Art of the Ages

The main focus of art from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance period involved fundamental changes in the way individuals viewed their world. A central element of the Renaissance was the rediscovery of ancient world of Greece and Rome. The ancient classics of philosophy, literature, and science inspired the development of empirical methods to pursue studies in these fields. As Europeans became increasingly aware of classical knowledge some like Galileo began to build on that knowledge actual observation and study of the natural world, even conceiving experiments to test his theories.

It is art, however, that is the most visible indication of the changing outlook of Europeans. The focus on the natural world caused many artists to move away from the medieval focus on God to an increasing concern with the natural world and more precise depictions of that world. The horrors of the plague had caused many to question their faith in the 14th century, another factor in undermining a God-centered world. As a result, the themes of Renaissance artists are less devoted to the glory of God and increasingly to secular themes.

They only painted Biblical scenes when Greek and Roman history were depicted. Later in the Renaissance, artists will begin painting genre scenes of contemporary life. The increasingly sophisticated artistic techniques permitted artists to create amazingly realistic depictions. The role of the artist also changes in the Renaissance. The Medieval artist was a craftsman whose name, especially in the early Medieval era rarely applied to his creations. His task was to Glorify God along guidelines clearly established by the Church. The Renaissance artist was a very different individual.

He was much more than a craftsman. He was a creator. He was viewed differently than the mere artisan artists were viewed in the Medieval era. The Renaissance artist was greatly respected in a world still dominated by the aristocracy. Both the aristocracy and the Church and later in the Medieval era wealthy merchants began respecting the artist not only for his technical prowess, but also for his creative powers and imagination–in fact a new development in Western art. The artist was seen as an individual whose personal aesthetic expression was of importance.

The artistic style changed dramatically from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance period. The Renaissance period will always be closely associated with achievements in literature, art, and music. In painting, sculpture, and architecture the Renaissance tended to break with medieval traditions. Renaissance painters turned from the purely religious subjects of the Middle Ages to a depiction of the natural world. Technical advances in the representation of perspective, anatomy, and light and shadow were matched by a great expansion in subject matter.

Portraits, studies of the human form, animals, landscapes, scenes of daily life, and historic events all joined religious subjects as acceptable material for the painter. Painting and sculpture were no longer considered crafts to be used exclusively for the embellishment of churches and cathedrals; instead, they became independent arts on a level with the highest intellectual accomplishments. The use of mathematics and geometry in achieving proportion and perspective in works of art exemplified the new merging of art and science that was a prime characteristic of the Renaissance.

In Italy, surviving examples of classical Roman sculpture and architecture were always present, and the classical past provided artists with the basis for new inspiration. Medieval art and literature tended to serve a specialized interest and purpose; Renaissance works of art and literature existed largely for their own sake, as objects of ideal beauty or learning. Contributions to the arts were closely related to the broad transformations that were taking place in society. The sense of change in all aspects of life created a favorable atmosphere for artistic experimentation and innovation.

Wealth that accumulated in the towns helped support writers and artists. Above all, a new and more varied public audience emerged with expanded tastes and interests. Prosperous townspeople and members of the royal courts demanded greater refinement in the arts and more variety in both form and content. They encouraged artistic treatment of the world in which they lived, but they also valued the classical heritage. This heritage seemed to resemble their own civilization and provided a wealth of ideas and formal models for changes in the arts. In these ways, the Renaissance played a crucial role in the development of modern creative expression.


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