The Italian Renaissance: Art Essay

Italy was the location of the beginning of the Renaissance. It was a time of colossal artistic transition. Art went from being a bland, flat, two-dimensional picture, to a vivid and new art that was three dimensional, which was something that had never been seen before in art. Outstanding artists came to be, and artists could enjoy fame. Leonardo da Vinci was a master artist during the Renaissance, along with Michelangelo and many other famous artists. They both acquired great amounts of fame and respect and became legendary artists and are still admired to this day. Humanism changed the outlook on life.

Humanism allowed people to get interested in the human body instead of theology. Due to this change, many scientific discoveries were made. In addition, mathematics played a large role in making Renaissance art unique and spectacular. From this explosion of information, several new styles of art emerged. Two of the most know and preferred styles were tempera and fresco art. Both were initially developed and utilized during the Renaissance. Spanning from the late 1300’s to the late 1500’s, the proto, early, high and mannerism periods of the Renaissance were times of great change.

Despite this short span of time, it is easily one of the most productive periods of art in history. Italian Renaissance Artists Leonardo da Vinci – He became a legend in his lifetime. He was so talented that he was regarded with admiration and awe. In spite of his ridiculous fame, he did not become arrogant. He was very kind and humane; he didn’t eat meat because he did not believe in killing animals. He wrote “He, who does not value life, does not deserve it”. He would go to markets and purchase songbirds and would then set them free.

From the time he was a young boy to old age, he lived with animals as companions, treating them with compassion. As well as being an artist, Da Vinci was also an accomplished musician, skillful horseman and expert swordsman, but he never drew it out of anger. In his early life he used his exemplary art skills to record his thoughts. He brought a notebook wherever he went. He had many notebooks but unfortunately the majority of them were lost throughout time. There are some that remain today and they are preserved. Leonardo da Vinci was born into the booming Renaissance.

He was extremely advanced intellectually, architecturally, and artistically for his time. In addition to learning to paint, he learned how to sculpt with wood and stone. He also worked with modeling clay and learned from the metalworkers how to cast in bronze, silver and gold. He was taught how to make musical instruments and surgical instruments. When da Vinci was only 15 years old he had mastered many artistic skills. He was sent to Florence as an apprentice to Andrea Del Verrocchio. Verrocchio was very well known in the community and had earned a great reputation.

His shop was almost always bustling with activity. Leonardo worked with Verrocchio until 1477. During that time Verrocchio was hired to paint what was later to become the famous painting, The Baptism of Christ. Verrocchio had Leonardo paint the kneeling angel in the painting. The angel turned out better than anything Verrocchio had done. He was so humiliated that he stopped painting after that. Da Vinci was later quoted, saying, “Poor is a pupil that does not surpass his master. ” In 1472 da Vinci was accepted into the painter’s guild of Florence.

He left Verrocchio’s studio and worked on his own until 1481. It was then that his reputation was severely damaged by the accusation that he had committed sodomy. The charges were eventually dropped but he was humiliated and failed to complete two large projects that he was commissioned to do. Da Vinci decided to move to Milan in 1482. He was hired by Duke Ludovico Sforza and was given the title of “painter and engineer. ” He stayed in Milan for 17 years. At this time he finished six paintings. Among them were two of his most famous paintings, The Virgin of the Rocks and The Last Supper.

In 1500 da Vinci decided to move back to Florence, where he had a good reputation. He worked as senior military architect and general engineer to Pope Alexander the VI’s son, Cesare Borgia. This position allowed him to travel a lot more and because of this he was able to draw the land he saw. He made sketches of cities and drew various maps. In 1503 Leonardo da Vinci was offered a job in Milan again. However, it has been said that before he was to leave he accepted a commission from a wealthy Florentine merchant to paint a picture of his wife, Mona Lisa. This story is not a fact.

There have been many other stories as to who the Mona Lisa is and why it was painted but the story of the merchant is widely accepted. It took da Vinci three years (1503-1506) to complete this masterpiece. This was his last well renowned piece of artwork before he died. Da Vinci spent is final years in France working for the King. He died in 1519 at the age of 67. Michelangelo- Michelangelo’s father lost his job when Michelangelo was very young. So his mother sent him away to a stonecutter’s wife in Florence, Italy. The majority of his babyhood was spent away from home. Michelangelo’s family was not a family of artists.

He always jokingly thought that the milk of the stonecutter’s wife gave him his talent with sculpting. Throughout his life he became extremely famous, although being famous in the 16th century did not give as much money as it does today. Even though he wasn’t the wealthiest man, he always managed to send money to his family. Michelangelo was very lucky to have grown up in Florence. It was the artistic center of Europe during the Renaissance. Between 1450 and 1550 Florence was bursting with new ideas. Even though there was still great poverty, the nobles and merchants became very rich during this time.

Florence was located around the most fertile part of Italy. Michelangelo wanted to be an artist, but his father, Lodovico, didn’t approve of his dream. Lodovico sent Michelangelo to school at the age of seven but instead of studying like the other children; he would sneak out to draw anything and everything. All he ever wanted to do was to be a part of a bottega, a workshop where young men could learn the skills of art with a master. When Michelangelo reached the age of thirteen, he wore down his fathers’ resistance and finally was allowed into the painting workshop of the Ghirlandaio Brothers.

Although Lodovico was disappointed, he signed a contract saying that Michelangelo would stay in the workshop for three years. Michelangelo had to follow every rule his masters told him to do. Regardless of there being the few very menial and tedious tasks, a bottega was an exhilarating place for Michelangelo or any young artist. Over the years the Ghirlandaio Brothers were so impressed with Michelangelo that instead of charging him for lessons, they paid him. When Michelangelo was fifteen he left the bottega. He loved to paint but was anxious to learn new skills such as sculpting.

The only place at that time to study ancient sculpting was in the sculpture garden of Lorenzo il Magnifico, also known as; Lorenzo de’ Medici. Bertoldo di Giovanni (was a pupil of the sculptor Donatello) was employed by Lorenzo look after his collection of sculptures and to teach young artists how to sculpt. Once Michelangelo was introduced to Lorenzo, he immediately charmed him. Lorenzo introduced Michelangelo to many things and encouraged his work. This was the golden period of Michelangelo’s life. He craved knowledge so he listened to Lorenzo’s every word.

Lorenzo became like a father to Michelangelo. Michelangelo soon learned that all artists need someone to pay for their supplies. Lorenzo became Michelangelo’s first patron, or employer. He also became his close friend. Michelangelo was so talented at sculpting that jealousy swept across the school. Michelangelo’s friend and fellow student, Piero Torrigiono, punched him in the nose and broke it. Once Lorenzo died in 1492, Michelangelo was sad and gloomy and had little inspiration for his work at the time. Influences and Changes There were many influences from art during the Renaissance in Italy.

Many classical texts that were lost to European scholars for years were available, such as: Philosophy, poetry, drama, science and prose. Europe also gained access to advanced mathematics. The invention of movable type printing could be spread easily so thousands of books were produced for the general public. The establishment of the Medici Bank brought a lot of money to Florence. Cosimo de Medici set a new standard for patronizing the arts, which didn’t have to do with the church or monarchy. The Humanist Philosophy movement in the Renaissance gave people a new outlook on life.

A regained interest in classics brought the first archeological study of Roman remains by the architect Brunelleschi and sculptor Donatello. The start of the outstanding Florentine school of painting began with Cimabue and his amazing pupil, Giotto. Cimabue was trained in the Byzantine art style, which gave stiff two dimensional figures; they were good, but not meant to represent nature exactly. Cimabue broke this tradition and aimed to bring a more life-like appearance into painting. Giotto practically started the Renaissance. He aimed to make three dimensional paintings.

He did, 100 years before the mathematical equation was created by Brunelleschi. The improvement of oil paint and developments in oil painting technique by various Netherlandish artists led to its adoption in Italy around 1475 and had lasting effects on painting practices worldwide. Renaissance art started a new perspective on art. It was more humanistic and life like. Instead of the more traditional Byzantine art form, it looked more realistic. Artists would study dead bodies to further understand what they looked like on the inside as well as the outside. After this point in history, studies of the west became much more complex.

The Italian Renaissance was one of the most productive periods of art by far. “There were large numbers of masters in the fields of sculpture, architecture and painting” (Huyghe, page 258). In Florence around 1500-1560, there were great innovators in all of these fields. Their work marked a new beginning in the history of art. These innovators were Massaccio in painting, Brunelleschi in architecture and Donatello in sculpture. The social status of an artist had changed. “The attempt was made to include artists as practitioners of “liberal arts” which was a higher level than “Mechanical arts” (Huyghes, page 259).

This brought wealth and good fortune to many artists. Some artists like Michelangelo and Titian were given a high status and a lot of respect. The idea of an artistic genius was now praised and accepted. “Michelangelo was called divine because of his great creative powers” (Huyghes, page. 250). There was a more mathematical perspective on art. This meant that paintings were no longer two dimensional; they gave the illusion of the painting being three dimensional. Artists had done this before through experimental measures, but the mathematical equation for a three dimensional painting was discovered by, Brunelleschi in about 1420.

From this point on the equation was studied and explained. It became one of the most used and helpful tools of an artist, especially a painter, in their pursuit of realism. Painting Styles and Periods of the Renaissance Florentine painting had two preferred styles of painting, they were tempera and fresco. “The technique of tempera painting was the use of a dry surface” (Huyghes, page 259). A wooden panel was grounded with multiple layers of plaster in glue, and the composition was later copied from a drawing. The colors were then tempered (hence the name) with egg or vegetable albumin.

The second painting style was fresco. This was used for painting murals in Florentine churches. This technique involved painting on wet plaster. The drawing was first copied on the plaster wall in rough outline. Then the part the painter was going to work on was covered with a new layer of plaster. The painter than had to redraw the part of the painting that had been covered by the fresh plaster. After all of that was done, the artist put in the colors. Due to the plaster the colors became a permanent part of the painting forever. Both of these techniques were used quite often.

Italian Renaissance painting was divided into four different periods. The periods were The Proto-Renaissance 1300-1400, the early Renaissance 1400-1475, The High Renaissance 1475-1525 and Mannerism 1525-1600. These are not exact dates some artists lived through different ages. The Proto-Renaissance involves Giotto, Taddeo Gaddi, Orcagna and Altichiero. The Early Renaissance included the work of, Massaccio, Fra Angelico, Paello Ucccelo, Piero della Francesco and Verrocchio. The high Renaissance consisted of the work of, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

The Mannerist period had, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo and Tintoretto. The Proto-Renaissance was in Northern Italy for about one century. It was also made up of small, but important artistic changes which paved the path for the change from medieval art to renaissance art. The Proto- Renaissance helped the early renaissance take place in the 1400’s. The Early renaissance was all about Florence. It was the place to launch an artistic career at the time. It was mainly about the Medici and how they had made Florence extremely wealthy, and it was about how they patronized a lot of art workshops.

Since artists were treated better, they all flocked to Florence. They were appreciated and always kept busy. Also for the first time artists could have fame. Artists could become celebrities. Around the beginning of the time of the High renaissance, Lorenzo de Medici died, so Florence wasn’t as booming as it was in the early renaissance. The High Renaissance took place in many places, some of them were, Milan, Florence and a little bit of all around. The High Renaissance was relatively short only lasting around one half of a century.

During this period the renaissance was happening all over Europe. Mannerism was famed for its intellectual sophistication. It formed in the later years of the High Renaissance, around Raphael’s death, c. 1520. It lasted until around 1580 in Italy, but ended officially in c. 1600. The centers of Mannerism in Italy were Rome, Florence and Mantua. A more Baroque style of art slowly took place of renaissance art. In conclusion, the Italian renaissance changed art forever. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo will be remembered throughout time as some of the best artists that ever lived.

Humanism made art more realistic due to the studies of the human body. Mathematical equations were created and were used as a tool for artists, a concept that was unique to the era. Multiple new and innovative styles emerged, making art more interesting, varied and memorable including the styles of tempera and fresco. The proto renaissance initiated small changes for the coming periods. The early renaissance was a time of new artists and the high renaissance was a period of legendary artistic creation. Finally, in the mannerism period, a surge of sophistication burst forth, but faded by the end of the 1500’s. In all, the Italian renaissance was a time of drastic change, great innovation and legendary art.


Huyghe, Rene. Larousse Encyclopedia of Renaissance and Baroque Art. Italy: Industria Libraria Tipografica, 1958. McLanathan, Richard. First Impressions, Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Harry N. Abrams incorporated, 1990. Richmond, Robin. Introducing Michelangelo. New York: Berlitha Press, 1992. Vaughn, Professor William. Encyclopedia of Artists. New York: Berlitha Press, 1990.