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At the end of the XV century, Florence – the birthplace of Renaissance – was in a commotion. After the invasion of France by Carlos VIII in 1494, the Medici family was forced to leave Florence. With all of this and much more happening, the Papal court decides to relocate to Rome, marking the beginning of High Renaissance. Even though the most famous works were being done in Rome, the artists of Florence did not stop producing during this period.
The city of Rome needed the boost of confidence and wealth that the Papal court brought with them. The region of the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Church were reorganized. Pope Sixtus IV had a new chapel for the Vatican Palace made, where he hired artists to decorate the walls. One of the works is a fresco done by Pietro Perugino, called Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter. Pietro was one of the first Italian artists to work with oil paint.
The new capital of the papacy attracted artists and students from all over Europe because of its Cristian heritage and classic Roman past. The artistic projects were stimulated and sponsored by the papal patrons. These artists include Luca Signorelli, Pinturicchio, Raphael, Donato Bramante and Michelangelo.
The Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo Da Vinci, is one of the works that best summarizes the main thought behind this artistic era, where man is the measurement for all things. All human-made realizations are the center of attention, following a humanistic philosophy. Of course, this is an idealized idea, as are many of the subjects in discussion during the Renaissance.
Leonardo Da Vinci is not only one of the greatest Renaissance painters but was also a sculptor, scientist, inventor, mathematics, musician, poet and excelled in many different areas of expertise. He is also the author of the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda). Like many of his work, this painting has no date and no signature. It is famous for its excellence in the sfumato technique, in which the dark and light areas are beautifully blended. The mystery behind the woman and her smile also attract the public's attention.
The composition of the Mona Lisa, as well as most of the works made during the High Renaissance, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, uses the Golden Spiral as a reference. The Golden Spiral follows the Fibonacci Sequence, a numerical sequence that is seen in nature. This was perfect for the Renaissance artists that wanted to represent an idealized and perfect version of man and nature.
In 1506, an eight-foot statue made of marble was found near the cathedral of Saint Mary Maggiore, in Rome. The work is a copy of a bronze sculpture from the Hellenistic Era (323 – 331 a. C.) and was transferred to the Vatican. The discovery excited artists and was copied by many, including Michelangelo.
As the patrons learned more about Roman history, more classic mythological characters and ornaments they asked the artists in their commissions. The artists would base their work on the interpretations of classical authors of antique paintings or the ruins themselves. The most famous ruin at the time was Domus Aurea, or Golden House, a grand imperial palace owned by Nero. Raphael was one of the first artists to creatively explore the decorative patterns, found preserved in underground rooms of the palace.
Pope Julius II commissions Rafael to decorate the Apostolic Palace in 1506, and the first painting that he concludes is School of Athens. This fresco represents the most adored philosophers, mathematicians, scientists and astronomers at the time, joined in conversation and debate. In the center, the two most prominent figures: Plato, in which Leonardo Da Vinci posed as a model, and Aristotle. The grand architecture of the cathedral surrounding them was inspired by the projects of Donato Bramante.
Pope Leo X was Pope Julius II successor, and also a significant consumer of art. He is famously known for his portrait by Rafael, Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de Medici and Luigi de Rossi. Because of the pope’s love for Rafael’s art, the artist is compelled to run an atelier with many assistants to accomplish all of his commissions. This includes the masterpiece made in fresco, The Triumph of Galatea. Rafael dies at unexpectedly at thirty-seven, and his pupils go about Italy and Europe to spread his Roman Renaissance ideals.
The Renaissance ends suddenly, and tragically, after Rome was invaded by Carlos I. Italian, German and Spanish troupes catastrophically loot the grand city, thus ending one the most influential art movement in history.