a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

The High Renaissance

people, terms, and concepts: classicism, humanism, idealization, realism

This topic examines what was seen as the ‘climax’ of the Renaissance period around 1480-1520, in the art of Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

          How is the idea of the ‘High’ Renaissance related to a cyclical model of history? Why do most art historians today reject this model and the qualitative evaluation of art?

          What is classicism, and why are classical references typical of the Renaissance? Which of the works below demonstrate classicism in both style and subject? Which do not?

          What is humanism? How is a humanistic attitude different from the attitude of the Medieval period? Which of the works below exemplify Renaissance humanism? Which do not?

          What is idealization or idealized naturalism? How is it different from realism or realistic naturalism? How does the High Renaissance period’s preference for idealization relate to both classicism and humanism?

Michelangelo, The Sistine Ceiling, High Renaissance, 1508-12

What Biblical stories are shown in the main panels of this ceiling fresco? How does Michelangelo use these stories to recount God’s generosity to humankind, and our (so far) unworthiness? How does the work exemplify the classicism, idealization, and humanism of the period?

Raphael, The School of Athens, High Renaissance, 1510-11

What is the main theme of this work, and how does it fit into the overall theme of the other paintings in the room? Why would Pope Julius II choose a pagan subject for his library walls? What characters are depicted in the work and why? (Just be able to give a couple of key examples.) How does the work exemplify the High Renaissance characteristics of classicism, humanism, and idealization?

Michelangelo, David, High Renaissance, 1501-04

How is this version of David different from Donatello’s earlier version and why? How is it different from the ancient Greek Doryphoros? How does the work reflect the idealization, classicism, and humanism of the High Renaissance?

Botticelli, Birth of Venus, High Renaissance, 1484-86

How does this work exemplify both classicism and idealization? What is the subject, and how is that subject related to Renaissance Neo-Platonic philosophy?

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, High Renaissance, c. 1503-06

How is this work different from typical Renaissance portraits? How does Leonardo give a psychological presence to the sitter, rather than just recording her appearance and wealth/status?

Leonardo, The Last Supper, High Renaissance, 1495-98

What two events at the Last Supper are narrated in this work and how? How does Leonardo make the painting both naturalistic and expressive? How does he use numerology to enhance the work’s meaning? How does he use linear perspective and the work’s location to enhance the work’s relevance to its intended viewers?