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Dominant Features of Italian Renaissance in the Field of Art and Architecture

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        “Highlight the dominant features of Italian Renaissance in the realm of art and architecture”  





                                                           Tulip Nautiyal

                                                     Rise of Modern West I

                                                     Dr.Aditya Pratap Deo

                                                        October 26, 2018

          The Italian Renaissance (derived from the French word, renaissance, and the Italian word rinascità, both meaning ‘rebirth’) was a period of cultural rebirth that was marked by glorious advances in art, architecture, music and literature; it was an epoch of European history that inaugurated the modern world.[1] This period of developments grew from the revival of naturalism in the art of Giotto at the end of the 13th century to the expressive forms of Mannerism in the art of Michelangelo at the start of the 16th century, extending its influence over different parts of Europe. It saw a great revival of classical learning along with an increased interest in individualism and a more humanistic view of man against the backdrop of extensive patronage, increased social mobility, trade and a society that was gripped by political instability.

         Giorgio Vasari has provided three evolutionary phases of  development of art, with each corresponding to a phase in human life.[2] The first phase is Early Renaissance which represents the stage of childhood in human life and was pioneered by Giotto, next is the Middle Renaissance which corresponds to the adolescent phase and was represented by Masaccio, Brunelleschi and Donatello. The final stage is of adulthood, the High Renaissance which was the peak period in Renaissance art brought about by  Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo with a collapse around 1525 when Michelangelo changed his style.

        The origins of Renaissance art can be traced to Italy in the late 13th and early 14th centuries during the period of Early Renaissance , also known as the Trecento , at a time when it still coincided with Gothic art that continued to be the predominant style of painting and sculpture in Europe. Vasari credited Giotto de Bondone as the "Father of Painting", who was the first painter to break away completely from the “crude” Byzantine style and restored Italian art to its ancient greatness and prestige. Giotto’s paintings portray a “keener sense of reality, of life-likeness than the objects themselves”[3] and a return to nature.  He filled a comprehensible pictorial space with realistic individuals with naturalistic rounded forms, in contrast to the flatly conceived and linearly decorated imagery of a Byzantine style Madonna of his teacher Cimbue, which can be inferred from his painting , Madonna Enthroned. Another important artist of this period was  Duccio de Buoninsegna from Sienna who still displayed Byzantine art traditions in his paintings, but also emphasized colour, decorative effects, and delicately articulated figures to present a more lyrical but no less human effect.  At the same time, the sculptors Nicola and his son,Giovanni Pisano started to bring a previously unseen naturalism to stone sculpture. Nicola’s Pulpit of the Pisa baptistery presents an intermingling of the French Gothic style with the Classical style of ancient Rome. The Great Plague and subsequent civil wars of the late 13th century clamped down the spread of individualism and naturalism revealed in the works of Giotto and Dante which did not emerge again until the first years of the next century.

          The  Middle Renaissance from the 1400s till the 1490s,also known as Quattrocento was the period of emergence of Florence as the “cradle of humanism”[4] and as the main centre of artistic innovation in Europe. This period can be said to have begun in 1401, when a contest was organized in Florence to decide who would be given the commission to create a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistry of St. John. The sculptors had to design a bronze panel depicting the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. Of the entries ,Ghiberti's submission, showing a muscular Isaac derived from Classical art, won the competition. Other competitors were  Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello who left for Rome and immersed themselves in the study of ancient architecture and sculpture. Later, they utilized this knowledge when they returned to Florence.              

        Coluccio Salutati ,the Chancellor of Florence played an instrumental role in cultivating a humanist consciousness among the Florentines that believed in the significance of civic virtues by studying the ancient Roman ideas of Cicero. This gave an impetus to classical studies in Florence as being the “moulder of a citizen’s character”[5]. The adoption of Classical values and the new philosophy of Humanism resulted in a wide array of changes in the creation of art - especially, architecture, painting and sculpture. Vasari equated the naturalism of art 
in this period with the attainment of a greater degree of perfection. Florence enjoyed economic prosperity under the dominance of  wealthy families of merchants who later came into power with the most prominent of them being the Medici family who established their power around 1429. During this period, the Renaissance became the first great age of the patron
[6] which made Florence a very favorable place for the advancement of art. The Medici patronized the bulk of the humanistic and artistic activities associated with the Renaissance. Cosimo spent most of his wealth on building palaces, monasteries and churches and supporting sculptors like Donatello and scholars like Marsilio Ficino who served as the tutor of Lorenzo de Medici, Cosimo’s grandson.  Lorenzo became the centre of a group of artists, poets, scholars, and musicians who believed in the Neoplatonic ideal of a mystical union with God through the contemplation of beauty and it was during his time that the focus of art shifted from a communal enjoyment to one catering to the enjoyment of the selected few[7].



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