Impact of Naturalism on Renaissance Art: Analytical Essay

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Table of contents

  1. Headmasters Essay
  2. Some of the artists I will use are:
  3. Masaccio


    St Mark. David

    Leonardo Da Vinci




Headmasters Essay

In my headmaster's essay I will describe ‘what affected Renaissance art?’ and use artists to illustrate my points.

In my opinion, there were three key factors which significantly affected Renaissance art.

The Renaissance period was a time after the Medieval era of European social, literary, economic, and political 'rebirth.' The Renaissance described as taking place between the 14th and 17th centuries,

Renaissance art is the painting, sculpture, and fine art of the era of European history that appeared in Italy during 1400 as a unique style in connection with advances in culture, literature, music, and science.

Some of the artists I will use are:


Masaccio, born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, was a Florentine artist regarded as a great Italian painter period of the Italian Renaissance.

He was born on the 21st of December 1401 in San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy and died in 1428, in Rome at the age of 27.

He is known for religious drawings, such as the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and The Holy Trinity.

There is no evidence for Masaccio's artistic education, however, most Renaissance painters traditionally began with an established expert around the age of 12. Masaccio began with Masilino.

In just six years, Masaccio dramatically altered Florentine painting.

The expulsion of Adam and Eve. The Holy Trinity Masaccio uses two main techniques, fresco, and painting. Fresco is a painting done rapidly in watercolour on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling so that the colours penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries.

Masaccio was inspired by Giotto, Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, Masolino da Panicale.


Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, better known as Donatello, was an Italian sculptor of the Renaissance period.

He was born in 1386 in Florence and died on 3 December 1466, in Florence, Italy. He was 80 when he died.

He is known for sculptures.

There is no hard evidence for his schooling however like most other artists he was an apprentice in the workshop of Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Donatello was regarded as the greatest sculptor of the renaissance period. One of the foremost sculptors of the Italian Renaissance, Donatello was a master in working of both marble and bronze and had extensive knowledge of ancient sculpture.

Donatello also developed his own style of relief known as schiacciato which is a technique which allows a sculptor to create a recessed or relief sculpture with carving only millimetres.

St Mark. David

Donatello was influenced by antique art and Humanist theories.

He usually used bronze and marble for his sculptures. For David he used bronze. He normally sculpted famous people, prophets, or other religious figures.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, more commonly Leonardo da Vinci, was an important figure of the Renaissance whose areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, and engineering amongst others. He is arguably the most intelligent man to have ever lived.

He was born on 15 April 1452 in Anchiano, Italy but he died on 2 May 1519 at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, Amboise, France.

Leonardo Da Vinci had many talents; however, I will be focusing on his art and some of his sculptures.

Leonardo Da Vinci received no education beyond reading and writing, but his father appreciated his talent and placed him as an apprentice to the noted sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio, of Florence.

The Mona Lisa. In the last supper, Leonardo Da Vinci’s main mediums were paintings, drawing, sculpting and murals.

He, like his renaissance counterparts, painted religious paintings; however, he was also a scientific painter with his drawings and sketches being perfectly exact with the Vitruvian Man.

His main inspiration was Andrea del Verrocchio, Lorenzo de Medici, and John Argyropoulos.


the new concept of 'Humanism,' motivated Renaissance art. Humanism greatly affected renaissance art, as it focused on the revival of ancient Roman and Greek forms, styles, and subject matter. Humanism brushed aside religious and secular beliefs and instead added importance to one's dignity and worth.

This is highlighted by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, The Vitruvian Man is based on De Architectura, a building guide written by the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius between 30 and 15 BC.

In this mathematical, realistic and representational drawing done by Leonardo da Vinci, we can see a male figure perfectly inscribed in a circle and square, known as the 'Vitruvian Man,' reveals what he thought was a divine link between the human form and the universe.

The Vitruvian Man is a drawing in pencil and ink on paper with a wash-over metal point. There is one main shape, the body, with other legs and arms projecting out of the main body, to make it seem like there are four arms and legs. Above and below the main drawing, there is backwards writing (a common feature of Leonardo da Vinci). For the inscription of the circle and square, he used a straight edge as well as a homemade compass.

Leonardo's drawing was carefully done. His clear lines showed that he had designed this drawing very thoughtfully and knew exactly what he was doing. He used a combination of mathematics, geometry, and anatomy.

The work took about a year including the research he did (bisecting bodies) to achieve this perfect, scaled ratio of various parts of the body in correlation to each other.

This piece of art is not appealing to my eye as it seems like a diagram from a textbook, however it gives key information about the anatomy of humans and life. It gives me an impression of Leonardo da Vinci as a very logical, scientific person.

The Vitruvian Man is one of the most well-known and easily recognized images of Renaissance art and serves to display the blend of art and science which appeared during this period.

This is a prime example of humanism as it has a contemplative revival of both the forms and styles of classical Greek / Roman art and geometry and further adds to the value and worth of the perfect human proportions.

Secondly, Masaccio’s Holy trinity illustrates humanist art.

In this religious piece, we can see six distinct figures. In the centre we can see the figure of Christ being crucified on the cross, and the next most obvious figure is God himself, standing above Christ with eyes that look out towards the viewer, the white object beneath God’s neck is often mistaken as some sort of collar, but it is, in fact, the Holy Spirit, who has taken the figure of a white dove with a halo. We can also see four other distinct figures, who seem as if they are followers of Christ begging, and kneeling with their hands outstretched, which makes it seem like they are praying.

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It is quite plain in what it is displaying. He has used a vibrant colour scheme with green on the border and the robes of the four figures being different shades of reds and blues. The pillars are off-white, with maroon arches. It is once again very realistic with the clothing and arches reoccurring throughout the painting.

The work was made using a technique called fresco, (a signature of Masaccio and other renaissance artists). This art piece was done rapidly as he only lived to around 28 years old.

This painting is very powerful, and in my opinion is a very mixed piece of art, with the obvious crucifixion of Christ in the centre, that inflicts some sadness and negativity on the painting in contrast with the vibrant warm colours of the surrounding which tone down this feeling making it more appealing.

This is an example of humanism because of the classical pillars in the background (beams and grooves), which suggests that of Greek or Roman architecture which illustrates the fact that humanism was all about the revival of these ancient times.

In summary, humanism didn’t significantly affect the detail or techniques of renaissance artwork, however, it affected the subject matter, as the renaissance artists where reviving ancient Roman and Greek painting matter and subjects (for example pictures of Gods and religion).


Renaissance art was always about being realistic, this was why naturalism (a type of art that pays attention to fully accurate and precise details and shows things as they are, making them realistic) affected this specific era of art significantly.

Donatello shows this in his sculpture of Saint John the Evangelist.

In this sculpture, there is a clear, detailed figure of Saint John the Evangelist. There is a black base on top of which is another bronze engraved platform. This links in with humanism as the engravings of this platform are ancient Greek/ Roman. Donatello portrayed St. John as a noble and introspective prophet. He is seated in traditional flowing robes that hide his body but show off a gracefully sculpted arm and torso.

The predominant colour is bronze which occurs throughout the figure.

The statue was made of marble and took over 1 year to complete (1410-1411).

This was an adequate amount of time to undertake the work: given the sheer detail, size, and precision captured in the sculpture. This depiction of St john is just taller than the average man.

Donatello used an expert command of sculpture to create this piece. He would have also used a bit of science (anatomy) to create this life like the interpretation of St John. He must have had some formal training in drawing to assist him in creating a masterpiece like this.

Donatello used a very plain colour scheme to dampen the pensive mood slightly, while still retaining that sense of calmness, which is very soothing.

I do very much enjoy the attention paid to detail in this piece as well as the colours, as I am a fan of bronze. I am fond of the ancient roman Greek style. I do prefer realistic to abstract art because in my opinion, realistic artwork requires artistic talent.

This is an example of naturalism as contains very concise details. The hair on the beard is so realistic, with his robe carefully crafted to portray its draping. The statue is lifelike, in terms of size and appearance. This shows the meticulous planning and execution he undertook to create such a piece.

Masaccio was among the first artists to use naturalism and perspective, generating a very realistic space that the plane of the image that appears rather like a window than a level surface. He displays this in his piece, San Giovenale Triptych

In this painting, there are eight distinct figures - On the left wing are Saint Bartholomew and Saint Blaise, and on the right are Saint Antony and Saint Juvenal (or San Giovenale), all of whom are identified by name labels in the inscription below. There are also two angels, with black wings, kneeling with their hands outstretched, indicating that they are praying. Finally, in the centre is Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus.

The Virgin Mary’s throne melts away into the background, placing the figures in front of the thane, indicating a revolutionary use of perspective.

Masaccio developed a believable deep space skilfully, which looks like you can step into it. This technique is called 'Trompe-l'oeil,' a French technique for 'deceiving the eye.' It is an art technique that uses realistic images to create the optical illusion that there are three dimensions of the objects depicted.

The colour scheme is very vibrant which indicates a joyous mood. The background is a goldish yellow, this is the predominant colour, however shades of red and pink on some of the clothing add vibrancy and this is contrasted by the black on Virgin Mary’s clothing.

The art piece dated back to 1422 and is painted on a wood surface in a fresco style. It took just around a year to complete. This is exceptionally long for a painting.

I very much enjoy this style of painting because I prefer vibrant colour schemes in comparison to darker ones as this creates a happier mood and makes it more pleasing to the eye. However, I am not fond of the left panel, as it doesn’t have the same intensity of detail, in comparison to the other panels. This is because it is darker, and you cannot make out the detail on the two saints in this panel.

Masaccio used a single-point perspective to make the visualization of the painting correct as in to make things look further back or closer, in correlation with each other. This makes the painting look much more real. This focus of detail and precision is an example of naturalism as it tries to make it as real as possible.

Naturalism had a profound effect on Renaissance art. It helped to make this art more realistic with careful attention to detail, to portray the correct image such as perspective, dimensions, and depth.


Even though religious painting became less frequent in renaissance art in comparison to medieval art, it was still a prominent feature of Renaissance art, with almost every artist painting at least one. Churches, chapels, and cathedrals would hire these artists to paint a religious paintings for them. This greatly affected the purpose and subject of renaissance art.

This was especially true of early renaissance artists.

Leonardo da Vinci showcases this in his painting the last supper.

In this picture of the last supper held between Jesus and his disciples, we can see 13 distinct figures sitting around a table with food. In the centre of the painting, we can see Jesus Christ with his hands outstretched as a sort of gesture for people to begin eating. To his left and right, we can see the 12 disciples, talking and chatting amongst themselves attempting to figure who betrayed Jesus. In the background, we see a door that leads outside.

The colour scheme used combines both dark and light colours. The background, especially to the left and behind is very dark while the table and the disciple's clothing is very vibrant. The food on the table is, like the whole painting, detailed.

He painted The Last Supper on drywall instead of on wet plaster, so it's not a true fresco and to paint it Leonardo used an oil/tempera mix and applied it to a drywall.

Leonardo da Vinci implemented the use of perspective and depth to make this painting more realistic. I prefer realistic paintings as I can visualize the art more and it is more pleasing to the eye.

This painting has quite a contrasting mood. On one hand, it appears that Jesus Christ looks calm and sombre while on the other hand, the disciples around him are frantic and chaotic. This can be also described as an oxymoron in painting. I very much love this idea as it displays Leonardo da Vinci’s expertise to convey two opposing moods at the same time.

I have mixed feelings about this painting. I enjoy the detail of the disciples, Jesus, and the food. I dislike the left-hand corner in comparison to the right as it is too dark, and you cannot see anything or anyone. He could be attempting some sort of shadow, but it is still not eye-catching. This lack of completeness about the piece is creating these mixed thoughts on the painting.

It was painted for the monastery Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, this proves that religion was still a big subject that people painted about in the renaissance, even though humanism was becoming a major subject.

At the beginning of the Early Renaissance, the Christian belief that influenced artistic subject material was requested by the Catholic Church. This shows that religion greatly affected the subject of some art in the Renaissance period as artists were painting scenes from the bible or pictures of Jesus Christ to be displayed in churches.

However, as the impact of humanist values began to grow, the focus of artists gradually increased to include some secular subjects inspired by Classical Mythology's tales like of Roman life. These two major points, religion, and humanism, greatly affected the subject and purpose for most of the renaissance art.

However, the use of naturalism made renaissance art more realistic than anything before that. Renaissance artists achieved this through certain techniques like single-point perspective and three-dimensional imaging. Naturalism affected the way people painted. They wanted to convey to the people who would look at their art, what they saw or what they imagined.

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