Renaissance Art Movement

1400 – 1600


– Ren 1 test

Timeline of Renaissance Art

How to identify Renaissance art?

Click on any of the characteristics of Renaissance art below to see examples.

1. 3-D is finally here: Artists used a combination of accurate and believable proportions and spaces to create, for the first time in the history of art, a very realistic, three-dimenstional representation of the world. Gazing at some of their paintings, you’ll feel like you’re part of the scene, or you could just step into it.


San Marco Altarpiece by Fra Angelico

San Marco Altarpiece by Fra Angelico

This painting is considered a masterpiece for its three-dimensionality and also for being a great example of tompe l'oeil (explained below, feature #4).


Herod's Banquet by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Herod's Banquet by Domenico Ghirlandaio


Madonna and Child with Saints by Alvise Vivarini

Madonna and Child with Saints by Alvise Vivarini


Perspective View with Portico by Canaletto

Perspective View with Portico by Canaletto


Saint Luke drawing the Virgin by Rogier van der Weyden

Saint Luke drawing the Virgin by Rogier van der Weyden


San Zaccaria Altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini

San Zaccaria Altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini


The Alms of St Anthony by Lorenzo Lotto

The Alms of St Anthony by Lorenzo Lotto


Mystical Marriage of St Catherine by Paolo Veronese

Mystical Marriage of St Catherine by Paolo Veronese


The Apotheosis of St Roch by Tintoretto

The Apotheosis of St Roch by Tintoretto

2. Look for geometric divisions of floors or ceilings: The geometric pattern in a painting does more than give an illusion of deep space, it's also the reference point for the artist while composing the painting. Renaissance artists reinvented the way paintings were constructed, by using new techniques, such as linear perspective, which gave a sense of depth. They understood that objects and figures seem smaller as they recede into the space, and that's how they depicted them on a flat surface.


The Last Supper by Andrea del Castagno

The Last Supper by Andrea del Castagno

Note the classical pillars (more on this below in feature #12) and the unusual addition of griffin statues (sphinx-like mythological creatures found in ancient Greece and Egypt)


Execution of Savonarola on the Piazza della Signoria by Francesco Rosselli

Execution of Savonarola on the Piazza della Signoria by Francesco Rosselli


The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper Leonardo da Vinci


Holy Trinity by Masaccio

Holy Trinity by Masaccio


The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael

The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael


The School of Athens by Raphael

The School of Athens by Raphael


St Mark Enthroned by Titian

St Mark Enthroned by Titian

3. Foreshortening is another important technique used by artists. It's when an object is visually compressed to give the illusion of depth.


The Creation of the Sun and the Moon by Michelangelo

The Creation of the Sun and the Moon by Michelangelo


Lamentation of Christ by Andrea Mantegna

Lamentation of Christ by Andrea Mantegna


The Apotheosis of Venice by Paolo Veronese

The Apotheosis of Venice by Paolo Veronese


The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello

The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello

4. Some artists went as far as creating optical illusions known as tromp l'oeil (literally, a trick of the eye) where you'll find them in fake domes, for example.


The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck

The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck

As hard as it is to believe, this is a painting, not sculpture.


Camera degli Sposi Ceiling Oculus (circular opening) by Andrea Mantegna

Camera degli Sposi Ceiling Oculus (circular opening) by Andrea Mantegna


Main hall of Palazzo Lancellotti by Agostino Tassi

Main hall of Palazzo Lancellotti by Agostino Tassi


Sala delle Prospettive of Villa Farnesina by Baldassare Peruzzi

Sala delle Prospettive of Villa Farnesina by Baldassare Peruzzi

5. The subject matter is mostly religious. If it's not biblical stories, then it's hagiographies (i.e. biographies of saints).


The Sermon of St. Stephen at Jerusalem by Carpaccio

The Sermon of St. Stephen at Jerusalem by Carpaccio


The Virgin and Child with St. Anne by Leonardo da Vinci

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne by Leonardo da Vinci


The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

Note the Annunciation scene is taking place in a Italian-style loggia (explained below, feature #12).


Torture of St John the Evangelist by Filippino Lippi

Torture of St John the Evangelist by Filippino Lippi


The crucifixion aka the Calvary by Andrea Mantegna

The crucifixion aka the Calvary by Andrea Mantegna


St. Sebastian by Andrea Mantegna

St. Sebastian by Andrea Mantegna


Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden by Masaccio

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden by Masaccio


The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden

The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden


The Damned Cast into Hell by Luca Signorelli

The Damned Cast into Hell by Luca Signorelli


Salome With Head of John the Baptist by Titian

Salome With Head of John the Baptist by Titian


Contarini Madonna by Giovanni Bellini

Contarini Madonna by Giovanni Bellini

6. Look for people with symbolic hand gestures, dressed in flowing, swirling robes, all in bright colors, and unprecedented level of detail.


San Giobbe Altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini

San Giobbe Altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini


The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo


Transfiguration by Raphael

Transfiguration by Raphael


Assumption of the Virgin by Titian

Assumption of the Virgin by Titian


The Sistine Madonna by Raphael

The Sistine Madonna by Raphael

7. Continuous narrative: It's the illustration of multiple events at different moments from the same story within a single frame.


Resurrection of the Boy by Ghirlandaio

Resurrection of the Boy by Domenico Ghirlandaio


Stigmata of St. Francis by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Stigmata of St. Francis by Domenico Ghirlandaio


Legend of Saint Ursula - Arrival of the English Ambassadors by Vittore Carpaccio

Legend of Saint Ursula - Arrival of the English Ambassadors by Vittore Carpaccio


Disputation with Simon Magus and Crucifixion of St Peter by Filippo Lippi

Disputation with Simon Magus and Crucifixion of St Peter by Filippo Lippi


The Tribute Money by Masaccio

The Tribute Money by Masaccio

8. Although most of the creative output was religious, some artists painted pagan works with Graeco-Roman mythological themes.


Danaë by Correggio

Danaë by Correggio


Putti Fighting by Guido Reni

Putti Fighting by Guido Reni


Libyan Sibyl by Michelangelo

Libyan Sibyl by Michelangelo


The Inspiration of the Poet by Nicolas Poussin

The Inspiration of the Poet by Nicolas Poussin


The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael

The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael


The Feast of the Gods by Giovanni Bellini and Titian

The Feast of the Gods by Giovanni Bellini and Titian


The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli


Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Primavera by Sandro Botticelli


An Allegory with Venus and Cupid by Agnolo Bronzino

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid by Agnolo Bronzino

This is a Mannerist masterpeice. Typical features of Mannerism are twisted figures and crowded canvases (more information below, Mannerist features #1 and #3).


Venetia between Justitia and Pax by Paolo Veronese

Venetia between Justitia and Pax by Paolo Veronese


Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche by Raphael

Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche by Raphael


Wedding Night of Alexander the Great by Il Sodoma

Wedding Night of Alexander the Great by Il Sodoma


Minerva Sending Away Mars from Peace and Prosperity by Tintoretto

Minerva Sending Away Mars from Peace and Prosperity by Tintoretto


Bacchus and Ariadne  by Titian

Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian


Venus with a Mirror by Titian

Venus with a Mirror by Titian


The Rape of Europa by Paolo Veronese

The Rape of Europa by Paolo Veronese


Venus Blindfolding Cupid by Titian

Venus Blindfolding Cupid by Titian


Sacred and Profane Love by Titian

Sacred and Profane Love by Titian

9. That era also witnessed the rise of non-religoius individual portraits, of people who were rich and famous. Many of them were donors of chapels and patrons of art.


Bia de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino

Bia de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino


Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino

Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino


Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, by Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, by Leonardo da Vinci


Portrait of Innocent X by Diego Velazquez

Portrait of Innocent X by Diego Velazquez


Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo

Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo


Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio


Charles VII (1403-1461), King of France by Jean Fouquet

Charles VII (1403-1461), King of France by Jean Fouquet


Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza) by Piero della Francesca

Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza) by Piero della Francesca


Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck

Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck


Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami by Raphael

Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami by Raphael


La donna velata or The woman with the veil by Raphael

The Woman with a Veil ("La donna velata") by Raphael


Man with a Glove by Titian

Man with a Glove by Titian


Self-Portrait by Titian

Self-Portrait by Titian

10. Although painting on canvases (stretched fabrics on single wooden frames) became prominent during the Renaissance, some artists, especially ones from the early Renaissance, continued to paint on polyptychs as was the custom during the medieval era. Polyptychs were wooden panels with folding wings mainly to serve as altarpieces in churches.


The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch


The Hermit Saints by Hieronymus Bosch

The Hermit Saints by Hieronymus Bosch


St. Peter of Verona Triptych by Fra Angelico

St. Peter of Verona Triptych by Fra Angelico


Triptych of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist by Hans Memling

Triptych of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist by Hans Memling


Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes

Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes


Ghent Altarpiece by Jan and Hubert van Eyck

Ghent Altarpiece by Jan and Hubert van Eyck


Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin

11. Paintings in a tondo format (plural is tondi). A tondo is a circular painting, which was an alternative to the rectangular frame.


Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli

Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli


Doni Tondo (The Holy Family) by Michelangelo

Doni Tondo (The Holy Family) by Michelangelo

This tondo is Mannerist style. Typical features of Mannerism here are contorted poses and exaggerated muscles (more information below, Mannerist feature #1 & #2).


Madonna della seggiola (Madonna of the Chair) by Raphael

Madonna della seggiola (Madonna of the Chair) by Raphael

12. Look for paintings that seem like they're scenes from a bizarre dream or a virtual-reality game where time and place are fluid. Artists fused the contemporary with the biblical and classical. You'll find figures from events that belong to the first century in biblical villages like Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Nazareth teleported to Tuscan landscapes or inside Flemish houses of the fifteenth century. Other times, the scene's location is unidentified but surrounded by ancient Roman architecture; columns, niches and round arches. You'll realize it's not a biblical locale when you see anachronistic details such as castles on green Tuscan hills or typical Florentine palaces and villas. You'll easily spot the clean-shaven fashionable Florentines among robed bearded biblical characters, floating angels and popular Franciscan or Dominican monks. Not only would the painter sometimes plant the wealthy art patron who's paying him into the ancient scene, along with his family, but he, the artist himself, is occasionally there, with a couple friends too.


The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci

The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci

Da Vinci painted a bizarre rocky landscape behind the Virgin, Jesus and John the Baptist. A similar landscape is more likey to be found in Europe than the Near East.


Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Adoration of the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Ghirlandaio managed to bring together an event from Bethlehem into a setting that blends ancient Rome, Jerusalem and contemporay Italy (Florence), all in one scene. Commissioning a painting was one way for the rich and powerful like the Florentine Sasseti family to show off their wealth. Ghirlandaio's masterpiece portrays on the far right two of the Sasseti donors as part of the biblical scene. The artist didn't forget to include himself (the one on the right pointing at himself as if he's saying "Check this out! I painted this!") Contemporary Rome and Jerusalem are brought together in the background (left and right, respectively). Also ancient Rome features heavily: There's a long procession of the magi passing under a Roman triumphal arch with an inscription that says “GN[AEO] POMPEIO MAGNO HIRCANVS PONT[IUS] P[OSUIT]” (The priest Hircanus erected [this arch] in honor of Gnaius Pompey the Great). This is a symbol of the Roman victory over the Hebrews. There's two Roman pilasters, the one on the left displays the date of the painting on its capital, “MCCCCLXXXV” (1485). The main figures are huddled around an ancient Roman sarcophagus used as the manger. The inscription on it reads “ENSE CADENS SOLYMO POMPEI FVLVI[VS] / AVGVR / NVMEN AIT QVAE ME CONTEG[IT] / VRNA DABIT” (Translation: Falling at Jerusalem by the sword of Pompey, the augur Fulvius says that the urn which contains me shall produce a God.) This is a reference to an ancient prophecy that the messiah, Jesus, is coming. The manger-sarcophagus being used by the child Jesus is a symbol of the triumph of Christianity over the Roman paganism. The symbol-rich masterpiece shows the different reigns of the Hebrews, followed by the Romans and ultimately the Christians.


The Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple by Domenico Ghirlandaio

The Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple by Domenico Ghirlandaio

This is a story from the Christian folklore (not biblical) where two parents Joachim and Anne could not have children for 20 years. The wait was not in vain because they eventually had the 'Most Honored of Women,' the Virgin Mary. But during the childless period, being a priest, Joachim walks into the Temple of Jerusalem on a feast day with a lamb for sacrifice. He gets kicked out by the high priest and the reason is his sterility (major stigma at the time). Another lamb is accepted in its place in the background. Ghirlandaio moved the scene from Jerusalem to Florence where the event is now happening in a Renaissance-era loggia, and typical Florentine architecture is seen on the sides. He added two groups of fashionable, clean shaven Florentines. The group on the left includes a proud young man looking at us, Lorenzo Tornabuoni (son of the commissioner) among his friends. On the right, the master painter added himself and some friends. He's the one whose hand gesture is telling us: That's my work and I know I'm good!


The Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio

The Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio

This fresco depicts a biblical story of the Virgin Mary visiting the aging Elizabeth, both of whom are having miraculous pregnancies. The former with Jesus and the latter, John the Baptist. The landscape in the distance is not of Judah, the original location. Florence is the setting of the story according to this fresco. On the right side, behind the two maidens following Elizabeth, is a young woman in an elegant Florentine costume. That is Giovanna Tornabuoni (there's a portrait of her with the same hairdo above, under #9). She was married to the son of Giovanni Tornabuoni, who commissioned Ghirlandaio to paint his chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence. In a clever touch, Ghirlandaio put the steeple of that church in the background, on the right. Next to it, between the trees, is the tower of another iconic building: Palazzo Vecchio. Note the young men in contemporary costumes with their backs to us (in the middle), and the two similarly fashionable men walking out of a monumental ancient Roman building on the far right.


Madonna in the Meadow by Raphael

Madonna in the Meadow by Raphael

Note the Tuscan landscape in the background of Raphael's painting of the Virgin, Jesus and John the Baptist. Anachronistically, Jesus takes the cross from John, a sign of acceptance of his future sacrifice.


 Cestello Annunciation by Sandro Botticelli

Cestello Annunciation by Sandro Botticelli


Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Filippo Lippi


Holy Allegory by Giovanni Bellini

Holy Allegory by Giovanni Bellini

A cryptic and bizarre painting: Christian saints, the Virgin Mary enthroned, a baldachin (canopy over a throne) with a scene from the Marsyas myth, two unknown women, a man in a turban, a shepherd, a centaur and four children playing with silver fruits under a tree.


Cutting the Stone by Hieronymus Bosch

Cutting the Stone by Hieronymus Bosch


Altarpiece: Martyrdom of St. Denis by Henri Bellechose

Altarpiece: Martyrdom of St. Denis by Henri Bellechose


Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


The Stealing of the Dead Body of St. Mark by Tintoretto

The Stealing of the Dead Body of St. Mark by Tintoretto

Any major city in medieval Europe that sought prestige needed a first-class patron saint. They can't be achieved without possessing the dead body of a saint or some parts of it (big business back then). In 828, Venetians set their eyes on St. Mark. They traveled to Alexandria, Egypt to steal his relics from a Coptic Church where he had been buried since the year 68. On their ship in the port, they covered the corpse with pork. The smuggling operation was a success because Muslims inspecting the outgoing shipments would not touch the pork. Their heist was annually celebrated from then on. Tintoretto commemorated the event, around 1548, with this haunting, dream-like painting. For a dramatic effect, he made it a windy day with thunderstorm. The sky is red-colored and heavily clouded. There are a few puzzling details here. The setting resembles less Alexandria, and more the Venetian Piazza San Marco. But you wouldn't expect to see a camel in Venice! There are some semi-transparent or ghostly figures on the left side. The corpse looks like he's been dead for only hours, not 760 years! But, then again, some might respond that the dead bodies of true saints never decompose. Another question is why the body is not headless (the head had also been stolen earlier and when the Egyptians recovered it, they stored it in a different location). These questions prompted an alternative story: This is the old tale of Egyptian Christians, during a hurricane, stealing the lifeless body of St. Mark from the pagans who intended set it on fire. Tintoretto painted himself behind the camel on the far right. His masterpiece is considered an example of the Mannerist style: Note the lack of balance of the composition (more below, Mannerist feature #2). Also note the presence of a geometrical pattern on the ground – a typical Renaissance feature (mentioned above, feature #2).


The Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule by Domenico Ghirlandaio

The Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Within the Catholic church there's multiple monastic orders such as the Benedictines, Dominicans and Jesuits. Each of these communities focus primarily on one area of faith. For example, preaching and converting others was a priority of the Dominicans, while the Jesuits focused on education. On the other hand, the Franciscans, founded by St. Francis of Assisi, chose a life of poverty. The papacy was usually distrustful towards these religious orders since they each had an agenda, and some could become reform-minded or heretical. He had to personally approve them. In this fresco, St. Francis and eleven of his followers are in Rome, in 1209, before the Pope Innocent III. He's reluctantly giving them his approval. The scroll the Pope is handing to St. Francis makes it official. Ghirlandaio transported this important event from Rome of the 12th-century to Florence of the 15th-century. So instead of its original setting of the Lateran Basilica of Rome, you can see Florence in the background with its famous Piazza della Signoria, whose iconic building you can still visit today. The Piazza (Italian for 'square') in the fresco's background shows Palazzo Vecchio (on the left) which is the town hall. Also, there's the Loggia dei Lanzi (in the middle) which today includes an outdoor gallery of sculpture (a loggia is an arcaded or roofed area attached to a building). Ordinary life goes on behind the scene, there's even laundry hanging from the first floor from a building on the right. On the far right, there is the short-haired Italian banker, Francesco Sassetti, who commissioned Ghirlandaio to paint this fresco. He's standing next to his son, on the far right. Who would he pick to ask the painter to place next to him? The most powerful man in Florence (on his right)! Most of the art you see on this page owes a debt to the support of that man. He's Lorenzo the Magnificent, the ruler of Florence during its hey-day. Without the patronage and sponsorship of Lorenzo and his famous Medici family, the Renaissance might not have become what it is today — a turning point, a "rebirth" of Western civilization. Lorenzo's looks might not have been magnificent (note the large, flat nose) but he seems better looking than Sassetti's brother-in-law, Antonio di Puccio Pucci, on his right. On the far left, Sassetti's other sons (Galeazzo, Teodoro and Cosimo) balance the fresco. Walking up the stairs (middle, foreground) is Agnolo Poliziano, a tutor to Lorenzo's children and a well-known Renaissance scholar and poet. Following the tutor are Lorenzo's three children: in order from the front, Giuliano di Lorenzo de Medici (grew up to be a duke), Piero the Fatuous (succeeded his father but, as evident from his nickname, his "foolish" strategic mistakes stained his legacy forever) and Giovanni de Medici (a kid with a brighter future who'd grow up to be the first Medici pope, Pope Leo X). Behind the children are two other teachers. Ghirlandaio put into this fresco many figures from the elite of Florence, so much so that he had to overpaint some original figures (note the ghostly-looking monk on the left side).


The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin by Jan Van Eyck

The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin by Jan Van Eyck

This painting displays multiple characteristic features of Renaissance art, one of which is the geometric pattern on the floor (mentioned above, #2). The 15th-century commissioner Nicolas Rolin, chancellor to Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy is hanging out with sacred figures from another era, the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus under a floating angel. The setting shows anachronistic details that biblical figures would never have seen. For example the setting is a loggia, which is an architecture that originates in medieval and Renaissance Italy before spreading to other parts of Europe. The background shows a contemporary Gothic church (obviously there were no churches during the time of Jesus!). The landscape with its snowy mountains is more likely to be Burgundy, Rolin's hometown, than Bethlehem or Nazareth.


Brera Madonna by Piero della Francesca

Brera Madonna by Piero della Francesca


Madonna of the Pesaro Family by Titian

Madonna of the Pesaro Family by Titian


Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino

Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino

How to distinguish the Mannerist (Late Renaissance) among Renaissance artworks?

Note: Mannerism (1520 to 1600), being a Renaissance style, share the above characterisitics but the following sets it apart:

1. Figura serpentinata (Italian for serpentine figure): Elongated figures in twisted poses and strange body positions


The Holy Trinity by El Greco

The Holy Trinity by El Greco


The Baptism by El Greco

The Baptism by El Greco


Madonna with the Long Neck by Parmigianino

Madonna with the Long Neck by Parmigianino


The Deposition from the Cross by Pontormo

The Deposition from the Cross by Pontormo

2. Muscular bodies and lots of flesh: Muscles are exaggerated and shown in a wide range of light and shade.


The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo


Martyrdom of St Lawrence by Bronzino

Martyrdom of St Lawrence by Bronzino


Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro by Rosso Fiorentino

Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro by Rosso Fiorentino

3. Complex and crowded canvases. Sometimes the compositions are asymmetrical where the figures are not concentrated in the centre


Madonna del Rosario by Giorgio Vasari

Madonna del Rosario by Giorgio Vasari


The Miracle of the Slave by Tintoretto

The Miracle of the Slave by Tintoretto


The Last Supper by Tintoretto

The Last Supper by Tintoretto


The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese


The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese

The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese

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