Renaissance marks a period in the history of Europe when the Middle Ages were almost coming to an end and the Modern World was rising. Beginning in the 14 century and lasting till the middle of the 17th century, Renaissance represents the cultural rebirth that took place during this period. In the 15th century, the Early Renaissance art period was predominant chiefly in Italy, where it served as a bridge between the gap in the Italian Middle Ages and the High Renaissance. Generally, it is said that Early Renaissance fully developed in the late 16th century. The purpose of this research paper is to gain an insight into the Early Renaissance period by conducting research, which includes analyzing the lives and artwork of the most prominent artists of the period.
The meaning of the word ‘Renaissance’ is rebirth ("sheppardsoftware.com"). The Early Renaissance marks the beginning of an era in which the interest in classic art, and ancient Greek and Roman ideas was reviving, which result vast cultural achievements. The main concept of rebirth that the Early Renaissance was all about centered on the belief that it is possible to reach artistic enlightenment, excellence and wisdom by studying the artistic and intellectual treasures from ancient Greece and Rome, which were inspired by Humanism. The art of painting was radically altered in the Early Renaissance period since the classical world had been rediscovered.
The Early Renaissance period was also a period of rebirth for ancient content and forms, which were revived during this time. Before this, artwork and paintings mostly had spiritual content, which began to change by the Early Renaissance period. The Early Renaissance brought with it classic humanization, transforming the spiritual orientation of the artwork. The Early Renaissance introduced classical artistic principles, such as concordant proportion, realistic expression, and sensible postures. Flanders and Italy were two Western European regions that were specifically active during the Early Renaissance period. A majority of the works of art of the Early Renaissance period produced from 1420 to 1550.
In the 14th century Italy, right before the arrival of the Early Renaissance period, the art of painting had already started to be revolutionized by Giotto di Bondone. His paintings had impressively lifelike human figures that are “idealized, monumentalized, yet comprehensible mirrors of humanity, and in so doing, he transformed the direction of Western painting” (Stewart et. al., 57). Although sheepish steps were being made toward the Early Renaissance period in Sienna, but Black Plague of 1348 put an abrupt stop to them. Nonetheless, Renaissance art went on to develop in all its glory in the city of Florence. The Early Renaissance was the period when artists like Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi and many others emerged and created superb masterpieces that continue to amaze and enchant till today.
After the dark era, it is not surprising that the Early Renaissance was seen as the early years of rebirth. The Early Renaissance was truly a period in which classics were rediscovered and art was approached in a more humanistic way, i.e. man was placed at the center of the Universe. The Early Renaissance was a representation of a key period for innovation and precise sciences. It was a period when humans began to be regarded as individuals, with personal aspirations, beliefs and dreams. Thus, the Early Renaissance spread throughout Europe, especially Italy, quite quickly.
As mentioned, Early Renaissance art period was predominant chiefly in Italy, and even more in Florence. During the 15th-century, the people living in the city called it Firenze, and it was the perfect place for anyone who wanted to start an artistic career in Italy. The "Early Renaissance" was all about Florence. Firenze, as it's known to those who live there, was the place in which to launch one's artistic career in 15th-century Italy. Even before the Early Renaissance period, Northern Italy is said to have been an art-friendly region. Artists did not face difficulty finding employment during the Early Renaissance period in Florence artistic competition in the region for the most illustrious civic adornment.
Masaccio was the most innovative Early Renaissance painters in Italy. Although his full name was Maso di Ser Giovanni di Mone Cassai, nickname Massaccio, he was nicknamed Massaccio, which means “messy Tom ("casasantapia.com").” He was the first greater painter of 15th century Italy during the Early Renaissance period. Massaccio’s frescoes are the very first paradigms of the Humanism that was brought about the Early Renaissance, and he used plasticity in figure painting, which was not previously used. Although his career was brief, but Masaccio had managed to thoroughly influence the art of painting in the Early Renaissance period.
Masaccio was among the first Early Renaissance painters to use scientific perspective in his artwork. The Giorgio Vasari has written that that every Florentine painter of that time who wanted “learn the precepts and rules for painting well” ("casasantapia.com") would study his frescoes thoroughly. Before the Early Renaissance period, Italian painters used the Gothic style in their paintings. Thus, Masaccio changed the direction of Italian painting. He added a more naturalistic tone in his paintings, elaborating the ornamentation of artists before him. His paintings were very realistic for their time because he employed perspective. The Cascia Altarpiece (1422) and the Virgin and Child with St. Anne (ca. 1424) are two of Masaccio’s most famous paintings of the Early Renaissance.
Apart from his bold realism, the fact that Masaccio understood and used scientific perspective is evident in his Holy Trinity fresco (1428) that he painted in the Florentinian church of Santa Maria Novella ("casasantapia.com"). The painting is one of the first major examples of linear perspective in Early Renaissance artwork since he created a believable illusion of a chapel by using Brunelleschi’s ideas. In fact, ever since Masaccio began using perspective, it became a prominent characteristic of Early Renaissance artwork. Even his contemporaries took up perspective, including Paolo Uccello, who used perspective in some of his most famous paintings such as The Battle of San Romano (1438-1440) and The Hunt in the Forest (1465-1470). Uccello also introduced artificial techniques of depth in Early Renaissance art.
Another early Renaissance artist who continuously used perspective in his paintings was Piero della Francesca, who was born in 1420. The spaces that Francesca created in his paintings were always geometrically exact and strictly proportioned because of his enthusiastic interest in mathematics. The Flagellation of Christ (1450s) by Francesca best shows his technique, where oil and tempera painting have been combined. He was the first artist from the Early Renaissance period to adopt this new medium of oils. Although Andrea del Castagno, a contemporary of Francesca, had a short-lived career, but he managed to develop Masaccio's pictorial perspective, using it in paintings and to improve the quality of his sculptural figures. Antonello da Messina, a Sicilian portraitist who was born in 1430, was another early oil painter who allegedly introduced Jan Van Eyck’s method of oil painting to the Early Renaissance art of painting.
In Northern Europe, a solid, critical analysis marks the Early Renaissance years. Early Renaissance paintings from Northern Europe did not show the primary urge to unlock noetic keys to the universe. Instead, they featured the overpowering urge to describe it. It is also arguable that there were two conflicting goals that the culture was trying to accomplish, to visibly portray the mysteries of faith, and yet, make them more mystical at the same time (Stewart et. al.,72). Examples of artwork from the Early Renaissance period in the Northern Europe include Man in a Red Turban (1433) and Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride (1434) by Jan Van Eyck, and Descent from the Cross (1433) and Entombment of Christ (1450) by Rogier van der Weyden.
Venice was another city that prominently represented the Early Renaissance. Giovanni Bellini is one of the greatest painters from Venice during the Early Renaissance, and is recognized as the innovator of the Venetian school. Bellini was born in 1430, two years after Masaccio’s death. The wonderful painting that Bellini painted during the Early Renaissance was his Saint Francis in Ecstasy (c 1485) ("artble.com"). Through his painting Bellini takes spectators closer to the spiritual world than they have ever been. Moreover, Bellini achieved a harmonious image but intricate image of tranquil grandeur.
Bellini is regarded as an immensely important artist and painter in the history of the Early Renaissance. During the Early Renaissance, while artists in Florentine were developing more secular religious imagery and artists in Siena were presenting a more dreamlike, mythical vision, then Bellini in Venice was painting some of the most doleful, poetic paintings ever painted (Cole, 110). During the 65 years that he spent evolving as an artist, Bellini brought the art of painting in Venice into the forefront of Early Renaissance and eventually to the forefront of Western art. Bellini died in 1516 ("artble.com").
During the last days of Bellini, another prominent Early Renaissance artist was born in Florence to a tanner and his wife, he was named Sandro Botticelli. Botticelli served as an apprentice under the Fra Filippo Lippi, another notable Early Renaissance artist, and he was also influenced by another Early Renaissance artist, Andrea del Verrocchio ("notablebiographies.com"). Naturalism was prominent in artwork of the period in which Botticelli was educated. Botticelli was a gifted thinker and his teacher had trained him to make use of the spiritual genre in paintings. Saint Augustine in His Cell (1490-1494) ("notablebiographies.com") is one of Botticelli’s frescoes from this genre.
During the Early Renaissance period, Botticelli was living in restless and troubled times, most of which he spent working for the prominent families of Florence, including the Medici family. Although he had left spiritual significance behind him long ago, but often Botticelli’s paintings also included religious subjects as well, including panels of the Madonna. In 1481, Botticelli was selected among several other artists to go to Rome to paint the walls of Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Botticelli’s paintings have always been pleasurable to the spectator’s imagination of movement and of touch. Botticelli’s style of painting deviated from the fashionable realism. Instead, his paintings were dreamy, somewhat decorative, and sensitive in nature ("notablebiographies.com").
Botticelli also created an obvious female ideal when painting Madonna and Venus, her mythogical equivalent. He painted both these female figures as blonde, modest, slim and a bit sad. Botticelli deliberately avoided using scientific perspective; instead he purposely used dreamy distortion and unreality in his paintings. His figures can be immediately recognized for their detachment and dignity. La Primavera (c.1477-82) and Birth of Venus (c.1485) are two of his most celebrated paintings ("notablebiographies.com"). Sandro Botticelli is recognized among the leading painters of the Early Renaissance in Florence. After Botticelli, several other artists also made their mark in the Early Renaissance period, including Perugino, a Perugian painter, who is among Raphael’s influences, and Piero di Cosimo, who was influenced by earlier Flemish painters of the period.
Albrecht Dürer is among the most prominent of the German and Northern European artists of the Early Renaissance. He had a modern personality, sense and was particularly curious about the world around him (Stewart et. al, 78), as a result of which he earned a unique place. Some of his many masterpieces include Adam and Eve (1504), Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1498) and Melancholia I (1514). Of course, Grünewald Insenheim can also not be forgotten when exploring the history of the Early Renaissance. His astounding and horrifying Isenheim Altarpiece (1512–1516) is an example of diversity of human interpretation during 15th and early 16th century (Stewart et. al., 83). The blueprint that is used till today for analyzing, critiquing, integrating, and interpreting art is represented by the standards that were developed during the Early Renaissance period.
No doubt, the face of art in Italy and even beyond was effectively revolutionized during the Early Renaissance period. Even the Sienese School of painting was influenced by that period. Even though the Early Renaissance ultimately spread all across Italy, Florence has always been at the center of it and the Medici family, in particular, patronized it. By the time the century came to an end, during which time the Early Renaissance period was at its height, and ultimately the High Renaissance period arrived and brought with it famous artists like, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian.
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Stewart, Andrew F et. al. Art of the Western World Study Guide. Mcgraw-Hill College, 1989. Print.
Cole, Bruce. Art of the Western World: From Ancient Greece to Post Modernism. Simon & Schuster, 1991. Print.
"Sandro Botticelli Biography." notablebiographies.com. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Web. 4 Dec 2012.
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