Renaissance Art Essay

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The Renaissance was a very impactful time in history in all aspects but mainly art. Although argued by historians it is said to have approximately begun in 1300 and ended around 1600. It is seen as the transition from the dark ages to modern times. The renaissance allowed for the creation of a dramatically new culture and view of man. It allowed for the apparent rebirth of the people into a more idealist true version of society and life. Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) wrote a critical document about Art and inveterately about the man at the time in Lives of Artists (1550). Vasari described art in the past and compared it to art in the 16th century.

As described in Vasari’s Lives of Artist “…art [is] the design, which is their foundation, nay rather, the very soul that conceives and nourishes within itself all the parts of man's intellect…”. Meaning that art represents what the artist is thinking at the time and can be a representation of society at the time. Vasari mentions that prior to the Renaissance art was mainly created by pagans, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. Vasari states that the way they created art was a way “…to make the statues of those for whom they wished that they should remain famous and immortal in the world.” Much of the art was of the gods worshipped at the time and those in positions of power such as rulers and philosophers. Although much of the art was destroyed during raids, wars, and changes in power that what did remain was seen as art without recognition. It is mentioned that many of these artists prior to the renaissance were slaves and not those of status. As well, they received little to no compensation or gain for their work.

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Art in the time of the Renaissance is said to have grown along with the idea of humanism in society. Humanism is a movement towards the study and application of the humanities such as grammar, poetry, philosophy, etc. It was said to have been studied to create a more informed high society among the civilization. Humanists were looking back towards the ancients in Rome and Greece for influence on how they could recreate such a modern, impactful society. Humanism reared its head in the renaissance with the creation of universities and higher learning. The “Italians of the late Renaissance regarded the flowering of humanistic studies and the flowering of art as merely two parallel examples of a comprehensive cultural renewal, a rebirth of true civilization.”

The beginning of Renaissance art began with Giotto di Bondone (1266-1336). Although his style is seen as more gothic and more similar to the style in the prior age, he was successfully able to illustrate the way the city centers of the Renaissance such as Florence “bubbled over with social, political, economic, and artistic energy.”. As the popularization of a more Renaissance art style gained, many older more gothic artists added more and more of the renaissance style into their work such as in the case of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1381-1455). He designed gilded bronze doors for a cathedral. At the time of the creation of the bronze doors was only seen as a craftsman and not much else. His bronze doors while beautiful lacked the so-called grace that the later renaissance art obtained. Despite this, he did maintain some recognition throughout the rest of his artistic career.

The full-fledged renaissance style began around the time of Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72). He “…published a vernacular treatise, on painting, that devoted considerable space to describing surfaces and the action of light and explained in some detail how vanishing-point perspective can be attained.” This allowed for the new renaissance style to be attained more easily by all artists and something that could be learned instead of something only a few great geniuses can achieve. Such as in the case of the more gothic artists. This allowed for a movement away from craftsmen to more academically informed educated artists. Alberti himself was not only a writer by also had artistic talent, due to this he became a connection between the rich aristocrats, humanists, and artists. He wrote about art and played a direct role in “raising the social standing of the artist from craftsman to practitioner of a liberal art.” He stated that a renaissance artist could not rely on only his craftsman skills or his manual skills but must have the “proper intellectual equipment, including mastery of geometry… and also enough literary education to associate easily with orators (humanists) and poets, who will advise him on the choice of mythological subjects.” As the humanist became a key part of the style of Renaissance art.

As Renaissance art flourished it was becoming more common for humanists to advise rich collectors who sought the opinion of others before buying art. Another thing that was becoming more and more common as wealthy members of society to pay for public displays of art, known as artistic patronage. These wealthy members were members of the government “…or the great guilds which formed the basis of political power, or religious confraternities, which were usually dominated by a rich and pious individual.” Those who were paying for public art normally had vast collections of their own, to begin with. They also were known to “…provided humanistic education for their sons, and employed leading humanists in the office of chancellor and in other administrative jobs, as well as hiring humanists as publicly paid lecturers in the university.” Meaning they were greatly ingrained within the artist and humanist society. Cosimo de Medici was one of the most famous people to do this and he concentrated the majority of his artistic patronage on public projects.

As time continued in the Renaissance the popes become more deeply involved in political and military endeavors within Italy. This led to “…the papacy [in Rome] to become a more active patron of humanistic learning and the fine arts.” Artists were enlisted to revamp much of the city into a new beautiful Christian capital, although it took two popes, Pope Nicholas V (1447-55) and Pope Julius II (1503-13) it was eventually achieved. This leads to many artists overtime to head from Florence to Rome. Foreign rule also played an impact on art in the renaissance. France and Spain fought and invaded Italian soil and at one point or another played a role in ruling either directly or indirectly. Art as well as literature became a tool of ideological defense.

Overall the view of the artist changed greatly in society as art itself changed. In Vasari’s document, you go from having a view of the artist as something created by the leader/god who forced the real artist to create it. You go from having the artist be an unnamed slave who gained nothing from their creation. At the beginning of the renaissance when artists were craftsmen who were seen as decent and honorable people but who didn’t have the vision and the grace that the later renaissance artists were able to apply thanks to the humanist influence. Vasari describes renaissance artists such as paintings not only for their technical achievement but also as beautiful, natural, gentle, and very modest. In addition, he describes the artist themselves and the talent they exuded due to their humanist influence. Artists were also paid and encouraged to continue with their art if it was approved by those in power. Some artists were rich and many had fame not only in their lifetime but to this day. As well a change from the prior time is that art was prioritized in society as something that needed to be done to help improve cities and gain more growth and expansion. This is a huge change from how artists were pre-renaissance. Society itself was shaped and changed by the artists and art, just as much as art and artist changed society.

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