1400 – 1600
How to identify Renaissance art?
Click on any of the characteristics of Renaissance art below to see examples.
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).
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)
As hard as it is to believe, this is a painting, not sculpture.
Note the Annunciation scene is taking place in a Italian-style loggia (explained below, feature #12).
This is a Mannerist masterpeice. Typical features of Mannerism are twisted figures and crowded canvases (more information below, Mannerist features #1 and #3).
This tondo is Mannerist style. Typical features of Mannerism here are contorted poses and exaggerated muscles (more information below, Mannerist feature #1 & #2).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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:
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