As the fourteenth century ushered out the Middle Ages in Italy, a new period of cultural flowering began, known as the Renaissance. This period in history was famous for its revival of classical themes and the merging of these themes with the Catholic Church. These themes of humanism, naturalism, individualism, classicism, and learning and reason appeared in every aspect of the Italian Renaissance, most particularly in its art. Humanism can be defined as the idea that human beings are the primary measure of all things (Fleming, 29).
Renaissance art showed a renewed interest in man who was depicted in Renaissance art as the center of the world. Pico della Mirandola said that, “there is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man. ” (Fleming, 284) This could almost be taken as a motto for Renaissance art. Michelangelo’s David clearly supports Mirandola’s statement. Since Renaissance art focused on representing tangible, human figures, rather than depicting scenes from the Bible in order to praise God, the artists had to think in more natural, scientific terms.
Artists ecame familiar with mathematics and the concept of space, as well as anatomy. Lorenzo Ghiberti studied the anatomical proportions of the body, Filippo Brunelleschi was interested in mathematics in architecture, Leone Battista Alberti, who was skilled in painting, sculpture and architecture, stressed the study of mathematics as the underlying principle of the arts (Fleming, 285). Leonardo also looked at the geometric proportions of the human body (Calder, 197). In painting, but especially in sculpture, artists were inspired to express the structural forms of the body beneath its external appearance.
Their anatomical studies opened the way to the modeling and the movements of the human body. In painting, naturalism meant a more realistic representation of everyday objects. In Fra Angelico’s Annunciation, he shows an exact reproduction of Tuscan botany (Wallace, 237). Also, the concept of space was important. In painting, figures were placed in a more normal relationship to the space they occupied. Human figures tended to become more personal and individual. Three clear examples of that are Donatello’s David, and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Last
Supper, in which the twelve different expressions of the apostles were shown. Every statue, every portrait was an individual person who made a profound impression. Mary and the angel Gabriel became very human in Fra Angelico’s Madonna (Wallace, 45). Even when placed in a group, every individual figure stood out separately, as in Boticelli’s Adoration of the Magi. One form of art representing the individual was the portrait. Wealthy families and individuals commissioned artists to create statues and paintings.
High regard for individual ersonality is demonstrated in the number and quality of portraits painted at this time (Flemming, 286). Italian Renaissance humanism were motivated by a rediscovery of the values of Greco-Roman civilization. An example of architectural revival is Bramante’s Tempietto, a small temple built where St. Peter is said to have been crucified. Bramante later got a chance to build on a much greater scale: St. Peter’s Basilica. Clearly using classical civilizations as his model Bramante said of St. Peter’s, “I shall place the Pantheon on top of the Basilica of Constantine. (Flemming, 309-310)
Other architects ent back to the central-type churches modeled on the Pantheon, rather than the rectangular basilica that had evolved over the centuries. They revived classical orders and “blueprints. ” Decorative motifs were derived directly form ancient sacophagi, reliefs, and carved gems. Sculptors revisited the possibilities of the nude. Painters, however, didn’t have the classical references that sculptors had, so they used mythological subjects. With all of the studying and learning of art in the Renaissance, it would be of little wonder that the subject of some of the art was learning itself.
The most famous example of this is Raphael’s School of Athens. Raphael, along with Michelangelo, was placed in the painting among the ranks of artist-scholars. As members of a philosophical circle intent on reconciling the views of Plato and Aristotle, Raphael and his friends reasoned that Plato and Aristotle were saying the same thing in different words. The two philosophers were placed on either side of the central. On Plato’s side, there was a statue of Apollo, the god of poetry. On Aristotle’s side there was one of Athena, goddess of reason.
Spreading outward n either side were groups corresponding to the separate schools of thought within the two major divisions (Barrett, 87). No matter what theme of the Italian Renaissance is named, there is always some example of a corresponding art manifestation of it. For humanism it was David, for naturalism it was Annunciation, for individualism, it was The Last Supper, for classicism, it was St. Peter’s Basilica, and for learning and reason, it was The School of Athens. It was these themes, which dominated every other aspect of the Renaissance, that dominated the artistic aspect.