The History of Art And The Curious Lives of Famous Painters

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Origins and History of  the Italian Renaissance

Until the Middle Ages men regarded themselves as following the Good Shepherd, and art consequently did not recognize the individual in particular. In the structure and position of  the figures, as in their expression, a general and uniform type of beauty prevailed. The early Renaissance marks the victory of individualism and the uncompromising prominence of he individual.  Renaissance historian Jacob Burckhardt asserted "Freed from the countless bonds which elsewhere in Europe checked progress, having reached a high degree of individual development and been schooled by the teachings of antiquity, the Italian mind now turned to the discovery of the outward universe, and to the representation of it in speech and form."

Artist were elevated in social standing and their art was looked upon not as simple crafts, but as divinely inspired creations. The spirit of an era awoke, revitalized with knowledge and creativity. Paintings of the High Renaissance are intensely dramatic and sumptuously dazzling. The highly valued synthesis of science, art, geometry and the natural world.  The techniques used by painters of the High Renaissance were quite innovative in themselves. Their use of luminous colors used in combination  with newly developed oil mediums gave a unique vividness to their paintings. Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci would not hesitate to directly sketch a reeking, decomposing human corpse for the purpose of making detailed realistic studies.

According to Richard Muther" An abundance of sharply outlined characters suddenly appears, robust, clear-cut personalities; lawless nature belonging just as much in the gallery of criminals as in that of great men. Character, individuality, power and energy are the passwords of the Renaissance age.  This new humanity, all these rugged and manly figures which the age had created, had also to appear in painting. In contrast to the former preference for beauty of an angelic and tender type, the problem now was to depict energetic and powerful beings; and to replace shy and feminine, though bearded, men in the pictures of the older masters by angular, harsh determined and daring types. The figures which has formerly hovered like spirits above the earth had now to stand firmly upon their own feet and become part of their earthly home." --

The Medici Grand Dukes had a major influence on the growth of the Italian Renaissance through their sponsorship of  humanism, the arts and literature.

As the city of Florence increased and advanced, so did the Medici family.  They were a powerful and ruthless family of enlightened art collectors and influencers.  The Medici were lovers of all that was beautiful and refined. They took young artists under their wing and encouraged creativity. The Medici ruled Florence with an iron fist but lavished gifts and gold upon talented artists and innovators. They founded great libraries and their patronage greatly promoted humanism.  

Cosimo de' Medici sponsored Platonic Academy (Medici Academy). This informal group of painters, writers, scholars and nobility, hobnobbed and exchanged ideas. They feasted and drank fine wine by the barrel all at Cosimo de' Medici expense. When
a Medici commissioned a specific painter, other painters wanted to paint like that artist.  According to author Sarah Tytler, "Lorenzo the Magnificent was then ruling Florence, and he had made a collection of antique models in his palace and gardens, and constituted it an academy for young artists. In this academy Michelangelo developed a strong bias for sculpture, and won the direct patronage of the Medici.

To this period of his life belong two characteristic anecdotes. In a struggle with a fellow-student, Michelangelo received a blow from a mallet in his face, which, breaking bone and cartilage, lent to his nose the rugged bend, 'The bar of Michael Angelo.' An ill-advised member of the Medician house, while entertaining a party of guests during a snowstorm, sent out the indignant artist to make a snow man within sight of the palace windows. These anecdotes bear indirectly on the ruling qualities of 
Michelangelo—qualities so integral that they are wrought into his marble and painted on his canvas—proud independence and energy."

 After Cosimo died, Lorenzo de’ Medici, also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, took over the Medici Academy. Lorenzo was the most brilliant and talented of the Medici  clan.  According to Renaissance author, Giorgio Vasari "Lorenzo the Magnificent, then, always favored men of genius…wherefore it is no marvel that from that school there should have issued some who have amazed the world. And what is more, he not only gave the means to buy food and clothing to those who, being poor, would otherwise not have been able to pursue the studies of design, but also bestowed extraordinary gifts on anyone among them who had acquitted himself in some work better than the others; so that the young students of our arts, competing thus with each other, thereby became very excellent"
The Renaissance

The Greatest Artists of the  Italian Renaissance

Important Words, People, Phrases, Characteristics related to the Italian Renaissance Art Movement - rebirth, rediscovery of the classical world, City-state, Humanism, Humanist, Francesco Petrarch, Reform, The Prince, Theocracy, The Inquisition, Human Reasoning, Medici Academy, publication of Della Pittura, a book about the laws of mathematical perspective for artists, sfumato, chiaroscuro, linear perspectiveHeliocentric Theory, Petrarch, Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, liberal arts, civic humanism, Verrocchio, secularism, Leonardo Bruni, Lorenzo Valla, Neo-Platonism, nominalism, Giotto, Masaccio, Botticelli, Quattrocento, vanishing point, Savonarola, oligarchy spiritually significant,  illuminated manuscript idealized biblical themes, scriptorium, emotion, illuminator,  iconoclast,  Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci,  Age of Discovery, axonometric drawing, curiosity about the natural world, mythology,  realistic use of colours and light Bonfire of the Vanities, Old Testament stories, ethereal and foggy backgrounds, Gospel parablesThe Blackdeath, romanticized landscapes,  Christian symbolism. Paradise


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Milanese School,
Ferrara School
Sienese School
Florentine School
Venetian School
Early Renaissance
High Renaissance
 Northern Renaissance

Popular Questions About  Renaissance Art History

What is the difference between Italian Renaissance art and Northern Renaissance art?

How did the Black Death impact  European art history?

How did the Inquisition impact  European art history?

What was the influence of the Medici Academy on Renaissance painters?

What was the Bonfire of the Vanities?

Who were the greatest painters of the Renaissance?

References -The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt

A History of Art for Beginners and Students Painting, Sculpture, Architecture by Clara Erskine Clement
References -The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt
Richard Muther, The History of  Painting, Henry and Co., London, 1896