a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

The Italian Renaissance

people, terms, and concepts:  Renaissance, empiricism, classicism, patron, contrapposto, chiaroscuro, linear perspective, vanishing point, orthogonal line, aerial perspective, scale, proportions, tempera, fresco

The Renaissance (c. 1400-1600) is characterized by a rise of naturalism and expression in art after the largely conceptual approach of the Medieval period.

     •   Why did the Medieval period avoid the naturalistic and expressive modes of art and prefer the conceptual mode? How does this relate to their ‘other-worldly’ mindset?

     •   Why did the Renaissance embrace naturalism? How does the rise of naturalism in art reflect a new ‘this-worldly’ approach to knowledge (empiricism) that is reflected also in the rise of science?

     •       Re-naissance means re-birth. What is the Renaissance considered to be a rebirth of? How is this visible especially in Donatello’s David?

     •       Be able to define, recognize, and describe the use of the following techniques that Renaissance artists developed in order to make their works look naturalistic: anatomical accuracy, accurate proportions, unified scale, contrapposto, chiaroscuro, linear perspective (and the related terms vanishing point and orthogonal lines), aerial or atmospheric perspective, single light source, cast shadows.

Autun Cathedral, The Vision of the Magi, Medieval (Romanesque), c. 1130

How is this a good example of the ‘conceptual’ mode of art? How is the work un-naturalistic? What is the subject, and how is the story well-told despite this lack of naturalism?

Giotto, Lamentation from the Arena Chapel, Early Italian Renaissance, 1305-06

How is this work more naturalistic than the Vision of the Magi above? Which of the above techniques is Giotto using to increase the naturalism of the work? Be able to define and describe those techniques using appropriate terms. What is the subject and how is the story being told? How does Giotto give emotional resonance or expression to the story?

Masaccio, The Tribute Money, Italian Renaissance, 1427

What is the subject of this work, how is the story told, and why was that story chosen by the work's patron? What new techniques is Masaccio using to make the work even more naturalistic than Giotto's Lamentation, above?

Donatello, David, Italian Renaissance, c. 1450

Donatello, Mary Magdalen, Italian Renaissance, c. 1450

How has the artist made these works more naturalistic than earlier Medieval sculpture? What are the subjects of each, and how does the artist tell the stories and give expressive resonance to each? How are these expressive messages relevant to their context and their intended audience?