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The Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, representing a new beginning for Europe after the medieval times, and is seen as a period of enlightenment and prosperity for the art world. The city was the heart of artistic Renaissance for most of XV century. The Catholic Church had lost strength and counted on Europe’s greatest’s artists to bring back Christian faith to the people.
At the time, Florence was governed by small groups of wealthy families, even though it was officially considered a republic. The Medici family soon took financial and political advantage, and are considered the responsible for making the Renaissance possible. Medici’s financial support hit its peak at the end of the XV century.
As the term itself advocates, Renaissance is rebirth, revival. This was the rediscovery of ancient Greece and Rome. A more humanist view was taking place with humanity in the center of the world, but continuing on strong religious grounds. Classic philosophers that were forgotten are now being discussed, like Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. The rediscovery of the Classic brings a radical change to Italy’s way of seeing and producing art, and eventually, all of Europe as well.
The art being produced in Florence was devotional and also used history and Roman mythology as a theme. There were a naturalist approach and more attention to detail, so to achieve faithful representations of the human form and nature itself.
Filippo Brunelleschi was one of the stands out architects of the time. He was the first to write about the principles of linear geometry and using these principles, illusions of three-dimensional depth can be created on a flat surface. He also rediscovered perspective using one vanishing point, like in like in Perspective drawing for Church of Santo Spirito.
Leon Battista Alberti, who excelled in many artistic areas, as well as philosophy, summarized the study of basic geometry in his treatise De Pictura, in 1436. For the first time in history, painters have a mathematical system to represent elements in space in the correct proportion.
Donato di Niccoló di Betto Bardi, known better as Donatello, was a sculptor and the author of David. This work is the first male nude sculpture since antiquity and shows David as a young boy, not quite as idealized as Michelangelo’s David, done later in the High Renaissance. Donatello and Brunelleschi both go on an expedition to explore the ruins of Rome, most likely between 1404 and 1407. This was a mark for the beginning of the Renaissance.
Masaccio uses a technique called Tromp-l’oeil to create a perspective so convincing that a viewer was to think he could enter the painted wall, as seen in his fresco entitled Trinity. Angelico Fra’s Annunciation, which is influenced by Masaccio, shows how some artists still painted Gothic features, like the level of detail in the ornaments and how he applied gold directly to the painting, but still achieved a precise Renaissance perspective.
Sandro Botticelli, a student of Fra Filippo Lippi, is one of the best-known artists of the Early Renaissance. His Allegory of Spring (La Primavera) was painted with egg tempera on a wooden panel of over ten feet wide. In exquisite detail, Botticelli represents to the right the god Zephyr, the West Wind, going to embrace a nymph, which turns into the goddess Flora. In the center, Venus and, above her, a blindfolded cupid. On the far-left Mercury, the messenger god, moving away clouds that represent the veil that blocks the truth, and to his right, the Three Graces dance in a circle.
Between 1300 and 1800, Venice was the biggest commercial market in Europe, with exotic and luxurious items. The city was governed by the elite and an inherited class of governors. It was officially a republic but was closer to being an empire. The economic and political stability made it possible for a mercantile relationship with the Orient, which consequently influenced the art being made.
Venice painters were able to make their compositions more vivid, even with the expressive brush strokes and bright colors. It wasn't very convenient to do frescos because of the humidity, so artists used canvas and panels to paint. This way, they were free to change the painting along the way. The Healing of the Madman, by Vittore Carpaccio, is an example of how there is a bigger interest in showing social prestige and detailed portraits.
The Renaissance’s way of thinking is and always will be referenced in the arts. This era took leaps and bounds in art, science, and philosophy, not to mention, gave humanity some of the greatest works of art in history.