous glow finer representations may later acquire will be not sensuous merely, but poetical.

  • Illustrations are nevertheless an intellectual function that diverges altogether from decoration and even, in the narrowest sense of the word, from art: for the essence of illustration lies neither in use nor in beauty. The illustrator’s impulse is to reproduce and describe given objects. He wishes in the first place to force observers - overlooking all logical scruples - to call his work by name of its subject matter; and then he wishes to inform them further, through his representation, and to teach them to apprehend the real object as, in its natural existence, it might never have been apprehended. His first task is to translate the object faithfully into his special medium; his second task, somewhat more ambitious, is to penetrate into the object during that process of translation that this translation may become at the same time analytical and imaginative, in that it signals the object’s structure and emphasizes its ideal suggestions. In such reproduction both hand and mind are called upon to construct and build a new apparition; but here construction has ceased to be chiefly decorative or absolute in order to become representative. The aesthetic element in art has begun to recede before the intellectual; and sensuous effects, while of course retained and still studied, seem to be impressed into the service of ideas.

  • George Santayana, The Life of Reason (1905)

  • From religious to profane art

  • Art changes content

  • From craftsman to artist: creative identity

  • Geographic, technical, scientific discoveries: new trust in science, reason and experience

  • The discovery of perspective: new ways of expressing space

  • Human body as the image of divine symmetry and perfection


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  • The first great innovator, Masaccio (San Giovanni Valdarno, 1401-Rome 1428)

  • Greatest Work: Fresco of the Cappella Brancacci (Church of the Carmine, Florence 1424-5)

  • The commission: to illustrate Adam and Eve’s Fall from Eden, the Life of Christ and San Peter’s miracles

  • New way to treat religious episodes

  • Giotto’s expressive power is visible

  • Use of chiaroscuro to define forms

  • San Peter appears 3 times in the upper and twice in the lower fresco. The environment is defined by perspective

  • The figures are located in a realistic space

  • The forms are modeled by chiaroscuro

  • He respects reality and does not embellish

  • Figures are full of humanity, simplicity of the dress

  • Value is given more to the dignity than to beauty

  • The visual values are essentially plastic, the chiaroscuro emphasizes the volume of the figures.

  • Perspective is used to cast the figures in a tridimensional space

  • The solemnity of the gestures is emphasized

  • The simplicity of painting without unnecessary ornamentation

  • A sense of religious profundity exalts man both as responsible for his own Fall as for his salvation

  • Masaccio’s realism is an affirmation of humanity

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)

  • Florentine architect and sculptor. Studies Greek and Roman architecture. Creates works based on mathematical and proportional symmetries

  • In Brunelleschi the edifices speak an essential, harmonious and classical language. The overpowering decorative emphasis of the late-gothic masters is abandoned

  • In the Spitale degli innocenti he revives the Roman arches

  • In the Cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore (1420-36), he equals the diameter of the Roman Pantheon

  • The Cupola provided formidable technical difficulties a) builds without scaffolding b) builds an internal and external shell and a staircase in between c) the external nervatures are purely ornamental d) uses over 4 million small terracotta tiles for easy maintenance e) leaves no drafts of the structure

  • When completed, the Duomo becomes the symbolic center of Florence

Filippo Brunelleschi


  • A conventional way to represent space

  • The objective is to order the view and to select a focal point

  • The space in which we live is not orderly, our motion changes our position and perspective

  • Medieval artists had represented space in an intuitive way, or they had eliminated it (gold background=spiritual, heavenly dimension)

  • Renaissance rationality represents divinity in a human setting

  • The central perspective is the most common, allowed a symmetrical representation and a central vision (closer to the observer)

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