The Italian Renaissance
Painting, Sculpture, Architecture.

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Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) (1503-6)
Louvre, Paris. By Leonardo.

The Italian Renaissance (c.1300-1600)
Including the Proto-Renaissance and Mannerism


Chronology and Timeline
Italian Renaissance Painting
- Painting (1300-1490)
- Painting (1490-1520)
- Mannerist Painting
Italian Renaissance Sculpture
Italian Renaissance Architecture

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
Creation of Adam (1511)
Part of the Genesis Fresco on the
Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome.
By Michelangelo. One of the most
famous religious paintings of the
Italian Renaissance.

David by Donatello (c.1484)
Bargello Museum, Florence.
A sublime work of Renaissance
sculpture by Donatello.

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (1562)
Designed by Andrea Palladio.
A unique example of 16th century
Renaissance architecture in Venice.

Chronology and Timeline

In this article we survey the entire period of Renaissance Art, from its earliest beginnings in the 14th century (trecento), through its golden age of the 15th century (quattrocento), to its distortion and decline in the 16th century (cinquecento). The period is traditionally divided into four sections, as follows:

1. Proto-Renaissance Art (c.1300-1400)
The fourteenth century acts as a link between the later styles of Gothic Art; and the new humanism of the Renaissance. Key figures include Old Masters like Giotto, Duccio and Andrea Pisano. Most activity occurred in and around Florence and Siena.

2. Early Renaissance Art (c.1400-90)
The rinascimento is very much an Italian phenomenon, but it is based on a new reverence for the art of Classical Antiquity across several disciplines. Centred on Florence, the early phase witnesses revolutionary developments in architecture (Brunelleshi), painting (Masaccio), sculpture (Donatello). There are specific developments in the aesthetics of Humanism, the laws of linear perspective, and the art of disegno, notably the male nude. The leading patrons were the Medici Family in Florence. See the Florentine Renaissance for more detail, or Renaissance Art in Florence (1400-90).

3. High Renaissance Art (c.1490-1530)
During this period attention shifts to Rome under Pope Julius II (1503-13) and Pope Leo X (1513-21). Dominated by Raphael (Raphael Rooms in the Vatican) and Michelangelo (Genesis Fresco in the Sistine Chapel), this period represents the apogee of the Italian Renaissance style in all its confidence and certainty. See Renaissance Art in Rome Under the Popes (1400-1600) for more detail.

4. Mannerism (c.1530-1600)
Coinciding with increasing political uncertainty, Mannerism reflects the inability of artists to improve on the High Renaissance ideal. Sometimes described as 'over the top' and 'contrived', the new style is seen at its best in Michelangelo's Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel and the marble sculpture entitled The Rape of the Sabine Women (1583), by Giambologna. The later Renaissance in Venice coincides with Mannerism.


Italian Renaissance Painting

Proto and Early Renaissance Painting (1300-1490)

Although an artist of the trecento (14th century) Giotto (1266-1337) may be called the first painter of the Renaissance. Giotto's own master, Cimabue (Cenni di Peppi) (1240-1302), seems to have painted in a style derived from Byzantine examples. That is to say a linear style, essentially flat and two-dimensional. Giotto, though he sprang from these origins, was the first to create real figures, instead of conventions standing for them, and the first to set these figures solidly in a three-dimensional space. The emphasis which Giotto laid upon form, and in particular, the form of the human body, was to remain the particular interest and preoccupation of the Florentine school.

Giotto was such a revolutionary genius that, for a hundred years after his death, his significance was still not fully understood. It was not until Masaccio (1401-1428), that the next great step forward was taken in the history of Italian painting. Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel frescoes in the Church of the Carmine in Florence, were the school at which all the Florentine painters learnt for a century and more. His figures have the monumental grandeur and solidity of Giotto's, with an even greater mastery in dealing with anatomical and spatial problems. He, and the Florentines of the next generation, were interested above all in two things: first, the human figure; second, the application of the recently formulated rules of perspective, to produce an illusion of depth in space.

This serious and highly intellectual art of disegno, characteristic of the intelligent and self-sufficient citizens of a city state - as Florence then was - came, in the early fifteenth century, into conflict with so-called International Gothic art, which had originated in Burgundy and spread down through northern Italy, in particular Verona and the Marches. It is essentially an aristocratic court art, having close affinities with Gothic illuminated manuscripts and embroideries, and with a fresh and childlike pleasure in the decorative adjuncts of life, flowers, birds, animals, rich clothes and jewels. It lasted only a short time in Florence, but even so it managed to produce one masterpiece, The Adoration of the Magi, by Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427), now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Of Pisanello (Antonio Pisano) (c.1394-1455), the greatest medallist of the Veronese school, only about 7 paintings are known, one of which, St Hubert, is in the National Gallery. The separate details of this picture are exquisite, but as a whole it lacks entirely the architectonic unity of the works which were being produced at the same time in Florence: it remains a medieval, rather than a Renaissance work, and is far closer to Northern miniature painting.

The other important school of painting affected by International Gothic is Siena: Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319), whose place in the Sienese School of painting corresponds to that of Giotto in Florence, remains much more influenced by Byzantine art of the East. The later Sienese painter, Simone Martini (1285-1344), the brothers Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45) and Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Active 1319-48), and Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) (1395-1450), had a more linear, calligraphic and decorative conception of form than their Florentine contemporaries. In the delicacy and purity of its colour and the expressive subtlety of its line, Sienese fourteenth and fifteen-century painting approaches more nearly than any other European school to the art of the Far East.

Note: Important works by the Sienese School include:

- Stroganoff Madonna (Stoclet Madonna) (1300) by Duccio.
- Maesta Altarpiece (1308-11) by Duccio.
- Annunciation Triptych (1333) by Simone Martini.
- Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1339) Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Florentine art was never, like Sienese, transcendental; it was always firmly in contact with reality. The one exception to this is perhaps Fra Angelico (1387-145 5), whose frescoes in San Marco, and whose altarpieces, have an exquisite freshness and purity of sentiment, which makes them in some sense akin to Sienese art. His great altarpiece of the Last Judgement (c.1440) is an example of the quality of this mind: the damned and the devils in Hell, on one side of the picture, are painted with complete lack of conviction, while Paradise on the other side, is represented with all the joy and gaiety of a profound and serene faith. But figures are modelled with an entirely Florentine solidity, and often, particularly in the single figures, with a massive grandeur comparable to Masaccio himself.

The other important names in this period are Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), Andrea del Castagno (c.1420-57), Domenico Veneziano (1410-1461), and Fra Filippo Lippi (c.1406-69). Uccello was preoccupied - obsessed would perhaps be a better word - with problems of perspective. His Battle of San Romano and Hunt in the Forest both combine a certain Gothic feeling with elaborate attempts to render foreshortening and three-dimensional depth in space. Castagno's few surviving works have an almost brutal force and realism; while Filippo Lippi's Madonnas have the gentle tenderness and humanity which recur in the work of his great pupil Botticelli. These three embody all the tendencies typical of the Florentine quattrocento.

The next generation in Florence included Alessio Baldovinetti (1427-99), a pupil of Veneziano, who was the master of the prolific fresco artist Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-94), best-known for his Old Man with a Young Boy; Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98) was Castagno's pupil, and both in his sculptures, and his masterly paintings and drawings of nude figures in violent action, inherited much of his master's harsh realism. All these artists were realists, interested above all in truthful representation; but side by side with them, others, of which the greatest was Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), inspired by the Neo-Platonic humanism of the Medici court, blended Christian and Pagan sentiment in a style which appeals to the emotions rather than to the intellect. See: The Birth of Venus (1484-6, Uffizi) and La Primavera (1484-6, Uffizi). In 1490 he became a convert to the preachings of the fanatically puritanical monk, Savonarola (1452-98), and his later pictures contain an extraordinary intensity of religious emotion. Another painter who must be mentioned with Botticelli is Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522), who in such works as The Death of Procris, suggests a subtle, and somewhat un-Florentine, tenderness.

Of the other schools of early Renaissance painting, outside Florence, we have already touched on Verona and Siena in connection with the International Gothic style. The school of Umbria, the mountainous district to the south of Tuscany, was closely allied to that of Florence. Pietro Perugino (1450-1523), a painter whose work is often charming and sometimes beautiful, is important as being the master of Raphael. See his best known work: Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter (1482), in the Sistine Chapel. Among his other pupils were Bernardino Pinturicchio (1454-1513) and Lo Spagna (c. 1450-1528). Excluding Raphael, who hardly counts as an Umbrian except in his very earliest, and immature works, the greatest early Renaissance artist of the Umbrian school is Piero della Francesca (1416-92), whose stature is almost as great as that of Raphael himself. Like Raphael, Piero was Umbrian only by birth, for he was trained in Florence under Domenico Veneziano. His important works include the frescoes of the Legend of the True Cross in the Cathedral at Arezzo, the fresco of the Resurrection at Borgo San Sepolcro, and a few panel-paintings, notably his masterpiece entitled The Flagellation of Christ (1450-60, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino). Piero della Francesca ranks with Giotto, Masaccio, and Raphael, as one of the supreme classical painters, placing his figures of monumental stature and gravity in settings of ideally conceived architectonic form. His importance as a painter cannot be exaggerated.

His two pupils, Luca Signorelli (1450-1523) and Melozzo da Forli (1438-94), are worthy of their master: in particular Signorelli, whose paintings of nude figures in violent action, especially those at Orvieto Cathedral, are reminiscent of Antonio Pollaiuolo rather than of Piero, whose figures stand and move in an almost sculptural serenity. It is significant of the change which had come over the art of Florence at the end of the century that Piero was never once asked to carry out any commission in Florence itself, but that his chief work was carried out in Arezzo, and Urbino, where the Duke was his patron; this was the case, in spite of the fact that Piero was the direct heir of the artistic ideals of Masaccio, Uccello, and their contemporaries.

The important centres of Northern Italian painting in the quattrocento were Ferrara, Verona, Padua and Venice. Veronese painting reached its height, as has been said, with Pisanello. Padua is dominated, during the whole of the latter half of the century, by Andrea Mantegna (1430-1506), whose first training was under an ill-defined master, Francesco Squarcione (1395-1468), to whom no surviving pictures can be attributed, but who has given his name to the style, derived largely from antique motives, which is characteristic of Mantegna and his followers. The genius-sculptor Donatello (1386-1466) was working in Padua from 1443 to 1453, and it is he who must be considered Mantegna's real master: Mantegna's heroic figures which seem to be not so much flesh and blood, as cast in bronze, suggest that his inspiration was sculpture rather than painting. But it was not only by Donatello, but also by the art of classical antiquity, that Mantegna was influenced. The Renaissance is often spoken of as being the revival of antique art, and it is true that Greek sculpture and architecture in particular were revered and copied by many Renaissance artists, not least because of the numerous Roman copies being so close at hand. In painting there is (not unnaturally, in view of the scarcity of antique paintings) no direct imitation, but rather inspiration of one art by another; in Florentine painting the majestic proportions and dignity of the remains of antiquity are reflected; but Mantegna's passion for ancient Rome led him to fill his pictures with fragments of Roman ruins, to choose, as far as possible, subjects from Roman history, and even, as in the case of the Triumph of Scipio, in the National Gallery London, which is painted in grisaille, to try and imitate a Roman frieze carved in bas-relief.

Venice was very different from Florence or Padua. In place of an austere, highly intellectual, and essentially linear art, we find a school preoccupied not so much with line as with colour - colorito - not so much with forms as with light. The 15th century Venetian painters, among whom were the brothers Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) and Gentile Bellini (1429-1507), Vittore Carpaccio (c.1465-1525), Bartolommeo Montagna (1450-1523), and Cima da Conegliano (1459-1517) were content on the whole to execute elegant and graceful variations on familiar themes, which often approach genre. But see Giovanni's masterpieces including: The Ecstasy of St. Francis (1480, Frick Collection, New York), Doge Leonardo Loredan (1502, National Gallery, London) and his San Zaccaria Altarpiece (1505, Church of San Zaccaria, Venice). Mantegna was the Bellinis' brother-in-law, but his influence was not enduring in Venice except in the case of Carlo Crivelli (1430-95) who painted in a dry, elaborate, bejewelled style, close to that of the so-called 'Squarcioneschi'.

The climate of Venice made fresco painting difficult. This fact, combined with its geographical position as one of the main gateways to Italy from the north, and with the nature of Venetian art itself, caused oil painting as developed in Flanders to be used also in Venice during the fifteenth century. The oil medium, if properly used, is impervious to damp, and, with its possibilities in the way of transparent glazes of colour, is better able to express tone values and atmospheric gradations than the opaque tempera which was the medium of Florentine artists.

Ferrara, like all the lesser schools of north Italy, was dominated by Padua. Cosimo Tura (1430-95) with his twisted metallic forms, clearly owes much to the sculptural influences at work in Padua, but there is a feeling for the grotesque which is entirely his own, and which makes him one of the most individual stylists in Italian art. His contemporary Francesco Cossa (1435-77) worked in much the same style. The third Ferrarese painter of importance, though less so than the other two, is Ercole Roberti (1450-96).

High Renaissance Painting (1490-1530)

The greatest Florentine exponent of early High Renaissance painting is undoubtedly Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the most remarkable example of the many-sided man of the Renaissance. He was a pupil of the sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio, but did not confine himself to sculpture and painting: science - geology, botany, anatomy - architecture, engineering, occasional sculpture (though nothing survives which can be with certainty attributed to him, except drawings for the Sforza monument at Milan), and occasional painting, were among his interests. His notebooks and drawings (the largest collection of which is in the Royal Library at Windsor, part of the British Royal Collection) reveal a mind of incredible profundity and width. Of his paintings the best known are the fading frescoes of the Last Supper (1495-8) in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, at Milan; the Virgin of the Rocks (1483-5, National Gallery London), and the Mona Lisa (Gioconda) (1503-5, Louvre). He settled in Milan in 1482, and his strongly marked style - and mastery of sfumato - exerted a powerful influence on the local school on such men as Luini (1475-1532), Boltraffio (1467-1516), and Ambrogio da Predis (active 1472-1506), who could copy his style, but were deprived of all originality and initiative by the master's overpowering genius. Though Leonardo, considering his supreme gifts, left surprisingly little mark, except indirectly, upon the development of Italian painting, his importance as an individual, as the most perfect example of the Renaissance 'Complete Man', and as the culmination of the Florentine quattrocento, is enormous.

Raphael (Raffaello Santi) (1483-1520) is the High Renaissance painter par excellence. Born in Umbria, he was a pupil of Perugino, and his early works are entirely Peruginesque and quattrocento in character. In 1504 he came to Florence, where his style was affected by Michelangelo and Leonardo, whose works were then the most developed and sophisticated examples of the Florentine tradition. Raphael's chief Florentine works were his Madonnas; our very familiarity with these many variations on a simple theme may lead us to forget their amazingly subtle and expressive linear quality, which, though combined with something of the plasticity of Michelangelo and Leonardo, still remains essentially quattrocento. In 1508 Raphael went to Rome, which, under Pope Julius II, was beginning to supersede Florence as a centre of artistic activity. He entered the service of the pontiff, and was employed in the decoration of the Vatican; here, working on a grand scale and inspired by the colossal relics of antiquity all around him, he achieved his masterpieces. The so-called Raphael Rooms in the Vatican (c.1508-20), which he and his associates decorated, include the Room of the Signature (Stanza della Segnatura), the Room of Heliodorus (Stanza di Eliodoro), the Room of the Borgo Fire (Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo), and the Room of Constantine (Sala di Costantino). The stanza della signatura contains the two great frescoes, opposite one another, the School of Athens and the Disputa, and on the side-wall, the Parnassus. In these, the ideals of the High Renaissance, lucidity, balance, order, and a logical and architectonic system of space-construction, find their highest expression. Serene, untroubled, and (as far as anything can be) perfect, these frescoes, from the time they were painted, were regarded as the apogee of High Renaissance art - the ideal of classic European painting. Raphael was kept so busy by the Pope, who appointed him architect of St Peter's in 1514, on the death of Donato Bramante, that he had little time for commissions from other people, though he did take a share in the decoration of the Villa Farnesina, built about 1510 by the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. He also completed the Sistine Madonna (1514), the last of his Madonnas and one of the last pictures he completed himself. Like Rubens (1577-1640) a hundred years later, this made it necessary for him to employ numerous helpers, by whom the work was in many cases executed on lines laid down by Raphael in a drawing or cartoon.

The third and greatest genius of High Renaissance painting was Michelangelo (1475-1564). With the exception of a very few easel pictures, his only extant works are the Sistine Chapel frescoes as well as those in the Cappella Paolina, both in the Vatican. Michelangelo was a Florentine, a pupil of Ghirlandaio, and in the true Florentine tradition, the male nude was the base of his art. But he carried further than anyone, before or since, the treatment of the nude as a means of expression. The Sistine Chapel ceiling contains his Genesis fresco (1508-12) - including the Creation of Adam - with its elaborately simulated architectural framework, on and round which are grouped, gigantic and majestically beautiful, the figures of Sibyls, Prophets and others. Like his later Last Judgment mural on the altar wall, the Genesis fresco is reckoned to be one of the greatest paintings known to man. All this despite the fact that he considered himself to be first and foremost a sculptor!

Of course the painterly traditions of the Italian Renaissance extended well beyond the three main centres Florence, Rome and Venice, but as a rule the provincial artists involved have received less recognition, both then and now. See, for instance, the Parma School of painting, led by Correggio and Parmigianino. Correggio was noted above all for his quadratura frescoes like the Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1530), as well as his mythological painting, of which the best known example is Jupiter and Io (1533, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

NOTE: For the ongoing influence of Renaissance classicism on 20th century art, see: Classical Revival in modern art (c.1900-30).

Mannerist Painting (c.1530-1600)

One of the constant features of artistic style is that it must be continually developing. With Raphael, the High Renaissance reached a point of perfection from which no development was possible in the same direction, and the period of 'Mannerism', which succeeded it, was a reaction against it. The concept of Mannerism has only comparatively recently been analysed by art-historians. Previously, the art of the period 1520-1600 was either dismissed as decadent or regarded as a kind of 'proto-Baroque'. In fact, Mannerist painting was an independent and sophisticated style with rules of its own, although conceived in an era quite different to that of the High Renaissance. If the style of the High Renaissance was the product of an age of serene and confident Humanism, Mannerist painting reflected a more troubled period of social and intellectual insecurity.

Its greatest exponent was Michelangelo (1475-1564), whose genius could not be bound by the restraint of High Renaissance painting, but developed individual and strange means of expression; so individual, that his followers were able only to reproduce the outward form in which it expressed itself; so that, in spite of his many imitators, he stands very much alone. His greatest Mannerist painting is undoubtedly his Last Judgment Fresco (1536-41) on the east wall of the Sistine Chapel, which seems to be a cascade of writhing and inextricable limbs. Like its Genesis cousin overhead, it is undoubtedly one of the finest creations of the human intelligence. But this expressionism was not without its dangers, even for Michelangelo himself, in spite of his anatomical knowledge and superb drawing skills. His followers and imitators, exaggerating his forms, distorted the human figure out of all recognition. This is not to say that Mannerism was entirely due to Michelangelo; but simply that, as one of the earliest, and certainly the greatest, exponents of the tendency, he was bound to exercise a considerable influence on its development.

Generally speaking, Mannerism bore rather the same relation to the High Renaissance as a photographic negative has to a photograph; where one is serene and lucid, the other is agitated, obscure and neurotic (a favourite mannerist trick is to let the action of a picture be carried out by small background figures, while the foreground is filled with large figures who contribute nothing to, and often actually seem to ignore, the actions of the main participants); where human proportions, in one, are normal, sometimes to the point of insipidity, in the other there are fantastic distortions; where one is based on an entirely logical system of spatial relations, in the other there is a curious sense of 'false space', rather like what one finds in a later Hellenistic bas-relief.

Two works, of rather the same kind by Michelangelo and Raphael, illustrate these points: when Raphael first came to Florence, Michelangelo's cartoon of the Bathers (illustrating an incident in the war against Pisa, when the Florentine soldiers, bathing in a river, were surprised by the sudden approach of the enemy) - now destroyed - was one of the chief sights of the city. We know that Raphael made copies of some of the figures, and it is very probable that his knowledge of it is reflected in his own Massacre of the Innocents (1508). Michelangelo, it must be remembered, was primarily a sculptor, and this composition is, indeed, like an enormous bas-relief, in which each figure seems to be modelled separately and to have no connection with those round it; though their attitudes suggest violent action, they seem to be in a state of slow motion, and there is no general movement animating the whole composition.

In Raphael's composition, on the other hand, there is a flowing symmetrical movement, both parallel and at right angles to the picture-plane; the figures are in a marked rhythmic relation of one another, and the figure of the woman, running straight forward in the exact centre of the composition, gives an immediate sensation of spatial depth. Raphael borrowed this motif from the Bathers, but it is significant that there the old man, who is in a similar pose, plays no such part; he is pushed to the side of the composition and partly obscured by a figure in front.

Bathers is in essence mannerist, while the other is entirely High Renaissance, though Raphael himself, towards the end of his life, submitted to the current tendencies and developed in the direction of mannerism. His Transfiguration (1517-20, Pinacoteca Apostolica, Vatican), and the paintings which were executed by his assistants, under his instructions, on the ceiling of the loggia (the so-called 'Raphael's Bible') are far removed, in feeling and style, from The School of Athens; while his pupils, Giulio Romano (1499-1546), Polidoro da Caravaggio (1500-43) and Perino del Vaga (1500-47), in the decorations which they executed after his death in the Vatican, in the Sala di Constantino and elsewhere, reveal themselves as fully developed mannerists. After the sack of Rome in 1527, which did away with the last traces of the High Renaissance, Raphael's pupils developed this Roman mannerism in various ways, in other parts of Italy: Giulio in Mantua, Polidoro in Naples, and Perino in Genoa.

Florence and Rome were the two main centres of Mannerism. Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1556), Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572) and Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), the latter also known for his work at Fontainebleau, are the chief mannerist artists of the first generation, greatly influenced by Michelangelo; the second generation is represented by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), better known as the biographer of the Italian artists, and Francesco Salviati (1510-63); while late Mannerism, when the style had become a popular and universal convention, is represented by the brothers Taddeo (1529-66) and Federigo Zuccaro (1542-1609).

Outside Florence, Correggio (1489-1534) of Parma stands rather apart from the course of artistic development in the 16th century; he seems to anticipate the Baroque in his great decorative schemes, full of light and depth and movement, while his sensuous handling of paint, and his delight in its quality is reminiscent of French painting in the 18th century. Parmigianino (1503-40) of Parma, his follower, and Tibaldi (1527-96) of Bologna, produced an Emilian Mannerism, with which the style of Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) a Bolognese pupil of Giulio Romano who worked at Fontainebleau, and Niccolo dall'Abbate (1512-71) of Modena (who also worked at Fontainebleau), has affinities, while Mannerism in Venice is represented by Tintoretto.

The nature of Venetian life, and the isolation of Venice, both politically and geographically, from the rest of Italy, caused Venetian painting to develop certain particular characteristics. It is by far the most worldly (in the best sense of the word) of all the Italian schools, appealing as it does to the sense of luxury, civic pride, and private ownership.

Giorgione (1477-1510) originated many of the commonplaces of Venetian sixteenth-century painting; it was he who invented the idyllic picture, groups of figures, sitting under trees, listening to music, and making love; pictures with no intellectually conceived iconographic meaning, but expressing, in much the same way as music, an emotion hitherto not expressed by the medium of painting. Giorgione died young, and his works are few in number; among those which recent criticism most readily admits to be his work are the Altar of the Madonna and two Saints at Castelfranco, the Tempest (1505) at Venice, the Fete Champetre in the Louvre and the Sleeping Venus (1510) in Dresden. He carried even further the luminism and colour of Bellini, Carpaccio, and the earlier Venetian school. There are several painters who copied Giorgione's manner, of which the most important was Titian (1485/8-1576), whose work, until about 1540, was fully Giorgionesque; also Palma Vecchio (1480-1528), Paris Bordone (1500-71) and Cariani (1480-1544).

Titian eventually outgrew a specifically Giorgionesque manner, and the works of his maturity and old age (he lived into his nineties, and painted right up to the end of his life) have a mature and sumptuous magnificence (especially his numerous portraits). See also: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting (1500-76).

Besides Titian, the other two predominant masters of the Venetian sixteenth century were Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) and Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-94). Veronese carried on the Venetian tradition of luxurious splendour and display, filling his great canvases with figures in gorgeous clothes, bathed in that clear golden light which seems the especial property of the Venetian school. Tintoretto was the chief exponent of Mannerism in Venice. He adopted Michalangelesque forms; but his genius was so powerful that he was able to transmute the idiom of Mannerism into an intensely personal style. He seems to foreshadow the 'tenebrist' painters of the next century in his use of violent chiaroscuro effects. He is also remarkable for his influence upon El Greco (1541-1614), who in his earliest period must be regarded not as a highly individual Spanish master, but as a late Venetian mannerist.

Italian Renaissance Sculpture

In sculpture, as in architecture, the Roman tradition was never entirely forgotten during the Middle Ages. In the reliefs by Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278) in the Baptistery at Pisa (1260) there is little, except a certain angularity in the drapery, to remind us of the Gothic sculpture which was being made in France at the same time, in which the figures are conventionalized and spiritualized to a point where they are almost without substance; in Pisano's, the composition itself is reminiscent of a Roman relief sculpture, while the figures have all the monumental solidity of Roman art. Study of the human figure was always the basis of Italian sculpture; we see this in the work of Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314) at Siena and Pistoia, and in the reliefs on the facade of the Cathedral at Orvieto.

The age of Renaissance sculpture proper, however, did not begin until the end of the century, when, in 1401, Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) competed for the commission of designing the second pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery at Florence. For the next century, Florence was to be the centre of all Italian sculpture. Ghiberti won the competition, and spent the next twenty-one years over the task, and in 1425 was commissioned to make a second pair which were not finished until 1452. It was these to which Michelangelo was referring when he said: "They are worthy to be called The Gates of Paradise."

Tradition attributes to Giotto some part of the design of the first pair of doors, by Andrea Pisano, which indeed have something of the massiveness and economy of means that we see in Giotto's paintings; in each square panel there is nothing there but what is absolutely necessary to convey the subject. Ghiberti, on the other hand, expresses more in bronze than anyone before or since, with his crowded figure compositions, intricate effects of perspective, and elaborate architectural and landscape backgrounds.The influence of Ghiberti extended, not only into sculpture, but into painting as well, for Masaccio, Pollaiuolo and Uccello were his assistants at various times, and the tendency towards an expressive naturalism which characterized Florentine painting in that period owes much to the ever-visible example of Ghiberti's doors.

Donatello (1386-1466) was also Ghiberti's pupil. Inspired by Roman sculpture, he gave his works a realism, a profundity, and a tenderness, which the antique had never known. His bronze statue David (1440-43) is surely one of the most innovative but sublime pieces of figurative sculpture ever made. Donatello's sojourn in Padua in the 1450s was to have an overwhelming effect on Mantegna, and through him, on much of North Italian painting. It was there he executed the great statue of Gattamelata, which disputes with Verrocchio's Colleoni statue at Venice the title of the greatest equestrian statue in the world. Donatello was the most versatile of sculptors: he could produce large-scale single statues, small figures, and reliefs with equal ease in marble and bronze.

Contemporary with Donatello was the Sienese, Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438) - said to have influenced Michelangelo - whose chief works are the Fonte Gaia at Siena, the Tomb of Ilaria at Lucca, and the reliefs on the facade of S. Petronio at Bologna.

Of the Renaissance sculptors of the next generation who worked in stone, the most important are: Desiderio da Settignano (1428-64), Mino de Fiesole (1431-84), Benedetto da Maiano (1442-97), and the two brothers Bernardo (1409-64) and Antonio Rossellini (1427-78), and, above all, Luca della Robbia (1400-1482), who worked also in glazed clay, and whose reputation has suffered from the modern manufacture of replicas of his clay reliefs; but in such works as the Cantoria, or singing Gallery, in Florence Cathedral, or the bronze doors of the New Sacristy, in the same building, he is the equal of all but the greatest. Agostino di Duccio (1418-83) should also be mentioned; exiled from Florence his chief work was in the Tempio Malatestiana at Rimini, which he decorated with low reliefs in a very personal style, which undoubtedly increased in individuality owing to his absence from Florentine influences.

Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88) and Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98) are the leading Florentine bronze sculptors. In bronze, even more than in marble, the Florentine genius, for expressing the nude in violent action, showed itself. Verrocchio's most distinguished pupil was Leonardo da Vinci. He is known to have done sculpture, but nothing survives which can be attributed to him with any certainty; his masterpiece, the equestrian Sforza monument at Milan, was never cast in bronze, and the full-size model was destroyed a few years after its completion.

Towards the end of the century, the impulse given by Ghiberti and Donatello to sculpture seemed to have spent itself, and there was an ever-increasing tendency towards sentimentality and prettiness. Michelangelo (1475-1564) resuscitated sculpture, though in this field, as in architecture and painting, his genius was so overpowering and individual as to overwhelm those who followed him - witness the marble David by Michelangelo - originally located on the Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence - and the Pieta in St Peter's.

In the Mannerist period, sculpture became more subordinated to the other art. Among mannerist sculptors are Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), best-known for his bronze work Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1545-54, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence) but whose fame rests more on his Autobiography; Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570), noted for his virtuoso marble sculpture of Bacchus for the Florentine Cathedral, which is now housed in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence; and Giambologna (Giovanni Bologna) (1529-1608), a Northerner working in Florence who is renowned for his Rape of the Sabine Women (1583, Pizza della Signoria, Florence) - with its striking figura serpentina, upward snakelike spiral movement.

Italian Renaissance Architecture

The centre of early Renaissance architecture was Florence, a young and progressive city-state, controlled by rich and independent merchants. In 1332 Giotto was chosen to design and superintend the building of the Campanile for the Florence Cathedral; the fact that one who was not an architect, but the greatest living painter, should have been chosen for this most important task is significant of the beginning of the Renaissance with its conception of the 'universal man'. In the cathedral itself, the fourth largest church in Europe, unprecedented means were taken to create a spacious interior. Four groined vaults span the nave, which is nearly sixty-five feet wide, and the arcades cover the 234 feet between the west front and the crossing in four gigantic arches. In 1423 Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), the first great Renaissance architect, created the dome, almost as wide as that of the Pantheon but twice as high, and so impressive in its majestic lightness that it almost dwarfs the campanile itself. (See: Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi and the Italian Renaissance.) Two years before, in 1421, Brunelleschi had begun the first properly Renaissance building, the Innocenti, or Foundling Hospital. This consists of a colonnade on the ground floor, with arches supported by Corinthian columns, supporting a first floor with widely spaced windows. The source of this, entirely classic though it is in its harmonious proportions, is not so much the antique Roman as the Tuscan Romanesque style. The same is true of S. Spirito (begun in 1435), the old Sacristy in S. Lorenzo (built 1421-28), and the Pazzi Chapel in S. Croce (1430).

Though the motifs are taken from Romanesque architecture rather than original Roman architecture, the conscious perfection of the proportion of these buildings marks them as Renaissance. The key to understanding the architecture, and much of the painting, of the early and high Renaissance, is their conception of a building, not as something carved out, and free-standing in space, but rather as a matrix enclosing, or moulding, an ideal, perfectly-proportioned and finite space.

This idea of space as something with a positive existence is the centre of Renaissance aesthetics. But Brunelleschi still retained something of the sculptural conception of architecture, and it was an architect of the next generation, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) who was the first, consciously and completely, to carry out the new ideals. In his De re aedificatoria (1485) he defined what seemed to him to be the essential of architecture: 'The harmonious unity of every part, combined in such a way that nothing can be added, subtracted, or altered, that is not for the worse.' The facade of the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence (1446-51), with its perfect harmony and proportion, exemplifies this maxim; so do his churches, S. Andrea and S. Sebastiano at Mantua, S. Francesco at Rimini (usually known as the Tempio Malatestiana), and S. Maria Novella at Florence.

In the churches built by Alberti and other architects in the late fifteenth and very early sixteenth centuries, there is a frequent use of the Greek cross plan that is to say, a cross with equal arms, as opposed to a Latin cross in which one arm, the nave, is longer than the other three. This is another instance of the early Renaissance conception of space, with its ideals of clarity, lucidity and order, and its idea of a building as something as unified and harmoniously proportioned as a crystal.

Florence was the centre of the early Renaissance, but about the turn of the century the centre moved to Rome, where all the great architects of the High Renaissance, Donato Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo and Peruzzi, none of them Roman by birth, gravitated.

Donato Bramante (1444-1514) was a Milanese, and must have been affected by Leonardo's architectural ideas; Leonardo's notebooks are full of imaginary designs for buildings, almost all of them ingenious and elaborate variations on the central plan. Bramante's first building in Rome is the so-called 'Tempietto' in the courtyard of S. Pietro, in Montorio, built in 1502 on the spot where St Peter is traditionally supposed to have been executed. This is a small circular building with a dome, surrounded by a colonnade: its exquisite proportions make it perhaps the most perfect example of High Renaissance architecture. The Pallazzo della Cancelleria (1486-98) was at one time attributed to Bramante. Though there are reasons for doubting this, the palace facade, with its subtle rhythm of pilasters and windows, might well be his work. By Raphael are the Palazzo Caraffa and the Chigi Chapel in S. Maria del Popolo, and by Peruzzi, the Villa Farnesina (built in 1509-11 for the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi) and the Palazzo Massini alle Colonne; though the latter, built in 1535, already hints at the later development of Mannerism.

Apart from St Peter's, which really counts as a Mannerist, and almost as a Baroque, structure, perhaps the grandest example of the Roman High Renaissance is Antonio da San Gallo's Palazzo Farnese (designed in 1530) - though the effect of this at the present day is spoilt by the addition of Michelangelo's cornice on the exterior and top storey on the courtyard side. In this, all the magnificence and solidity of Roman architecture are combined with perfect proportion. It is not surprising that this hugeness of scale should be found in Rome, where architects had all the monuments of antiquity, and in particular the Colosseum, to inspire them.

This High Renaissance period of architecture lasted until about 1530; after this another developed, the so-called period of 'Mannerism', which lasted for the rest of the century. It is only recently that Mannerism has been distinguished from Baroque. It is true that one led to the other, but they are entirely different.

Mannerism in architecture is a reaction against the serenity, logic and gravity of the High Renaissance. Each unit of the building is finite and separate, as in classical architecture, and there is no attempt to impose a plastic unity on the whole building, which is the distinguishing mark of the Baroque. Unlike Baroque, it makes use of the classical framework; but inside it there is deliberate discord and illogicality.

In the Cancelleria, or the Palazzo Cafarelli, the facade is logical, echoing the structure of the interior; in the Palazzo Massini alle Colonne the piano nobile is only suggested by the greater height of the windows, the whole of the upper part of the facade is un-articulated and covered with rustication, the voluted surrounds of the upper windows are purely decorative with apparently no structural function.

Apart from Michelangelo, the principal mannerist architects were Guilio Romano (1494-1546), Sanmichele (1484-1558) and Vignola (1507-1573). Giulio Romano's chief architectural work is at Mantua, where he designed the Ducal Palace and the Palazzo del Te for the ruling family, the Gonzagas. The main work of Sanmichele's is at Verona, while Vignola's masterpiece is the Church of Il Gesu (Jesuits) in Rome (1568-73).

At first sight these may seem to be ordinary classical buildings, but in reality they are the opposite; classical motives are used, but in such a way as to give an impression of disproportion and insubstantiality, to create almost a sense of malaise in the mind of the spectator. Perhaps the best example of this is Michelangelo's vestibule of the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, begun in 1526. Here one is conscious of definite discomfort: the columns, instead of carrying, or seeming to carry, the weight of the cornices, are recessed in niches, and seem to be supported on small consoles; every detail of the interior, the tabernacles between the pairs of pilasters, and the square panels over them, are designed with an exquisitely logical illogicality. In Michelangelo's hands architecture becomes an art almost as abstract, and as far reaching in its possibilities, as music. But none of his followers had the genius to continue his developments, and Mannerism in its turn became a convention.

Various causes have been suggested for Mannerism: it is a symptom of an over-civilized, sophisticated, and neurotic society, what we should call today fin de siecle. It is possible as well, to trace some connection with Catholic Counter-Reformation art: the lucidity and logic of classical architecture had stood for Humanism and the doctrine of human perfectibility, doctrines out of keeping with the Counter-Reformation's revival of spiritual absolutism.

This tendency of religion to affect art is exemplified by the history of Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome (1506-1626). In 1506 Julius II commissioned Bramante to rebuilt the old cathedral. Bramante's plan, if carried out, would have made the church the most splendid monument of Renaissance architecture: it was a Greek cross, perfectly symmetrical in plan (so that it is impossible to tell even which arm of the cross was intended to contain the high altar), with a central dome over the crossing and four smaller domes round it, and apsidal ends to the arms of the cross.

After Bramante's death in 1514, Raphael produced the first Latin cross plan, Peruzzi a Greek cross, Antonio da San Gallo the Younger a Latin cross, and finally, in 1546, Michelangelo again proposed a Greek cross. His plan was a simplified version of Bramante's, keeping the ambulatory but without the small chapels or the corner sacristies: though he kept the central plan, he altered the details, in particular the proportions of the orders, to give an impression of colossal, almost monstrous size. Bramante's St Peter's would have been a building, huge, but of human proportions: Michelangelo's is inhuman, having the proportions of a much smaller building magnified. But to that the Mannerist answer would have been that a church should not be human, but divine.

Bramante had proposed a semi-spherical dome, but Michelangelo's is an elongated form, apparently based on Brunelleschi's Gothic dome at Florence, treated in a way which comes close to the Baroque. The final state of the building, with its arcaded forecourt by Bernini (1598-1680), its dome, and its Latin cross plan (the nave and west front are the work of Carlo Maderna, and were only completed in 1614) seems to be a high Baroque building. It is, in fact, a kind of palimpsest of the history of Italian Renaissance architecture.

Another architect must be mentioned, Andrea Palladio (1508-80), a native of Vicenza, in north Italy, who is important, not only for himself, but for the influence his architecture had on Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and on the English architects of the eighteenth century. Palladio based his style on Roman examples, and on Vitruvius (c.78-10 BCE), and though a certain amount of Mannerist licence can be detected in the palaces at Vicenza, as a rule his buildings, chiefly palaces and villas, have a classical simplicity and elegance, and an almost exaggerated symmetry, which extends even to the disposition of the rooms. See also: Venetian Renaissance Architecture (1400-1600)

NOTE: Italian Renaissance art is displayed in all the best art museums in the world, notably the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Vatican Museums in Rome.


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