Italian Renaissance: The story of painting goes as far back as 20,000 years ago, to a time when Man had not yet learned to write. He looked around the world and tried to reproduce what he saw in drawings. The man was just a caveman in those days, and the history of art began in caves. Art has progressed through the ages. It has organized itself into different styles in terms of form, as well as the content. Many painters belong to certain movements, giving different treatment to space, perspective, light, and color.
The Renaissance painters depicted the human figure as realistically as possible, often with backgrounds of the natural world. Careful use of light and shadow made figures appear full and real. Renaissance painters not only portrayed objects with more realism, they often filled their canvases with more objects, all carefully and accurately depicted.
The Renaissance period has produced some of the most famous painters, and writers in the history of mankind. Most of them belong to either Italy or France. They include Brunelleschi, Giotto, Donatello, Botticelli, Masaccio, Andrea Mantegna, Piero Della Francesca, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian, along with a host of other artists and intellectuals.
Cimabue – First Modern Painter
Cimabue was a major artist working in Florence at the end of the 13th century. He was born in Florence in 1240 AD. When Cimabue was learning to paint in the 1260s, Italian painters were still copying the style of Byzantine art which always had gold backgrounds.
It generally showed saints and angels, as well as Jesus and Mary in very formal, stiff positions, to show how important these figures were, and that they were not like real people. The figures were flat, and very little effort was made to show their muscles or the shadows that would make them look real. Cimabue was associated with a style of painting known as gothic art, and he was also an important forerunner of the later international gothic style.
He introduced a lifelike treatment of traditional religious subjects and was also famous for his wall paintings. His most famous work,’Madonna Enthroned’, stood three and a half meters high! He is considered by some experts to be the first ‘modern painter’.
Giotto di Bondone
Giotto was an Italian painter, who was a student and contemporary of Cimabue. It is said that Giotto was a shepherd boy scratching pictures of sheep on rocks when Cimabue discovered him. Giotto first worked on mosaics before his interests spread to painting, sculpture, and architecture.
Giotto worked mainly in-wall or fresco painting. He is known for beginning to put in natural landscape backgrounds to his painting, as opposed to the plain gold backgrounds favored by the older Cimabue. His figures were lifelike, and he painted the outdoors with glorious realism and colors.
He changed the history of painting by taking the portrayal of people and places to new levels. His art shines with truth and humanity, and his figures are flesh-and-blood individuals who convincingly express joy, anger, fear, horror, and grief.
Simone Martini was an Italian painter, who was one of the most original and influential artists of the Sienese school. He was born in Siena, a city in West Central Italy, and apprenticed in the workshop of Sienese master Duccio di Buoninsegna, where he developed his style and reputation early.
Simone created his own versions of many of Duccio’s greatest works. But, in doing so, he applied his own sense of decorative charm to traditional subjects, and soon became known for his unique combination of older Byzantine and French Gothic styles. Simone became most famous in Siena with the fresco of the Maesta in the Palazzo Pubblico. Over the succeeding years, his career grew rapidly.
Many of Simone’s important works show his developing sense of landscape and realism. Simone was a master in depicting figures and portraits. He paid particular attention to facial features that gave his subjects complex characters and emotions. Figures were always finished with scrupulous attention to detail, and his work is admired to this day both for its spirituality and its realism.
Fra Angelico was a Dominican monk and a famous Italian painter of the early Renaissance Florentine School. Though his name was Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, he. earned his nickname through his unusually pious nature. He was called Angelico which is Italian for ‘angelic’ because the paintings he did were of calm, religious subjects, and because of his extraordinary personal piety.
One of Fra Angelico’s most extensive projects was the decoration of the Dominican Monastery of San Marco in Florence between 1435 and 1445. His skill in creating monumental figures representing motion and suggesting deep space, mark him as one of the foremost painters of the Renaissance. He earned fame for his technical skill, and he never retouched or altered any of his paintings, for he believed that to do so would be going against the will of God.
Paolo Uccello – Founders of the Renaissance
Paolo Uccello was an Italian painter who wanted to present objects in three-dimensional forms in order to create a feeling of depth in his paintings. It is said that he would stay up all night, trying to determine the exact vanishing point of an object! He loved using the forms and movement of humans and animals in his paintings. I n fact, Paolo Uccello’s paintings are very famous for their tangles of horses, riders, lances and pennants, helmets, and bits of landscape.
Uccello’s greatest paintings were three panels titled ‘The Battle of San Romano’, ‘Night Hunt’, and ‘The Deluge’. Other paintings are ‘portraits of Sir John Hawkins’, ‘Giotto’, ‘Brunelleschi’, ‘Donatello’, and ‘St. George and the Dragon’. Paolo Uccello’s paintings resemble life and confuse us into mistaking illusions for reality. His use of brilliant colors and fantastic effects left a lasting impact on his viewers, and he was considered one of the founders of the Renaissance movement in painting.
Tommaso Masaccio – Italian Renaissance
Tommaso Masaccio was a renowned painter of frescoes during the Italian Renaissance. ‘Masaccio’ meaning ‘sloppy’ was a nickname given to him because his dedication to his painting was so great that he gave little attention to his personal hygiene!
Masaccio is noted for his advanced use of perspective in order to create more realistic figures. He also moved away from the Gothic style of the time to a more naturalistic style. His greatest works were his frescoes done for the Bancacci Chapel in Florence.
Tommaso Masaccio was a major influence on the later Italian Renaissance painters, primarily Michelangelo. Masaccio managed to paint a few pictures of such an enormous impact as to affect not only the whole future course of Florentine painting but also that of European fine art painting. As a result, he is considered as one of the founding fathers of Renaissance art.
An Italian painter and engraver, Andrea Mantegna painted heroic figures, often using a dramatic perspective1hat gives the viewer the illusion of looking up from below. The effect is somewhat the same as looking up from ground level at statues mounted on a pedestal – and this is what made his work so different.
A series of nine paintings, titled ‘Triumph of Caesar’, that Mantegna started in 1486 shows his interest in imperial Rome. In one famous work, called the ‘Camera Degli Sposi’ or the ‘Wedding Chamber’, he painted the walls and ceiling of a small interior room, transforming it into an open-air pavilion. Rooms creating this sort of illusion became very popular in the 1600s.
Botticelli – Painter of ‘Birth of Venus’
Born in 1445, Sandro Botticelli was an important painter during the Italian Renaissance. He is known for the dreamy look of the people, gods, goddesses, and angels in his paintings. The way he painted faces was so special. Each face was different but full of life and beautiful in its own way.
Botticelli painted many religious and mythological scenes. One of his most famous paintings is the ‘Birth of Venus’. This shows the Goddess Venus emerging from a seashell, and the painting is remarkable in that the weight of the body is distributed unequally so that the figure forms one continuous curve. It remains, to this day, one of the greatest masterpieces of all time.
Leonardo da Vinci
The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the history of art. Leonardo da Vinci is the creator of this masterpiece. It is said that when he was 14, Leonardo had painted the picture of a dragon that looked so real that it actually scared his father!
Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the greatest artists and thinkers of all time. In addition to his paintings, da Vinci was an accomplished sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, and ‘ scientist. The painting shows a beautiful woman seated in an armchair on a balcony. Behind her, a landscape can be seen. Leonardo has seated her so that the fig u re seems almost alive. Her smile is mysterious, and nothing in the painting appears fixed. All the shapes seem to sway and flow gently into one another, and the figure and landscape are perfectly harmonized. Experts believe Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa in Italy over a long period beginning about 1505.
The Last Supper
The Last Supper is a mural by Leonardo da Vinci that was painted on a wall of the dining hall in the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. The idea was that the monks would be able to focus on the last meal of Jesus while they were eating.
The mural is huge and covers an entire In fact, it is the largest picture that Leonardo ever painted. The painting is laid out in such a way that it looks like Jesus and his apostles were sitting at the end of the dining hall. The disciples are all reacting horror to the thought that someone at that table would betray their master. The painting is remarkable because the disciples are all portraying very human, easily identifiable emotions.
You can see that every single element of the painting directs one’s attention straight to the midpoint of the composition which is Jesus Christ’s head. In this work, Leonardo wanted to experiment with a new style he had invented called tempera. It is a method of painting with pigments dispersed in an emulsion miscible with water, typically egg yolk. The painting took him four years to complete – 1495 to 1498.
Unfortunately, Leonardo’s new experiment was a disaster. The paint almost immediately began falling off the plaster. Art experts tried to recreate what they thought the painting must have looked like. There is a lot of debate about whether those experts really did ‘fix’ the painting, or if they changed its meaning by making changes in color and detail.
Michelangelo – Creator of Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. He was one of the most important artists of the Renaissance. At age 23, Michelangelo completed his magnificent ‘Pieta’, a marble statue that shows the Virgin Mary grieving over the dead Jesus. He began work on the colossal fig u re of ‘David’ in 1501, and by 1504, the sculpture was in place outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
After finishing his most famous project, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he later painted ‘The Last Judgment’ on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. Towards the end of his life, Michelangelo became more involved in architecture and poetry. In 1546, he was made chief architect of the partly finished St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Michelangelo’s art was a culmination of the knowledge and revival of the classics during the Renaissance, and his work was the launching point of a new style of art which became known as ‘Mannerism’.
The Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings (see picture to the right) by Michelangelo were commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 and were completed in 1512. It was arduous work that required the artist to constantly paint while lying on his back, atop a scaffold that raised him to within inches of the ceiling. The paintings took four years to finish, and it was physically, artistically, and emotionally a tremendous feat by the artist, who created this masterpiece single-handedly.
The painting covers 520 square meters of the ceiling, and the central area is made up of nine panels showing scenes from the Old Testament. These panels are surrounded by fig u res from Greek mythology and Hebrew prophets. To this day, these ceiling paintings continue to inspire millions of pilgrims and tourists in Vatican City each year.
Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto
Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto is best known for his monumental and dramatic religious art. The artist was born in Venice and lived there all his life. Even though his painting is distinguished by great daring, he seems to have led a rather retired life, concerned only with his work, and the well-being of his family.
Tintoretto’s most notable works include the early ‘St Mark Freeing the Slave’, as well as the series of religious paintings he completed for the Scuola di San Rocco between 1564 and 1588. His last picture of considerable importance was the vast ‘Paradise’. It was reputed to be the largest painting ever done upon canvas.
He also painted ‘The Last Supper’, which is dramatically different from that which was painted by da Vinci. Tintoretto’s early works adhered quite strictly to the Mannerist tradition of the Venetian or Italian Renaissance. However, he later developed his own style that was highly dynamic and extravagant.
Raphael – Leader of the Italian Renaissance
Raphael had great talent, and he received early training in art from his father, Giovanni Santi. He also learned new techniques from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Beauty and serenity were his great emotional themes. Raphael painted the Madonna del Granduca, The Small Cowper Madonna, and The Alba Madonna.
He painted Stanza Dell’incendio and four large-scale paintings which were Marriage of the Virgin, Sposalizio, The Crucified Christ with Virgin Mary, and Saints and Angels. Raphael was a classical perfectionist, and he was thought to be one of the most detailed painters of all portraitists. He was known as a leader of the Renaissance, for he made people think of personality when they looked at his paintings into which he put realistic emotions.
Titian – Master Painter
Titian was the leader of the 16th-century Venetian school of the Italian Renaissance. He was recognized early in his own lifetime as a supremely great painter. His work is characterized by pure colors and idealized beauty in nature and humans.
Titian was equally adept with portraits and landscapes, mythological, and religious subjects. What makes him a master painter is his deep interest in color. Titian’s most important innovations were made in portraiture, with his search and penetration in human character. Titian also transformed the art of oil painting with new techniques that changed the way that Renaissance artists used paints.
His work gradually became very free, and he seemed to paint from pure emotion. He felt as if nothing ever needed to be over-deliberated, and anything could be painted over until the artist felt satisfied. This mindset, along with his masterful techniques, made Titian an inspiration to the young artists of his own day and influenced the great masters of the next century.
Sofonisba was one of the first women to gain an international reputation as a painter. Sola made history when she went to study painting under the renowned artist Campi because, at that time, women were not generally accepted into painter’s studios. She concentrated on portraits, and her style was unique, and therefore historically significant. She did away with the rigid artificiality of the times and captured emotion in her portraits. Many of her self portraits convey her own refined character.
In the 1550s, Sophonisba joined the Spanish court as a lady in waiting to the Queen. There she produced some of her most exquisite works, full of intricate and delicate fabrics, fabulous jewelry, and furs. Her greatest contribution was that she opened the art world up to women painters. She was undoubtedly the most successful woman painter of the Spanish Golden Age.
Caravaggio was probably the most revolutionary artist of his time. An Italian painter, he abandoned the rules that had guided a century of artists before him. His religious paintings were realistic and dramatic, not idealized forms of men and gods. The models chosen for saints were real peasants with wrinkled faces and dirty feet, not beautiful, aristocratic-looking men and women. This greatly upset traditional society and Caravaggio came in for a lot of criticism.
Few artists in history have exercised as extraordinary an influence as this tempestuous and short-lived painter. Caravaggio was destined to turn a large part of European art away from the ideal viewpoint of the Renaissance to the concept that simple reality was of primary importance. He was one of the first to paint people as ordinary looking. He refused to compromise on his style, and by standing firm, he placed religious art in a new light.
Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the first women artists to achieve recognition in the male-dominated world of post-Renaissance art. In an era when female artists were limited to portrait painting and imitative poses, she was the first woman to paint major historical and religious scenarios: Artemisia Gentileschi’s life was tragic, and it made a strong impact on her painting.
Her work became a symbolic attempt to deal with the physical, mental, and emotional traumas that she was experiencing. The heroines of her art are powerful women exacting revenge on male evildoers. Artemisia was without doubt the most important woman painter of Early Modern Europe, by virtue of the excellence of her work, the originality of her treatment of traditional subjects, and the number of her paintings that have survived.
Umberto Boccioni was the leader of the futurist movement, which embraced the present, and rejected the past. Industrialization, technology, and movement were the watchwords of futurism. Boccioni was born in Rome. When he was sixteen, he began studying art with Giacomo Balla. Balla introduced him to neoimpressionism. Tiny dots of various pure colors that became blended in the viewer’s eye were used in neo-impressionism.
Filippo Tomasso Marinetti turned Boccioni into a futurist. Boccioni believed that a sense of movement was important in art. He was the chief contributor to the theory of ‘mobile sculptures’. ‘The City Rises’ was his first major futuristic work. It showed the growth of the modern industrial city and the people living in it. In 1911, he was introduced to cubism. ‘State of Mind,’ and ‘Forces of a Street,’ are two of his important creations. Boccioni was killed in a riding accident in 1916.