In Europe, first came classical antiquity (700 BC – 600 AD) then there were middle ages (5th to 15th century) and after that came the renaissance. The renaissance contains two parts – the early renaissance (from early 15th century to 1490s) and the high renaissance (after 1490s).
Literal meaning of renaissance is the ‘re-birth’. Here, the re-birth of art. In this time, the art got renewed, people started to appreciate artists, patrons paid huge amount of money to painters and painters themselves began to understand the conventional style of art and tried to evaluate it with their own vision and methods to push the art to the new heights. And the era full of enthusiastic artists succeeded unprecedentedly in its task. That is my definition of the renaissance period. Though, to know deeply we have to go through the dates, facts and the incidents took place in this time.
Art-historians claims that the renaissance era debuted in Italy in 14th century. The dawn of the renaissance happened through the wealthy families of Italy. When the wealthy people were not hunting down the animals (a popular entertainment at the time) they would meet the skilled artists and encourage them in their arts in every way, though mostly in financial way. Most of the Italy’s cities were filled with the wealthy families and the epicenter where the renaissance is thought to begin; Florence had the wealthy family called Medici. Most of the revered artists of renaissance visited Florence for the reasons related to their art. Thus, we could declare it as the epicenter of arts.
After Italy, gradually, the renaissance spread all over the Europe. This change happened in every art. Artists of various fields like engineering, painting, sculpture, science, etc. were on the rise. But here we are going to focus on the art of paintings.
Painting in Renaissance
Before renaissance in paintings, the only subject available for artists was the religion. They could not think more than that. But, because of the revolutionary thinking and change in the mindset, artists started to draw further than just religious subjects. They started to draw paintings of mythology, landscapes, portraits, history and the general life of people around them. It was like a whole new world was suddenly open to the artists.
This enthusiastic encouragement gave artists the possessions of the things they couldn’t have before due to financial, political or any other reason. Like, if an artist wants to use expensive colors in their paintings, now they had the patrons to afford them. For instance, they could use the three purest and most expensive paints like Gold, Vermilion and the Ultramarine. Here is the example with these three colors:
For painters, the ground was open and they were free to bring out their ability, skill and expertise with revolutionary ideas. In paintings, the main changes in the renaissance era were the new techniques which pushed the art towards perfection. The better use of perspective and proportion, Foreshortening, Sfumato and Chiaroscuro techniques were major. Other than that, better sense of color was also a main element. Though, artists were considered as the craftsman and the patrons who encourage them were considered the makers of the art, people started to give artists respect. In this age of re-birth, we got some of the most talented and revered painters.
The information about the renaissance era artists is not scarce or hard to find any more in this modern technological world, where you can freely find more than 400 sites about how-to-make-a-bomb. But, far more availability of artistic sites on the internet puts me at the relief that people are more interested in arts.
Coming back to the subject, the most renowned painters of renaissance times are (probably you have already heard about some of the) Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael (or Raffaello), Titian, Caravaggio, Masaccio, Pisanello, Masolino and many more. These are just few names from the whole bunch of skilled artists. Some of them like Leonardo or Michelangelo were also proficient in variety of fields like engineering, architecture, sculptor and science.
Together, they produced umpteen art-works. Their works were appraised, respected and copied everywhere in Europe. People were eager to know what next they were going to produce was. They started their workshops and had many apprentices working under them. The painter Caravaggio’s art got so respected that the copycats of his arts were called ‘Caravaggisti.’ They were like film-stars of their times in the world of painting.
The Four Masters of Renaissance were Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. And for the title of ‘Renaissance Man’ there is a tight competition between Leonardo and Michelangelo.
Every artist tried to bring out their most prominent, most powerful and genuine art to the world. They innovated and used different techniques, styles, paints, the ideas of perspective and proportion (which were introduced first in this time) and everything which could better them and their paintings. This immense urge to make something astonishing and unique, finally gave us the optimum art-pieces the time and the painters could give us.
Paintings like Mona Lisa, Assumption of the Virgin; frescoes like The Last Supper, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, The Last Judgment; The School of Athens; sculptures like David, Pieta, Moses and relief works like Madonna on the Steps, Gates of Paradise, St George and the Dragon are not even the tip of the ice-berg of the artistic glory renaissance possessed. You can have a full book only consisting the lists of the masterpieces.
The End of the Renaissance
The end of the renaissance is a debated subject, in which there are no final conclusions. And as the start of the renaissance was not all-spread, the end was also happened slowly in various countries. For instance, in Italy the renaissance was ended in late 15th century due the foreign invasions infamously known as the ‘Italian Wars’. The end of the Italian renaissance brought new life to the arts of some other countries because of the migrations of the artists from Italy. An important example is Leonardo da Vinci, who migrated to France in 1516.
Ultimately, renaissance ended in Europe in late 17th century. But before that it gave us some greatest artists, art-works and improvements which we still use in modern times.