ITALIAN RENAISSANCE ART
The Italian Renaissance was one of the most productive periods in the history of art, with large numbers of outstanding masters to be found in many centers and in all the major fields painting, sculpture, and architecture. In Florence, in the first half of the fifteenth century, there were great innovators in all these fields, whose work marked a beginning of a new era in the history of art. These innovators included Masaccio in painting, Brunelleschi in architecture, and Donatello in sculpture. Their new ideals and methods were systematized in the theoretical writings of their friend and fellow artist Leon Battista Alberti. There can also be observed in this period a change in the social status of the artist. Heretofore, he had been an artisan, a craftsman. Now the attempt was made to include artists among the practitioners of the "liberal arts," which were regarded as being on a higher level than the "mechanical arts." These efforts bore fruit, and some of the great masters, for example, Titian and Michelangelo, by the force of their genius and personality, were able to achieve a measure of status and respect rarely enjoyed by their predecessors. The idea of artistic genius became popular; Michelangelo was called "divine" because of the greatness of his creative powers.
In the Renaissance, art and science were closely connected. Both the artist and the scientist strove for the mastery of the physical world, and the art of painting profited by two fields of study that may be called scientific: anatomy, which made possible a more accurate representation of the human body, and mathematical perspective. Perspective in painting is the rendering on a two- dimensional surface of the illusion of three dimensions. Previous painters had achieved this effect by empirical means, but the discovery of a mathematical method of attaining a three-dimensional impression is attributed to Brunelleschi in about 1420. Henceforth, the method could be systematically studied and explained, and it became one of the chief instruments of artists, especially painters, in their pursuit of reality. Some men were both artists and scientists, notably Leonardo da Vinci and Piero della Francesca. It is doubtful whether they would have understood our distinction between art and science.
we may begin with Florentine painting. The techniques favored by the Florentines were tempera and fresco. For tempera painting a dry surface was used. A wooden panel was grounded with several coats of plaster in glue, and the composition was then copied from a drawing. The colors were tempered with egg or vegetable albumin. The fresco technique, used for the mural paintings in Florentine churches, involved painting on wet plaster. The sketch was first copied on the plaster wall in rough outline, and the part on which the painter was going to work during a given day was then covered with fresh plaster. The painter had to redraw the part that had been covered by the new plaster and add the colors. As the plaster dried, the colors became a permanent part of it.
The beginning of the great Florentine school of painting came in the Middle Ages, with Cimabue and his great pupil Giotto. Cimabue (d. 1302) was trained in the Byzantine tradition, which produced stiff, two-dimensional, hieratic figures, capable of great dignity but not intended to be exact representations of nature. Cimabue set out to break with this tradition and to bring a more lifelike appearance and deeper religious emotion into painting.
Giotto (Giotto di Bondone, d. 1337) is one of the greatest figures in the history of Florentine painting, and his greatness was recognized very early. Before his death he was honored and apparently prosperous, and his praises were sung constantly after his death. His enormous prestige helped to establish the distinction between the artisan, or craftsman, and the great artist. He was praised for having brought back to life the buried art of painting, and thus he helped to establish the idea of a rebirth, or renaissance. He aimed to represent three-dimensional reality on a plane surface, and succeeded to a remarkable extent, though he lived a century before the discovery of mathematical perspective.
His skill may be seen in the series of frescoes he painted in the Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel in Padua, illustrating scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Here the artist was able to endow his human figures with a convincing appearance of mass and solidity. This imparted to them a sense of dignity and nobility, which enhanced both the human interest and the religious feeling of the paintings. He also arranged these figures in significant relationships with one another, and placed them against architectural backgrounds, which, however deficient from a naturalistic point of view, served admirably to unify the composition and to give a feeling of depth. These characteristics may be seen in the scene of Joachim and the Shepherds.
Giotto had no real successors until the following century, though he had imitators. In the second half of the fourteenth century, however, painting was dominated by the International Gothic style, which spread from Italy to northern Europe by way of Avignon and returned to Florence in the early fifteenth century. This style abandoned the effort to achieve three-dimensionality and concentrated on decorative effects: bright colors, elaborate costumes, and other appurtenances of courtly art. The figures tend to be thin, flat, and elegant, and there is great realism in the depicting of details. Gentile da Fabriano, who worked in Florence in the early 1420s, brought this style to the city. It was Masaccio (1401-28) who, in his brief and amazing career, was the real successor of Giotto and revolutionized Florentine painting. He too gave his figures a grave and noble dignity. His frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence did much to determine the course of painting from that time on. Of these the most important is the Tribute Money, illustrating Matthew 17: 24-27. We observe the grandeur of the figures, the dramatic unity of the composition, and the sense of controlled movement imparted through the attitudes and gestures of the persons depicted. We see also Masaccio's command of aerial perspective, which was something new. The action takes place in the open air, and the artist gives the feeling of the atmosphere as a veil between the painting and the viewer. The sixteenth century art historian Vasari gives a formidable list of great artists who studied the works in the Brancacci Chapel. The great Florentine painters, and many others, did indeed follow along the lines laid out by Masaccio.
One of the artists who showed the influence of Masaccio was the Dominican friar, Fra Angelico (c.1400 55). He was a devoutly religious man whose piety is reflected in his paintings, which combine medieval elements with an understanding of what Masaccio had done. His figures are often formal and hieratic, arranged for decorative effect as in a Byzantine mosaic. He delighted in fresh, lovely young faces and bright colors. On the other hand, he learned to produce an effect of mass, to use perspective and manipulate space, and to express movement. There is great tenderness, serenity, and human feeling in his work, a joy in this world and in the blessed one to come. The Florentine painters of the last half of the fifteenth century, or Quattrocento, turned away from the severe and noble art of Masaccio to a striving for sweetness and charm, and expressed themselves in terms of line rather than mass or light and shade. At the same time, however, there were still Florentine painters who pursued the investigation of perspective and anatomy. Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) was fascinated by foreshortening and perspective, and some of his works are almost textbook exercises in the methods of producing these effects. The Pollaiuolo brothers, Antonio and Piero, were greatly interested in the study of anatomy. The more important of the two was Antonio (c.1432-98), who was a sculptor and an engraver as well as a painter. His choice of the Labors of Hercules as a subject gave him opportunities to study the nude in violent action and, therefore, the muscular structure of the body.
Of the artists whose vision was primarily in terms of line, the greatest was Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, 1445 1510). He was affected both by the Florentine Neoplatonism of his time, which will be discussed later, and by the preaching of Savonarola. Few if any artists have equaled his mastery of line as a means of expressing movement and creating figures of exquisite beauty. His two most famous mythological paintings, the Primavera ("Spring") and Birth of Venus were done for a member of the Medici family and contain elaborate allegorical meanings probably worked out by the philosopher Marsilio Ficino and intended to teach moral lessons. It is not necessary to understand these meanings in order to respond to the delicate and lyrical charm of the figures and the painter's delight in nature. The wistful melancholy that appears on the faces of many of his figures contrasts with his character as described by Vasari, who tells us that Botticelli was a merry fellow with a fondness for practical jokes.
With the passing of time, however, his style and subject matter changed. The influence of Savonarola caused him to turn more to religious subjects, which he painted with great feeling. In his last years, perhaps because of the execution of Savonarola and the troubles of Italy, his earlier serenity was missing, and there is an atmosphere of bitterness and agitation. By the time of his death, his work was out of style. He had no part in the High Renaissance, which came into full bloom in art in the early years of the sixteenth century.
The High Renaissance style begins with the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci(1452-1519), painted in Milan while Leonardo was living there under the patronage of Ludovico the Moor. He worked on the painting from about 1495 to 1497. When compared to previous paintings of the same subject, its originality becomes apparent. All nonessentials have been eliminated; the distant landscape, seen through the windows, heightens rather than distracts from the main subject. There are no human figures other than Jesus and his disciples. All are placed on one side of a long table; earlier artists had placed Judas across the table from the rest. To give dynamic character to a scene conceived in static terms, Leonardo chose the moment when Jesus announced one of the disciples would betray him. This terrible declaration sends a shock wave of feeling through the twelve. Each is clearly differentiated from the others in the attitude and gestures with which he reacts to the Master's words, and yet all form a unity. The twelve are divided into four groups of three, each group having its own distinct character. In the center is Jesus, whose posture forms a triangle, a form on which Leonardo's paintings were normally based. Jesus is serene and unmoved by the effect of his words. This center of rest contrasts with the excitement all around. The perspective is masterful, creating an illusion of depth enhanced by the distant view through the rear windows, symbolizing perhaps the cosmic significance of what is going on in this room. The human figures, in spite of their agitation, have a noble dignity.
These are the qualities of the High Renaissance style: simplicity; austere rejection of the incidental and the merely pretty; nobility and grandeur in the figures involved in actions of depth and significance. This was the style of Raphael at the peak of his career, of Michelangelo at one point, and of Andrea del Sarto and Correggio. By the 1530s, some of these artists were dead, and the living ones had moved into new phases of their work, so that the High Renaissance was a brief period in the history of art.
Florentine painting culminated in the work of Michelangelo, to whom the concluding section of this chapter is devoted. Meanwhile a great school of painting developed in Venice. No painters of great distinction appeared there in the fourteenth century, certainly none who could stand comparison with Giotto.
In the fifteenth century, artists from other places, working in the city, gave a vital impetus to Venetian painting. The most influential of these was Antonello da Messina (c.1430 79), who arrived in Venice about 1475. It was he who introduced into Venetian art the technique of oil painting, which had been perfected by Flemish masters; Antonello may have learned it in Naples. He was an artist of great merit, a fine portrait painter and a master of perspective and foreshortening. He also influenced later Venetian painters by his skillful handling of light and shade.
The first important painter of Venice was Jacopo Bellini (c.1400 1470/71), founder of a famous family of artists. His most important paintings are lost, but two of his sketchbooks survived. He was trained in the International Gothic style and was interested in questions of perspective. He liked strange backgrounds reminiscent of fairy tales and mythology. Some of the ideas in his sketchbooks were later developed more fully by his sons, Gentile and Giovanni.
Gentile Bellini (c.1429-1507) was so famous as a portraitist that in 1478 when the sultan Mohammed II requested the Venetian government to send him a skilled portrait painter, Gentile was chosen. He was also the first of the great painters to concern himself to a large extent with depicting the colorful life of Venice, and his paintings of great processions and pageants often have as their background the Square of St. Mark, such as the Procession of the Relic of the True Cross, from the Accademia, Venice.
Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516) is one of the greatest of all painters. His output was probably larger than that of any other fifteenth-century painter, and much of it survives. His work illustrates an important development in the patronage of art: He painted small pictures for private collectors on an unprecedented scale, as distinguished from the customary type of commissions from church and state, though, of course, he had many of these also. His early work shows the influence of his brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna, in sharper outlines and greater angularity than Bellini was to show later. However, there were always great differences between them, as can be clearly seen by comparing their renderings of the Agony in the Garden, both of which now hang in the National Gallery in London. (Illustrations pages 104 and 105) In spite of the points of resemblance, Bellini's version has a softness lacking in the harsher, more severe work of Mantegna. To a large degree this is due to one of Bellini's most conspicuous qualities, his command of light and atmosphere. It is possible in his paintings of outdoor scenes to tell easily what time of day is being represented, in this case early morning. His sensitive handling of landscape shows that he was aware of its emotional value, and for him it was a means of expressing religious feeling.
In his earlier work he employed the tempera medium, but he later adopted oil, which made possible a greater emphasis on effects of color. He led the way to the outstanding use of color which became a dominant feature of Venetian painting. In his later years, in keeping with the trend of the times and his uninterrupted artistic growth throughout his long life, he turned to more secular subjects, particularly those from classical mythology. An enormous influence was exerted on a whole generation of Venetian painters by the rather mysterious figure of Giorgione (c.1477-1510). Only a few paintings are universally ascribed to him, and they are full of puzzles. The work called The Tempest makes this clear. There is no general agreement as to the subject of this painting. There is no recognizable relationship between the figures, and it is not even clear that they are aware of one another. As in other works by Giorgione, each one seems lost in a private mood or reverie. The landscape, with its stormy sky, is effectively presented. The paintings of Giorgione cast their spell largely by means of their idyllic landscapes, and it is possible that the real subject of his works is their emotional atmosphere, their mood of yearning and nostalgia. It is like an adult's dream of some enchanted realm where he may have dwelt in his childhood imaginings and which he has now lost. It is interesting that this mood should have appealed to the wealthy and practical society of Renaissance Venice; it gives a key to a side of the Venetian character that we might otherwise be able to discern only with difficulty.
Giorgione's influence can be seen in the early work of the greatest of the Venetian painters, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio, c.1490-1576). His Giorgionesque mood was never complete and did not last long; there was always a directness and forthrightness that contrasted with Giorgione's dreamy reverie. His Assumption of the Virgin, painted in 1516-18 as an altarpiece in the Venetian church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, made him famous and demonstrated his genius. The work pulsates with life and vigor, enhanced by the brilliance of the colors. His handling of the agitated mass of humans at the bottom is especially masterful; he has endowed the group with dramatic movement and feeling without being confused or obscure. The vigor and energy and the acceptance and enjoyment of the life of the senses which marked his art in the years that followed, are especially vivid in some of his paintings of mythological subjects. He was also a great portraitist, commissioned by some of the greatest rulers in church and state. In his portraits, he succeeded, often unsparingly, in bringing out the psychological uniqueness of his subjects. For many years he worked in the service of the Hapsburgs, producing among other things a series of portraits of the emperor Charles V. He was also a great master of landscape, skilled like Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione in representing the atmospheric mood of certain times of day and night.
In his last years there are signs of a more tragic sense, especially in some of his religious paintings, such as the Mocking of Christ of about 1570. The colors have become subdued, and an intense religious feeling manifests itself as Titian approaches the end. His late works show the coming of the style known as Mannerism. The figures are sometimes seen from unusual angles, in twisted and agitated postures, and in an unearthly and flickering light. The resulting atmosphere of unease and discomfort is distinctly Mannerist, in contrast to the serene and balanced quality of the High Renaissance.
The work of another great Venetian artist of the sixteenth century, Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti, 1518 94), can also be better described as Mannerist, and even as early Baroque, the next phase in artistic style. His vigor and productivity were enormous. One of his greatest achievements was the decoration of the rooms of the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice. It is a large building, with many splendid rooms, and Tintoretto worked on its walls and ceilings for about forty years. The subject matter consisted of scenes from the Bible, but, no matter how familiar they were or how often depicted by other artists, Tintoretto's power of invention was so fertile that there is nothing hackneyed or repetitive about the paintings. Often the viewer witnesses the scene from above, from below, or at an unusual angle. The main figure is sometimes placed at one side, instead of in the center as in the Temptation of Christ. One characteristic feature is the presence of homely genre elements, which have the effect of heightening the sacred, supernatural events. There are remarkable feats of perspective and foreshortening. His religious paintings convey an intense, mystical, emotional piety. On the other hand, in the Doge's Palace in Venice, he painted some mythological works, intended to symbolize the wisdom of the Venetian government, that have an exquisite grace and charm and that contain some superb nudes. He was also, like the other great Venetian painters, an outstanding portraitist, and his portraits show many of the noble and confident members of the Venetian aristocracy.
Paolo Caliari (1528-88), commonly known as Veronese, his native city being Verona, is included among the artists of the Venetian school because he lived in Venice from about 1553. Though younger than Tintoretto, he does not share the latter's Mannerist characteristics, but rather harks back to the High Renaissance with his splendid and dignified men and women in rich and sumptuous settings. Though there may be a lack of deep feeling in most of his work, he is one of the greatest of all decorative artists. His great Marriage at Cana, now in the Louvre shows his mastery of composition, his ability to draw together a vast number of characters in a single picture and yet maintain clarity and unity. In his last years he developed in the direction of deeper religious feeling. He also produced some pure landscape paintings works in which the landscapes are not backgrounds but the chief subjects. This was not common yet, and thus he stands as one of the pioneers in his field.
Central Italy also produced important developments in painting. We may start with the Sienese School. Though geographically close to Florence and influenced by it, the school had its own independent tradition, which in its turn affected Florentine art. In the fourteenth century, Sienese painting was of particular importance, and in the latter part of that century it determined the course of Florentine painting and spread beyond Italy to become a formative influence in the International Gothic style.
The first of the great Sienese painters, from whom the whole school descended, was Duccio di Buoninsegna, who was about fifteen years older than Giotto and who died in or before 1319. Like Giotto he undertook to solve the problem of representing three-dimensional space on a flat surface, but by different means. His emphasis was on line, and his figures have a two-dimensional appearance, unlike the solid and massive figures of Giotto. His work is more lyrical and emotional, and this was to remain true of Sienese work. Yet Duccio was a master of composition and arrangement, color and light, form and movement, and thus succeeded in conveying an impression of spatial depth. The Deposition from the Cross, one of the scenes from the life of Jesus that he painted, displays his qualities.
One of the chief factors in the transmission of Italian influences to the north, where they helped to form the International Gothic style, was the work of the Sienese painter, Simone Martini (c.1284 1344). His crucial position in this development arises partly from the fact that he was summoned to Avignon in 1340 to serve the pope; as the papal residence, Avignon was at this period an international center for the spread of cultural influences. Simone, possibly a pupil of Duccio, did not equal his master in dramatic power or emotional depth, but his work is notable for charm, grace, and splendor, and he was sensitive to the beauty of features, gestures, and color.
In the fifteenth century, central Italy produced one of the towering artistic figures of the period, Piero della Francesca (c.1406/12-1492). He was born in Borgo San Sepolcro, near Urbino and Arezzo, and many of his most important works were executed in these three towns. Though it cannot be proved that he spent much time in Florence, he mastered the elements of the Florentine tradition, including mathematics and perspective; in the later years of his life, he wrote mathematical treatises. If he did spend much time in Florence, as seems likely, this would help to account for the austere, grave dignity of his figures, with their calm, impassive faces and restrained gestures. In their noble composure they are above ordinary humanity and give a glimpse of man, not as he is but as he might be. The effect is enhanced by the generalized and idealized types that he portrayed, though his portraits of Federigo da Montefeltro of Urbino and his duchess show that Piero was a consummate portraitist when called upon to work in that field. The calmness and impersonality of his work is strengthened by his preference for pale, cool colors.
One of his impressive works is the Baptism of Christ, which can be seen today in the National Gallery in London. The most celebrated of the central Italian painters was Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio, 1483-1520), born in Urbino, where his father was court painter and poet. Raphael received some of his early training from Perugino, an artist distinguished by his command of spatial composition and an atmosphere of serenity and calm, qualities featured in Raphael's work. He had a gentle and impressionable nature, and absorbed influences from many sources. He was in Florence between 1505 and 1508, and here he studied anatomy and movement, typical concerns of Florentine painters, and was affected by the work of many of the Florentine masters, especially Leonardo. By 1508 he had achieved so great a reputation that Pope Julius II called him to Rome to take part in the painting of the Vatican. Since Michelangelo was then working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and since, among others, the great architect Bramante was also in Rome, clearly Rome was now the artistic capital of Italy. The artists, however, were generally imported from other regions.
One of Raphael's most important commissions was to decorate the walls of the room known as the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican with paintings representing the unity of all knowledge. Each wall is devoted to one of the great fields of study: theology, philosophy, poetry, and jurisprudence.
The painting representing Philosophy is known as the School of Athens. The great philosophers of antiquity, each posed in such a way as to make him a representation of the kind of philosophy that he espoused, appear in a noble and spacious architectural setting. In the center are Plato and Aristotle, engaged in conversation. Plato is pointing upward, in accordance with his idealistic philosophy; while Aristotle, the investigator of nature, points downward. The other philosophers are arranged singly or in groups, each distinct from the others and yet contributing to the unity of the whole. All fit comfortably into the space. Throughout there is a sense of dignity, grandeur, and serenity. Since the other walls of the room are devoted to the other fields of human and divine knowledge, we are no doubt supposed to realize that there is no conflict between the sacred truths of the faith and the great ideas of the secular, particularly those of classical authors.
Raphael continued his work for Julius's successor, Leo X. He was made chief architect of the new St. Peter's on the death of Bramante in 1514, and inspector of antiquities for Rome and its surrounding area in the following year. Because of his tremendous popularity, he also received numerous private commissions. He produced some of the greatest portraits, including that of his friend Castiglione. His representations of the Madonna and Child are numerous and famous. His fame and the demands upon him became so great that both his work and his health suffered; much was left to assistants. Overburdened as he was, he became ill and died on his thirty-seventh birthday. Something remains to be said about the painting of northern Italy, excluding Venice. Though this area did not have so many outstanding masters as the other regions discussed, it had one of the outstanding Renaissance painters Mantegna. Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) was brought up in Padua where he was able to see the work of the sculptor Donatello, which greatly affected him. The other chief influence on him was classical antiquity, in which he developed an intense interest. He was a close student of classical remains, which he reproduced in his works with painstaking exactness. His work, as noted earlier, has a certain hardness and severity; his figures often seem like statues of stone or metal. He was a master of illusionistic effects and of foreshortening, as seen in his painting of the Dead Christ.
The Paduan School had a great effect on the art of northern Italy in the latter half of the fifteenth century. This meant a spread of the characteristics associated with Donatello and Mantegna realism, a devotion to antiquity, and sometimes a certain harshness.
One other influence on northern Italian painting, which proved disastrous, was the work of Leonardo da Vinci, who was in Milan from about 1482 to 1499 and much of the time from 1508 to 1513. During the second period especially, his effect on Milanese painters was so overwhelming that it crushed the promising beginnings of a new style that had been evident there, replacing it with more or less sterile efforts to imitate him.
This brief survey of northern Italian painting, and of Italian Renaissance painting in general, may conclude with a mention of Correggio (Antonio Allegri, c.1489-1534), who gets his name from his native town. He is most closely connected with the city of Parma where he painted domes, for example, in the cathedral. These show the illusionistic character that had been inaugurated by Mantegna, who may have been his teacher, and that would be very popular with Baroque artists. The spectator looks from below at the Virgin rising into Heaven and at the swirling masses of figures who are witnessing the event, and feels not like a spectator but like a participant.
Correggio had a lightheartedness that made him somewhat unfit for paintings requiring profound religious emotion, but he was superbly qualified for scenes from antique myth, especially those of an erotic nature. He is one of the greatest of all masters of the art of rendering the flesh and a great colorist and master of movement.
It is especially appropriate to end a discussion of Italian Renaissance painting with Correggio, because he anticipated developments which came much later not only Mannerism and the Baroque, but also even the art of the eighteenth century, particularly in France. The worldliness, grace, and charm of his mythologies, even their somewhat artificial character, make him at home in the company of such artists as Watteau and Boucher.
as in the case of painting, there arose the idea that the other arts too had been reborn. Lorenzo Valla had referred to a decline of painting, sculpture, architecture, and literature, and their revival in his age. According to the tradition that developed, the revival of painting was due to a return to nature, the revival of architecture came about through the influence of classical antiquity, and the rebirth of sculpture resulted from a combination of the two influences.
This view of a revival of the arts was accepted and propagated by the famous sixteenth-century art historian Giorgio Vasari. As far as sculpture is concerned, it is not wholly accurate, since classical influences were present in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, we can begin our brief survey of Renaissance sculpture with the artists who come first in Vasari's account, Nicola Pisano (active 1258-78) and his son Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314/19). Nicola probably came from southern Italy, but his most important work was done in Tuscany, where he worked as both sculptor and architect. His work shows the results of careful study of ancient monuments, including a Roman sarcophagus in Pisa, which contained reliefs telling the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus. In his reliefs for the pulpit in the Baptistery of Pisa, there is a Madonna based on the figure of Phaedra, a Samson derived from Hippolytus, and numerous other adaptations of themes from the same source. He is also famous for his reliefs on the pulpit in the cathedral of Siena.
While Nicola combined Gothic and classical elements, his son Giovanni represents part of a reaction against classical tendencies, a reaction that can be observed also in literature and that was contemporaneous with the predominance of the International Gothic style in painting. Nevertheless, Giovanni is equally a forerunner of the Renaissance. Although his themes and feeling were largely medieval, he made a great advance in fidelity to nature. It has been said that his true successor was Giotto, the painter, rather than any of the sculptors who worked under him. In another respect also, Giovanni heralds something new; he seems to be the earliest artist to fight for release from the classification of artisan by his insistence on the value of his own individual personality. Though the records of his life are scanty, they show him in conflict with other artists, employers, and even the law. The inscriptions he left on his work, especially the pulpit in the cathedral of Pisa, show an extraordinary sense of his own worth. Though it was not uncommon for artists to leave self-praising inscriptions on their works, Giovanni went far beyond the others in exalting his own talents. Andrea Pisano (c.1290 1348-49) unrelated to Giovanni and Nicola is best known for his work in Florence, which includes the bronze reliefs on the South Doors of the Baptistery. On these doors, in the years 1330-36, he executed twenty-eight panels with scenes from the life of John the Baptist. They are outstanding for clarity and simplicity of design; the number of figures is kept small, and their relationships are clearly and forcefully indicated.
Lorenzo Ghiberti (1381?-1455) is an example of the individuality and self-consciousness that characterize the Renaissance. He wrote the earliest known autobiography of an artist, in which his pride and self-confidence find vivid expression. The same traits may account for the two self-portraits, which he placed on the East Doors of the Baptistery in Florence. This practice of representing one's self among the figures in a painting or a work of sculpture became quite common among Renaissance artists; it was a sort of signature and an expression of the artist's own conception of his importance.
Ghiberti worked on the two Baptistery doors, with interruptions, during virtually his whole productive life. The North Doorsoccupied him from 1403 to 1424, while his work on the East Doors lasted from 1425 to 1452. On the North Doors@, he was required to follow Andrea Pisano's pattern, with twenty-eight panels of New Testament scenes. His work has greater grace and charm than the more simple and direct work of Pisano. He was also beginning to use perspective, trying to give the illusion of space by the grouping of figures and the use of landscape and architecture. His greatest achievement was the East Doors, called "Gates of Paradise." For these doors, which carry reliefs depicting scenes for the Old Testament, he broke away from the scheme of twenty-eight small panels and divided the surface into ten larger ones. In each case he tells a story with several scenes on the same panel. An example is the Story of Joseph. Here are found Joseph sold into slavery, Joseph revealing himself to his brothers, and other episodes taken from the account in Genesis. In these magnificent works can again be seen Ghiberti's interest in creating the illusion of depth. He accomplished this partly by the use of mathematical perspective, presumably learned from Brunelleschi, and partly by gradations in the relief. Architectural elements are also employed to produce perspective effects.
Many of Ghiberti's assistants on the doors became outstanding artists in their own right, and the most outstanding of these was Donatello (c.1386-1466). He was probably the greatest sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, with the single exception of Michelangelo, and had an influence far beyond his own field of sculpture. Though he was affected by the revival of antiquity and the study of ancient works, he was an original, in some ways a revolutionary, artist. His work is marked by realism and by an emphasis on the psychological and emotional state of his figures. His psychological range was enormous, as was his versatility; he was equally skilled in bronze, in wood, and in stone, and in both freestanding statues and in reliefs. Three examples from his work will illustrate something of his genius. His bronze relief Feast of Herod for the baptismal font in the ba[tostery of the cathedral of Siena, was done during the 1420s. It shows three scenes from the story of the beheading of John the Baptist, in three rooms arranged one behind the other. Notable are the use of the principles of linear perspective and, above all, the expression of strong feeling on the part of the foreground figures who see the head of John presented on a platter to Herod. Donatello's bronze David is another witness to his originality. It is the first freestanding nude statue of the Renaissance, and its thoughtful and meditative David, standing over the body of the slain Goliath, is a new conception of a familiar subject. It is also an expression of an ideal of human physical beauty.
In 1443 Donatello went to Padua, where he spent ten years. The works he created there gave him the tremendous impact on North Italian art, which has already been mentioned. One of these was his equestrian statue of the condottiere Erasmo da Narni, known as Gattamelata ("Honeyed Cat"). It is one of the greatest of equestrian statues, rendered with dignity, assurance, and calm strength. In some of his other works done at the same period and in other late works, he expresses an intensity of religious emotion, and a self-revelation hardly to be found in any other artist and in no artist before his time.
Luca della Robbia (1400-82), though he did important work in marble and bronze, is best known for his development of the technique of sculpture in colored terra cotta. In this medium he did work of unparalleled simplicity and loveliness; the only other workers in this kind of terra-cotta sculpture were members of his family, who continued the tradition for a time, but who never rose to Luca's level. They had no successors, and the technique died out. The true successor of Donatello was the Florentine Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88). He worked in a variety of media and forms as Donatello had done. His Colleoni monument is one of the two most famous equestrian statues of the Renaissance (the other being the Gattamelata). Colleoni was also a condottiere and appears as a formidable and arrogant figure. The statue is less classical than Donatello's and has a greater sense of movement. The sculpture discussed in this chapter has been predominantly Florentine, because of the overwhelming importance of Florence in this branch of Renaissance art. There was much work going on elsewhere in Italy, some of it important, but reasons of space have compelled limitations in our discussion. The greatest of all Renaissance sculptors was Michelangelo, who, as stated earlier, will be dealt with at the end of the chapter.
Architecture in the Renaissance, like the other arts, was essentially Christian, though influenced by classical ideas and especially by the architectural treatise of the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius, written in the first century B.C. The highest form of the art, for Renaissance architects, was the building of churches. Under the influence of Pythagorean and Platonic concepts, it was believed that God had created the cosmos as a mathematical harmony, in which the different parts were related to each other in harmonic mathematical ratios. A church built according to these ratios, therefore, would symbolize and partake of perfect beauty, and thus would help to lift the thought of the worshippers to God. For similar reasons, the circle was regarded by some artists and thinkers as the ideal basis for a church plan, because it was the perfect figure and, therefore, the best symbol for God.
Vitruvius, in discussing temples, had claimed that the proportions of these buildings should correspond with those of the human figure. He had shown that a well-built man, with arms and legs extended, would fit perfectly into the circle and square, the most perfect figures. This idea appealed to Renaissance artists, and accounts for their drawing of Vitruvian figures, human figures with arms and legs outstretched, inscribed in squares and circles. Another ancient influence was Pythagoras, who held that the basic explanation of the universe lay in numbers and who had discovered that musical relationships could be expressed in mathematical terms. These musical-mathematical harmonies appeared to provide a key to the structure of the whole universe. There was a Pythagorean revival during the Renaissance, and it contributed to the endeavor to express in the proportions of buildings the most profound religious and philosophical conceptions. Architects applied these harmonic ratios to secular buildings as well as to churches for example, palaces, villas, and libraries.
The first great Renaissance architect was the Florentine Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). He made several trips to Rome to study the remains of ancient buildings and learn the principles that had been used in their construction. The knowledge thus gained helped him to solve the problem of constructing a dome for the cathedral of Florence. Though the building of the cathedral had begun in the last years of the thirteenth century, nobody had been able to work out a method of constructing the dome, which had to cover a space 140 feet across. Brunelleschi's solution was the dome that came to dominate the Florentine skyline from 1436, the year it was completed. Among his many other achievements we may mention the loggia, or open porch, of the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital) of Florence, which was built between 1419 and 1424. It was the first such hospital in the world and the first truly Renaissance building. Here the architect shows the use of the mathematical proportions already referred to; the size of the columns is the basis for the other dimensions. The round arches, supported by slender columns, and the vaults, which consist of a series of small domes, owe much to classical examples.
Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), a man of many talents, was one of the most important architects of the Renaissance. His purpose was to adapt the principles of classical architecture to the needs of his time, and his most notable achievements were his churches. In designing these, he used such classical elements as the Greek temple front and the Roman triumphal arch. One of his designs that was widely imitated was found in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, where he was called upon to redesign the facade. The high center section crowned by a classical pediment, together with the scrolls on either side, and the organization into two stories may be recognized in many later churches. In addition to designing many other churches and secular buildings of importance, Alberti also wrote a treatise on architecture.
Bramante of Urbino (1444-1514) was the greatest architect of his time, though he apparently was a painter long before he became interested in architecture. He was in Milan, at the court of Ludovico the Moor, in 1481 or earlier, and stayed until the fall of Ludovico in 1499. There his ideas on architecture may have been influenced by discussions with Leonardo da Vinci, who was very much interested in architecture, though he did little or no architectural work himself. Leonardo's drawings include some centrally planned buildings, and he may have helped stimulate Bramante's interest in this form. From 1499 to his death, Bramante lived in Rome, and his work there marks the High Renaissance style in architecture.
In Rome Bramante studied classical remains, and this study was decisive for his work in those years. The Pantheon, which had long been a Christian church, was the source of most circular churches during the sixteenth century, including Bramante's Tempietto. This tiny masterpiece was built for Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain on the spot where St. Peter was supposed to have been put to death. The Doric columns and the frieze of the church are adapted from ancient models.
Bramante was one of the great artists patronized by Pope Julius II. When the pope decided to tear down the Old St. Peter's church and build a new one on the site, he appointed Bramante chief architect. Bramante's design called for a centrally planned church, but under later architects this design was abandoned. Michelangelo, no lover of Bramante personally, called Bramante's plan for St. Peter's the best one. Something of what Bramante planned for St. Peter's may be seen in the setting of Raphael's School of Athens. The two artists, both from Urbino, were friends, and it is believed that Bramante may have advised Raphael on the architecture in his paintings. Raphael himself did some architectural work.
The last great architect of the Renaissance was Palladio (Andrea di Pietro, 1508-80). Though Padua was his birthplace, his name is chiefly associated with Vicenza, where he lived and worked for many years. As a young man he became acquainted with the ideas of Vitruvius and studied in Rome. The study of classical architecture and its principles affected his work deeply and permanently. He wrote a number of books, including two popular and famous guidebooks to Rome, an edition of Caesar's Commentaries, and an architectural treatise, Four Books on Architecture (1570). In this last work he showed his reverence for the remains of antiquity, which for him bore witness to the greatness and virtue of the Romans. For Palladio, the practice of architecture was a moral act, a manifestation of virtue.San Giorgio Maggiore Palladio
When an edition of Vitruvius appeared in 1556, Palladio supplied the illustrations. He shared with the editor, Daniele Barbaro, the idea that the dignity of architecture lay in its mathematical basis. He believed that, since the architect symbolized his mental conception in his material, architecture came closest among the arts to the Platonic ideal.
Palladio's application of these principles can be found in the numerous villas he designed. He believed that there were fixed rules from which one must never depart; variety was permissible, but only within these rules. He interpreted these to include a symmetry from which his villas never varied. All of them have a central hall, with rooms on either side that correspond exactly with each other. For the faades of his villas, Palladio adopted the classical temple front, with columns supporting a triangular pediment, as in his Villa Rotonda (Villa Capra) just outside Vicenza. The classical influence was always present in his work, both in secular and in religious buildings. Some of his most distinctive creations are his church faades in Venice. These facades are based on the Greek temple front. A great temple front is used for the main entrance to the church, while at the sides are what appear to be the outer edges of a smaller temple front, placed behind the main entrance. The church of San Giorgio Maggiore is an example. This scheme solved the problems on which earlier architects had been working applying classical forms to the facades of Christian churches. The classical temple front had been designed for a building with one uniform interior space, whereas Christian churches had long been built as basilicas that is, they contained a high nave flanked by lower aisles. Palladio's solution, based on classical models the Pantheon in Rome had two superimposed pediments was copied for other churches for two and a half centuries. Palladio adhered to the rules of mathematical harmony, based on the proportions of the human body and at the same time on the harmonies of music.
Thus his work was designed to bring together the nature of man and of the universe; at the same time it combined classical and Christian elements in a symmetrical plan. Thus he was working out that synthesis of knowledge and tradition, that harmonious expression of the nature of all being, which other artists and scholars were trying, in their various ways, to bring to expression.
michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 1564) always insisted that he was primarily a sculptor, but he was also one of the greatest painters and architects of his time, and he wrote poems of enduring importance. Though some of his work belongs to the High Renaissance, in the course of his long career he developed beyond that style and became one of the chief sources of Mannerism and Baroque. Hs impact on other artists was tremendous and, like that of Leonardo, not wholly fortunate, since lesser men could reproduce only the outward and superficial qualities of his work but not the dynamic energy that informs it. This led to exaggeration and distortion.
He was not a happy man. His outlook tended to be gloomy, and his difficult experiences made it more so. He was a fervent republican and patriot, and the loss of Italian liberty to tyrants and foreigners was a bitter blow for him. He did not suffer fools gladly, and he could be rude and unfriendly. But when he did become attached to anyone, the attachment was deep and passionate. One woman meant a great deal to him: Vittoria Colonna, a cultured aristocrat who was a friend of artists, intellectuals, and religious reformers. Their relationship was one of noble and exalted friendship. He was also deeply attached to a young nobleman, Tommaso Cavalieri. Michelangelo's genius was recognized and rewarded, but he chose to live in mean surroundings and to complain about it. He saw himself beset on all sides by enemies, among whom he included Raphael and Bramante. Among his causes for bitterness was that he worked for a series of popes, each of whom had his own ideas and often interfered with his work. His religious feeling was deep and genuine and shows through his art and poetry. As chief architect of St. Peter's he would take no money, contributing his work for the love of God. He was also a sincere believer in the Neoplatonic doctrines popular at the time, and his work is full of the struggle of the spirit to free itself from the flesh and of the yearning for a spiritual world of peace and purity above the senses.
Michelangelo was a Florentine, and spent most of his life in Florence and Rome. After 1534 he lived continuously in Rome. The Medici tried to lure him back to Florence, but he always refused, probably because as a lover of Florentine republicanism, he would not submit to living under the tyranny that had destroyed his city's liberty. He achieved greatness and recognition early. His Pietà, now in St. Peter's, was completed in 1501, when he was still in his twenties, and raised him to the front rank of the artists of his time. It shows that he had attained complete mastery of his medium, and it combines this mastery with profound feeling and exquisite grace. His great David, which followed soon after, was commissioned by the government of Florence and embodies the ideals of republicanism.
Among the commissions he received from Julius II was the pope's tomb, planned on a very large scale. Because of all sorts of distractions, the work dragged on for years and when completed was much smaller than originally planned. Its chief statue was that of Moses, which in its imposing presence and force is a fitting memorial of the pope whom it commemorates. For the Medici popes Leo X and Clement VII, he designed a chapel in the Medici parish church of San Lorenzo in Florence to contain the tombs of members of the family. Here are to be found some of his greatest creations. The figures of Day and Night, Dawn and Twilight show his feeling of the weariness and torment of human life. When he left Florence for the last time in 1534, he had not finished the chapel according to his plans.
In the field of painting, Michelangelo's most elaborate commission was the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which he did for Julius II in the years 1508-12. Finding that his assistants were not satisfactory to him, he did most of the work himself. This involved a total of about ten thousand square feet, which he had to work on under conditions of great discomfort, painting while lying on his back. The plan of the work is Michelangelo's. He persuaded the pope to adopt it instead of Julius's own plan, which called simply for paintings of the twelve Apostles. Michelangelo's design is based on the Old Testament, with the main panels presenting scenes from the book of Genesis, such as the Creation of Adam. The figure of Adam, with its latent power awaiting the touch of the Almighty's finger, illustrates Michelangelo's preference for the nude male as the vehicle for the expression of his artistic purposes and convictions.
In other places on the ceiling, the artist has painted panels representing the miraculous salvations of Israel, the prophets, the sibyls, and the ancestors of Christ. The sibyls were prophetesses from pagan antiquity who were supposed to have predicted the coming of Christ. In this way, Michelangelo has synthesized the Hebrew and Christian traditions and that of classical antiquity. He has also painted several medallions with Old Testament scenes and a number of nude youths. Years later he painted on the Sistine Chapel altar wall his powerful and somber Last Judgment, which opened to public view on Christmas Day 1541. This work in its grandiose scale, its manipulation of large masses, its agitated atmosphere, and its deliberate striving for emotional effect helped inaugurate the Mannerist and Baroque styles.
Michelangelo was also an architect, the greatest of his time. In this field he broke away from the High Renaissance and helped to establish the Mannerist style. This meant departures from mathematical symmetry, surprises, tension, and a feeling of uneasiness and imbalance, all deliberately produced. If we look at the figures of Day and Night, Dawn and Twilight in the Medici Chapel, we see an example of this in the fact that they are resting on sarcophagi that are too small for them, conveying a feeling of crowding and discomfort.
In the vestibule to the Laurentian Library in Florence, which Michelangelo designed, are other Mannerist characteristics. One is the sense of movement produced by the stairway. Another is that the columns are supported by the walls, instead of supporting them; this is the sort of surprise Michelangelo and Mannerist architects liked to introduce. It has been suggested that the columns are imprisoned in the walls and are struggling to free themselves, the same sort of struggle that appears often in Michelangelo's work.
The greatest architectural work on which he was employed was the construction of the church of St. Peter's in Rome, of which Paul III made him chief architect in 1546. He was neither the first nor the last to be in charge of this work, and the church as it was eventually completed represents his wishes only in part. The great dome, which is usually attributed to him, was somewhat modified after his death before it was actually constructed, but it is the most conspicuous witness to his activity on the building. The dome in its completed form is more pointed than he had planned. Michelangelo was also a poet, and the thoughts expressed in his poems help to illuminate his character and his art. In keeping with his synthesis of Christianity and Neoplatonism, they show him turning from earthly to divine beauty. The eye, the noblest of the senses, can catch reflections of this beauty when it sees through the eyes of another into the soul. To Tommaso Cavalieri he wrote: "My Lord, in your fair face I see all things / That in this life I hardly can relate. / So many a time to God's abode it brings / My soul with all its body's harmful weight." In this way, souls are bound together and in one another have experience of the divine. They rise above the transient and the temporary to the eternal. Sensual love, the opposite of this true love, is vile and should be shunned.
For Michelangelo, God is especially revealed in the human form. He loved the body, as he said, solely because it mirrored God: "Through mortal beauty, thus, I can behold / And know my God; and I am free to love / Whatever so superbly mirrors Him."
As he grew older, he became more deeply religious. He thought of art more from the standpoint of its religious value, and felt that the artist should be a person of holy life. At the end he even expressed regret for his long attachment to art and turned wholly to God's mercy.
O now I know how foolish and how stark
My art has been, so far from its true source,
And how I made an idol and a monarch
Of something that, alas, gives but remorse.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Painting no more, nor sculpture, can now quiet
My soul, turned to that Love divine that, here.
To take us, opened its arms on a cross and bled.