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Renaissance - Early

Renaissance art is the painting, sculpture and decorative arts of that period of European history known as the Renaissance, emerging as a distinct style in Italy in about 1400, in parallel with developments which occurred in philosophy, literature, music and science. Renaissance art, perceived as a "rebirth" of ancient traditions, took as its foundation the art of Classical antiquity, but transformed that tradition by the absorption of recent developments in the art of Northern Europe and by application of contemporary scientific knowledge. Renaissance art, with Renaissance Humanist philosophy, spread throughout Europe, affecting both artists and their patrons with the development of new techniques and new artistic sensibilities. Renaissance art marks the transition of Europe from the Medieval period to the Early modern age.

In many parts of Europe, Early Renaissance art was created in parallel with Late Medieval art. By 1500 the Renaissance style prevailed. As Late Renaissance art (Mannerism) developed, it took on different and distinctive characteristics in every region.

Early Renaissance in Italy, 1400-1479

Although both the Pisanos and Giotto had students and followers, the first truly Renaissance artists were not to emerge in Florence until 1401 with the competition to sculpt a set of bronze doors of the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral which drew entries from seven young sculptors including Brunelleschi, Donatello and the winner, Lorenzo Ghiberti. Brunelleschi, most famous as the architect of the dome of Florence Cathedral and the Church of San Lorenzo, created a number of sculptural works, including a lifesized Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella, renowned for its naturalism. His studies of perspective are thought to have influenced the painter Masaccio. Donatello became renowned as the greatest sculptor of the Early Renaissance, his masterpieces being his Humanist and unusually erotic statue of David, one of the icons of the Florentine republic, and his great monument to Gattamelata, the first large equestrian bronze to be created since Roman times.

The contemporary of Donatello, Masaccio, was the painterly descendant of Giotto, furthering the trend towards solidity of form and naturalism of face and gesture that he had begun a century earlier. Masaccio completed several panel paintings but is best known for the fresco cycle that he began in the Brancacci Chapel with the older artist Masolino and which had profound influence on later painters, including Michelangelo. Masaccio's developments were carried forward in the paintings of Fra Angelico, particularly in his frescos at the Convent of San Marco in Florence.

The treatment of the elements of perspective and light in painting was of particular concern to 15th century Florentine painters. Uccello was so obsessed with trying to achieve an appearance of perspective that, according to Vasari, it disturbed his sleep. His solutions can be seen in his masterpiece, the Battle of San Romano. Piero della Francesca made systematic and scientific studies of both light and linear perspective, the results of which can be seen in his fresco cycle of The History of the True Cross in San Francesco, Arezzo.

In Naples, the painter Antonello da Messina began using oil paints for portraits and religious paintings at a date that preceded other Italian painters, possibly about 1450. He carried this technique north and influenced the painters of Venice. One of the most significant painters of Northern Italy was Andrea Mantegna, who was decorated the interior of a room, the Camera degli Sposi for his patron Ludovico Gonzaga, setting portraits of the family and court into an illusionistic architectural space.

The end of the Early Renaissance in Italian art is marked, like its beginning, by a particular commission that drew artists together, this time in cooperation rather than competition. Pope Sixtus IV had rebuilt the Papal Chapel, named the Sistine Chapel in his honour, and commissioned a group of artists, Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli to decorate its wall with fresco cycles depicting the Life of Christ and the Life of Moses. In the sixteen large paintings, the artists, although each working in his individual style, agreed on principals of format, and utilised the techniques of lighting, linear and atmospheric perspective, anatomy, foreshortening and characterisation that had been carried to a high point in the large Florentine studios of Ghiberti, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio and Perugino.

The artists of France, (including duchies such as Burgundy) were often associated with courts, providing illuminated manuscripts and portraits for the nobility as well as devotional paintings and altarpieces. Among the most famous were the Limbourg brothers, Flemish illuminators and creators of the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Jean Fouquet, painter of the royal court, visited Italy in 1437 and reflects the influence of Florentine painters such as Uccello. Although best known for his portraits such as that of Charles VII of France Fouquet also created illuminations, and is thought to be the inventor of the portrait miniature. There were a number of artists at this date who painted famed altarpieces, that are stylistically quite distinct from both the Italian and the Flemish. These include two enigmatic figures, Enguerrand Quarton to whom is ascribed the Pieta of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, and Jean Hey, otherwise known as "the Master of Moulins" after his most famous work, the Moulins Altarpiece. In these works realism and close observation of the human figure, emotions and lighting are combined with a Medieval formality, which includes gilt backgrounds.



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