Italian Renaissance Art

Birth of the Renaissance

Aside from the occasional portrait of a wealthy patron or the commemoration of a major event, medieval artists were limited to creating paintings that had religious overtures. Art was characterized by flat, one-dimensional paintings that were largely based upon subject matter such as the lives of saints. However, a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, literature and art encouraged artists to explore new ideas and themes. The term “renaissance” literally means rebirth. The Renaissance was the rebirth of art in the Western civilization. Artists began to integrate pagan themes as well as Biblical material into their work. They developed an interest in accurately painting the human nude body and began to use linear perspective to accurately represent objects in space. 

Early Renaissance

The Early Renaissance blossomed in Florence around the beginning of the 14th century. Artists such as Giotto, Massachio and della Francesca made the first attempts at accurately representing the natural world. The majority of the works that were produced were more idealistic than realistic, however, and art in general still retained many of the ideals of the medieval period.

High Renaissance

The cities of Florence and Rome led the artistic movement during the High Renaissance, which spanned the years from approximately 1495 to 1520. The High Renaissance was characterized by artistic balance, the use of linear perspective, and a high degree of technical and compositional skill. Several of the most notable artists were da Vinci, Michaelangelo and Raphael.

Late Renaissance

The Renaissance reached its zenith and then began to lose momentum. Artists were growing increasingly bored and dissatisfied with the rigid rules of visual perspective and artistic balance that had characterized Renaissance art, and they began to experiment with incorporating emotional elements into their work. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, placed the final nail in the Renaissance’s coffin when he invaded and sacked Rome in 1527. Since cash-strapped patrons were no longer able to commission great works of art, many artists left Rome and resettled in other areas of the country.


Mannerism, a style that blossomed between 1520 and 1600, was a response to the rigid classical techniques and stylings of the Renaissance period. Mannerism is characterized by distorted physical features and elongated bodies, along with clashing colors and the ambiguous use of perspective. Mannerism focused more upon the representation of emotions than than about the correct or idealistic representation of objects in space. Titan, Tintoretto and del Sarto were several of the leading painters of this artistic period.