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Renaissance Art Renaissance Art in Italy Italian Renaissance Art Understanding

We have it in history that Renaissance, the golden age of Italian art and culture that profoundly affected the intellectual life in Europe, left its impact in almost all aspects of intellectual enquiry, including literature, philosophy and arts. Among these, the evolution of fine arts, like painting, sculpture and architecture has been said to be one of the landmarks of the age, and even today, centuries later, it is still reflected in the richness of the numerous treasures of art found in Tuscan, Florence, Venice and in other parts of Italy. In fact, the Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 14th century to about 1600. The Renaissance today has been quite synonymous with the soaring spirit of invention and innovation, qualities that have been attributed to classic Italian art by scholars. There have been splendid works of Italian art created in this era as classic concepts of beauty and aestheticism. Even today, true connoisseurs of art celebrate the loftiest artistic achievements of humankind with these art works created in Italy, the birthplace of western civilization, culture, art and history. Renaissance Romance, reflected in these great pieces of art has been regarded as a quintessentially Italian theme that captures the essence of Italy and that which is reflected in the enriched Italian art encompassing the particular period.

If we look back into the history of Renaissance, we will see that the European Renaissance, which scholars refer to as a principal catalyst of the revival of art in Europe, began in Tuscany, and gradually entered the cities of Florence and Siena. Florence, the birthplace of modern culture, the historical Italian city that is gifted with breathtaking Renaissance masterpieces, is in fact, home to a treasure trove of the world’s finest classic paintings, and the undisputed seat of the most glorious of Renaissance architecture. It is also the seat of Florentine power, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Piazza Michelangelo. The captivating beauty of Florentine architecture which flourished during Renaissance has today been turned to the city’s most wonderful attractions, which include the triple delights of the Duomo, the adjoining Baptistry, and the delicate beauty of Giotto’s Tower. In all these fabulous artworks, we see a marvelous intricacy of Florentine architecture which reached its creative crescendo during the Renaissance. Michelangelo’s extraordinary sculpture works in marble which are undoubtedly one of the most moving experiences in any art enthusiast’s life, and which are universally considered to be the world’s finest sculpture works, were all created in this gorgeous city during the Renaissance.

On the other hand, Venice, with its mystical beauty and its incredible harmony and fusion of land and sea, has since the age of Renaissance, enjoyed the glory of being the coveted kingdom of fine arts, sculpture and the unique delicacy of classic architecture. It all began during the period of Renaissance that the classicism and elegance of ancient Greek culture were imbibed in the fine arts and sculpture of Venice. Till date, not one single author has been able to encompass the art of Renaissance Venice in one single volume. As a matter-of-fact, the golden age of Renaissance was an era when the city of Venice thrived in the three most vital aspects of arts-painting, sculpture and architecture. In Venice, historians and researchers have seen a traditional orientation toward painting as the city’s preeminent art. However, many others focused on architecture as the essential Venetian art. Numerous books that highlight the various aspects of Italian art in Florence and Venice during Renaissance today comprise of some very impressive contributions to art historical scholarship. Spreading well into the cities of Italy, including Tuscany, Florence, Siena and Venice, the ideas and ideals of the Renaissance, then, spread into the rest of Europe, setting off the grounds for the English Renaissance. In a word, the Italian Renaissance brought forth the most enduring influences in European art, which resulted in a remarkable enhancement of classicism, realism and sophistication in Italian painting, sculpture and architecture.

Examining Renaissance painting and sculpture from Florence and Venice, one would see that subtle substantial differences did exist between these two Italian centers of art. The differences, however, are more than superficial and are fully understood after a great deal of reading, research and analysis. How many average visitors, for that matter, would care to understand the characteristic differences underlying the sheer beauty of Titian’s surface handling compared to Raphael’s subtle glazing techniques? Few people would really care to know that Titian in this case, is the Venetian standard bearer, and Raphael holds the Florentine standards. On the whole, most of the spellbound beholders revel in the quintessential classical beauty and richness of Renaissance art. However, there are some scholars who have attempted to delve into the different socio-cultural patterns of Florence and Venice, and the distinct aesthetic values which were discovered by comparing them. This, in a word, highly contributes to our greater understanding of the art, painting and sculpture that prospered in these two vital centers of Italian fine arts.

It has been a fact well-known in the history of that particular period that Florentine art characterizing the renaissance was greatly influenced by the artists’ obligations to the church and Christianity. It is important to know that while Florence, like Venice, did have the economy to support art and artists, most of the art and painting of that period had been regulated by the state and religious communities, which was quite a contributing factor to the religious imagery depicted in the Florentine Renaissance art. On the whole, Renaissance art in Florence was all about returning to the classics, antiquities and aesthetics of art, but most of it was highly influenced by religious belief. It had to be, as art patronage highly depended on it. Raphael and Michelangelo’s paintings bear testimony to this fact, as both of them were very responsive to religious stimuli.

Venice, on the contrary, was endowed with a rich secular society, with artists concentrating more on finer physical details of human portraits and more sensual pictorial devices. During Renaissance, Venice was a prospering empire, enjoying a stable political climate and a thriving trade economy, which sustained well unto a time frame which encompassed the entire Renaissance. This was well reflected in the Venetian art, paintings, and especially architecture of the period, when the decorative arts in works of sculpture and architecture were hugely sought after by the entire Venetian Republic.

Another contributing factor to the unique artistic style that evolved in Renaissance Venetian art was the city’s geographical location that made it less susceptible to external influences. It was this distinct artistic style of Venetian art that had been embodied in its entirety in the birth of the “Venetian School”. This famous classic school of painting in those days, encouraged its artists in the interplay of light and color and also in the distinct method of brushwork, with a smooth, velvety surface structure, something which characterized Impressionistic painting, a genre of painting that has evolved four hundred years after the Renaissance! And though it must be admitted that a great deal of Venetian painting of that period dealt with religious themes, the artistic freedom of expression which characterize the vividly portrayed nude male and female bodies go a long way to prove the aspects of humanism and assertion of the importance of the individual in Venetian art. In fact, this intensified concern with secular human life, and a revival of the classical forms marked with a desire of discovery and exploration was what Renaissance art strived to bring in, and the Venetian art of the period truly embodies those aspects.

Renaissance Florentine art, on its part, had been developed as a quintessential outcome of a cultural movement in Florence, where Lorenzo De Medici, an Italian statesman and ruler of the Florentine Republic, played a vital role in patronizing and stimulating the artworks that evolved during that period. The Florentine painting highlighting that period encompassed the timeless works of art by Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and later, Raphael. Together, these painters achieved the greatest latitude with the history as well as the with the narrative of their painted pictures. It was a specific feature of Renaissance Italian painting that the figures located within a landscape or an environment acted out a specific story, derived either from classical mythology or from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The distinctive ability of the painter was judged in his uniqueness in depicting men, women, and children in a full range of postures and poses, as well as the subjects’ diverse emotional reactions and states within those contexts. Most of the classic Renaissance Florentine painters exhibited works which bring about these distinctive qualities.

Florentine art of this period is also greatly symbolized by its relation with Mannerism, a term that refers to a significant movement in the visual arts that spread through much of Europe between the High Renaissance and Baroque periods. If we take a close look into the Florentine paintings of the 16th century, especially the late works of Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael, and the art of Michelangelo spanning the middle of his creative career, we will see a significant departure from the High Renaissance classicism, rejecting their balanced, rational style. Again, like in some of the Renaissance paintings in Florence, the rules of classical architecture were highly flouted from the early 16th Century onwards. The finest examples of these include the vestibule of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (circa 1524) and the New Sacristy (circa 1530-1533), built by none other than Michelangelo. In fact, these works have been highly impacted by Mannerism, the stylistic phase of arts in Europe that compelled 16th century artists to use the vocabulary and contexts of High renaissance as the point of departure in their art works. Ages later, in the early 20th century, critics recognized the affinities of this stylistic phase with the contemporary artistic movements that characterize modern art.

On the other hand, Venetian sculptors and arcitects of that period deliberately resisted the affectations of the movement of Mannerism. As for the Venetian painters of those times, they had exhibited full conviction in their own specific interests in light and color. The principal Venetian painters of the early 16th century, including Giovanni Bellini, continued to pursue art in their unique way, focusing on idyllic settings and subtle, atmospheric lighting. However, the works of Tintoretto, an artist who appeared after the monumental glory of Titian, the early 16th Century Venetian painter, reflect some of the dynamism and agitated features, unusual spatial effects and disturbing colorsattributes which are said to have a subtle, unique Mannerist quality. Some other attributes of mannerism can also be detected in the works of other Venetian artists, including Andrea Schiavone and even Lorenzo Lotto, but on the whole, the Venetians were seen to be unusually immune to the excesses of the particular style.

A close look into the Italian Renaissance art of Florence and Venice will also bring about their characteristic differences in the representation of nature. This, in a way, resulted in artworks which are not only distinct in execution and appearance, but also in the conceptual levels. For example, while in Florentine paintings that we witness today, the design or drawing of a particular piece of art was perceived as an essential beginning of an artist’s endeavor; in Venetian art of that period, coloring and its judicious application, which gave the paintings a unique texture, was perceived as the fundamental aspect of the painted images. The Venetian art focused more on the process of layering and blending colors to achieve the characteristic richness of artistry.

The fact is that the Renaissance Florentine and Venetian art that prospered well unto the late 16th Century had subtle differences in the concept, ideation and execution of art, which are complimentary to each other. In reality, the comparison of art in these two historical cities of Europe intrigues the scholarly mind that strives to depict aspects the Italian Renaissance as some major conduits of culture and knowledge. Together, the Renaissance Venetian and Florentine art embody the true perspective, the classical spirit and essence of European art that marks Italy’s contribution to European painting and sculpture.

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