History of Painting: Renaissance art

Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

The fifteenth century was a turning time. The art of painting took a decisive turn during that period. The venue was the Italian peninsula. It was the time of transition, from middle age to advanced age. And the modern age was named the renaissance. Among other branches of knowledge, the faculty of art also got its reshaping brush-stroke.

There were artists who carried the revolutionary banner. Among them, three artists were prominent. They were Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. The art movement started by these artists had its distinctiveness. If we look at the art pieces of that time, we immediately recognise them. It is because they carry certain common features. We find their figure composition similar and linear perspective comparable. The aspect of light falling on the objects and persons had its own distinctiveness. That made the art a special one; it made the renaissance effects long-lasting. 

The word 'Renaissance' means rebirth, the restoration. It is said that the classic defines itself by surviving, and Renaissance art has defined itself by surviving so long. No other artworks are as popular as the paintings done during this period.  The artists of this period claimed that they were reviving the art of the Greek and Roman period; they looked at the art with a fresh and revitalised perspective. 

CHURCH AND ART: Mainly commissioned by the Catholic Church, the Renaissance Paintings were like a celebration of the art itself. Starting from the use of religious themes outside of the premises of churches, the renaissance artists celebrated the invention of using oil colours, too. Well equipped with diverse subjects and a variety of themes, these artists applied philosophy, poetry, religious beliefs, architectural splendour and scientific development in their paintings. These prolific painters proved a myriad of new concepts. They established that the ideas could be depicted with ease and grandeur on canvases and walls of churches and palaces. 

ART AND TECHNIQUE: The period of the Renaissance was the era of scientific realism. New inventions in the field of printing, architect and industrial sectors were bubbling in the air. The art of painting could not remain untouched by the blowing air of growing scientific awareness. On close observation of renaissance paintings, we can see how precisely the theory of scientific realism, too, is depicted through masterly executed crafts. Before going onto canvas, the artist used to prepare the drawings. The paintings were the final product of intricate drawing that the artists would have done before going onto canvas. 

While being an artistic bridge joining the two greatest of the art moments like ‘The Art of Middle Ages, and the ‘Baroque Art’, renaissance painters made the paintings available to the people who lived outside of courts and palaces. Art was becoming democratized. The genre painters did this revolution. They mounted the life of common men and their daily activities onto canvases. They made the art honouring the life of citizens who had just tasted the freedom unlocked by a new age of industrial revolution. The religion and life of the kings were giving space to the life of common people. That was the major shift the renaissance art gifted to society.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper, a Painting of Jesus in His Final Discourse: Paintings of Jesus and Mary Magdalene; Religious Painting; Renaissance Art: these all aspects came together. There was a new spirit emerging. Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art, said Leonardo da Vinci. His spirit always worked so spontaneously that we remember his work till the date.

  The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci
The Artist: Do you know what a magician does? A magician would not allow our visual system to function at a normal pace. While performing on stage, he would touch a normal-looking object and that thing would turn looking as bathed in a golden glow. Leonardo da Vinci was such a magician. May would be is a simple structure of weed or a curvy section of a skull, Leonardo would turn that into eternal beauty. His extraordinary lining work and the precision he showed in executing light and shade aspects of the paintings had added values to the artworks making them lively. 

The Renaissance Art: When we talk about the art of painting, and when we talk about Renaissance artists, a reference to The Last Supper must be there. It is a Mural Painting done on a wall of a dining hall in the convent of Santa Maria in the city of Milan in Italy. A painting as the size of 15 x 29 feet had consumed Leonardo da Vinci’s four years to get it completed. In this painting, he had painted the mythological event in a manner where we would be led to believe that the real people are painted acting like real people. 

Last Supper is Vinci’s visual representation of the event wherein Jesus had gathered all of his twelve disciples. He informed them that all were equal in the eyes of God. He told them how to eat and behave in his remembrance. This was the incident where Jesus had shocked all of his disciples by telling them that one of them would betray him. The painting depicts the reactions of all the disciples of Jesus, reactions to Jesus's statement about the betrayal.  

This painting The Last Supper was badly damaged due to weather effect and lack of proper care. It needed major restoration. The restoration work for The Last Supper was completed in 20 years and it was made again available to the viewers in the year 1999. It is believed that the person sitting on the right side of Jesus was John. But Now it is also argued that the figure sitting right of Jesus is clearly looking feminine. Thus she must be Marry Magdalene. Researches are on to identify that controversial figure. There are different views regarding whether Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, was present at the dinner or not. Thus looking to the importance of the incident it depicts, this painting is very much valuable. However, Leonardo’s artistic interpretation has given a realistic touch to the event portrayed in this painting. 

MICHELANGELO: Painting Sistine Chapel, the Spirit of Renaissance

Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

Renaissance artists were not only painters. They were sculptures; they were poets, they were engineers; they were architects, too. Michelangelo was all of these. Born in Italy and lived almost for 90 years (1475 – 1564), he was a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci.                                                 

The Period: The renaissance period had a special feature with respect to the development in the religious sector, too. The artists of this period had seen unprecedented support from ambitious Popes. The church helped artists in commissioning the work of painting and sculpture; it offered such types of works for decades. Michelangelo had enjoyed the benefits of church support. Though based on old religious themes and subjects, Michelangelo endeavoured to depict the spirit of the Renaissance. One would notice the humanist touch in his paintings. 

Ezekiel on Sistine Chapel
by Michelangelo

The Artist: Michelangelo had developed his own style of painting that would be called ‘Highly Impassioned’. Those who later followed ‘Mannerism Style of Painting’ followed most of the characteristics of Michelangelo’s art. His style of painting had been so impressive, in-depth and in artistic patterns.  

Though his father desired to educate him in grammar and language, Michelangelo loved copying the paintings done by masters. He used to go to Church for the purpose of painting; the other painters to get himself educated in that line of actions. Such was his passionate enthusiasm; so focussed was his attention. 

The Art: Though reluctant to leave his work of sculpture for which he was commissioned, Michelangelo had accepted to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Here he executed an unprecedented work. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, there are paintings based on the Book of Genesis. Some of the paintings depict the ancestors of Christ, too.

Raffaello Madonna Cowper
Madonna Cowper by Raphael

RAPHAEL: Painting Women With Passionate Perspective. If we talk about the renaissance, and we do not speak about master artist Raphel, the story would be quite incomplete.  

Look at the painting of Madonna given here. We can see the grace of the woman in the tilt of her head. Her carrying the child adds to the motherly passion of a woman. Raphael was known for his injection of such sensuality and passion in paintings.  painting is invaluable in artistic qualities and huge in a number of the paintings, too. He was much productive and had established a very large place for painting. Though he died very young age of 37, his studio had generated a cult in the art of painting.  We can see the grace of the woman in the tilt of her head. Her carrying the child adds to the motherly passion of a woman. Raphael was known for his injection of such emotion and passion in paintings.  

The Art: It is beyond doubt that the display of elements of aesthetics would make viewers' eyes affixed on a painting. Giovanni did it very well. He kept doing experiments in his work. In the later stage of his life, he had done novel experiments involving the use of light. He kept adding new aspects to the landscapes he painted during this period. He infused the element of light in his landscape so stunningly that on seeing his paintings one would be able to tell about what time of the day is depicted in it.  

However, his favourite subject was to paint Madonna. Keeping the Madonna as a central theme, he had painted many masterpieces like ‘Madonna with Saints’ in the year 1505, Madonna with Two Saints’ in the year 1490, and 'Madonna with Child’. If art is an honest record of what an artist sees and feels, the paintings done by Giovanni is one of the most appropriate evidence of the same.

He painted throughout his life. During his old age, he was very much productive. He was fortunate to have disciples like Titian who would be a world-renowned painter in the later years. Giovanni died in the year 1516 and he had left a precious legacy of beautiful paintings. The painting of a woman is always subjected to the painter’s own interpretations, so far as her depicted form is concerned. Even the postures of the models tell inherent tales; even the moods revealed by the postures and the gestures of the model depicted in the painting tend to be an excellent depiction of the art. 

In reality that might not be the same as depicted; but a painter, an artist with brushes and colours in hands and the imagination in mind try transferring the feel of the beauty of the scene that is spread out before their eyes. Giovanni Bellini was born in a family that could be called the family of artists. Living in Venice, he had almost revolutionised the art of painting. And he did it well. He demonstrated how reality could be depicted in paintings; how beautifully the colours could be laid on surfaces to paint. 

To his credit, Giovanni has a rich collection of paintings. Some of his masterpieces had been destroyed in a huge fire in Doge’s Palace in the year 1577. Though living among master artists in his family and in the surrounding, too, the artist in Giovanni had built up a road of his own; he had developed his style of painting. However, in many of his paintings, we can see the influence of his brother in law and the master Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna. [All the above paintings are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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