Italian Art Essay

Italian Art


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              Art in Italy is an important aspect and Italian culture is very extensive and has been passed on from generation to generation. The Italian Renaissance Art is considered as a rebirth that took place at the end of medieval period. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance). The revival of the interest that was shown by European civilization in classical Greece and Rome art and culture can also be traced as part of the origin of Italian renaissance art. (Wolfflin, the Art of the Italian Renaissance)

             Economic circumstances that could support the new renaissance artists were provided by the rise of the city state such as Florence, Milan and Venice. Culture in Italy was extended and this created opportunities for those without privilege of birth and those who did not have wealth to advance. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance). People in the society graduated in art leading to individual enterprises coming up. Great potential was exhibited and creative imagination among the people eroded the culture of art being of the classic and the wealthy. (Wolfflin, the Art of the Italian Renaissance)

            Creative artists were supported by the patronage of the Italian city states and they expressed their freedom through art. The renaissance society was however for the rich and the powerful .It was a society for the elite (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance) is from it that Renaissance art developed. It produced elegant work though lifeless which belonged to the mannerist. The rebirth of individuals in the society was called renaissance. According to the traditional art renaissance was important because of the rise of powerful and independent city states as well as the development of Franciscan humanism. (Wolfflin, the Art of the Italian Renaissance)

           The early Renaissance humanist Leon Battish Albert (1404-1472) is a good example of a renaissance humanist. Leon was an artist, philosopher, architect and a mathematician. Most of the mystical overtones of Christianity were rejected by his humanist religion. He had a rationalistic attitude to wisdom of the ancient and to its combination with Christianity. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).

                          Mythology and ideology in Italian renaissance art.

             There were two points that were focal in the European society during the medieval period. Feudalism and the church. Feudalism was in charge of the material world while The church was in charge of the spiritual world. There were systems structures in both cases and the structures were followed strictly. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).The structures were rigid to change and the rights of the individual were under the rules of the society. The rebirth of the individual society eroded the power of these institutions. The most important facts the renaissance was the rise of powerful and independent city states and the development of Franciscan humanism. This was according to the artistic tradition. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).

            Renaissance art began in southern Europe and particularly in central and northern Italy. Economic circumstances that could support the new renaissance art was brought about by rise of independent city states such as Florence, Milan and Venice. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).Demand for new and different entertainment was created because the new wealth produced citizens who were civilized and more sophisticated. Feudalism was not as dominant in Italy as it was in the rest of Europe. This led to the transition from feudal economy to a city based communities which was the earliest in Italy. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).

          The civil patronage of the Italian city states supported the creative artists. The creative artists searched for ways to express their freedom through art. One such way was provided by the Franciscan in its new sense of enjoyment of nature and the natural beauty. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).This was different from the many things that were denied by the church. Franciscan movement had influence in the church of St Francis of Assisi but the movement did not have so many philosophies about nature. It dwelled much on the appreciation of nature and the world. Renaissance culture had interest in the reviving of the culture of the ancient world. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).

             Renaissance humanism did not grow rapidly but emerge over a period of time of over a century as a combination of Christian and classical thought. An example of a typical humanist was Leon Battista Albert. (1404-1472) .Albert’s renaissance humanist ideas were on beauty which he got from Plato’s classical theories of love, beauty and the nature of the world. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).

             Albert differed with later humanist or the Neoplatonist as they were called in that he did not agree with speculation in his idea. According to Albert everything was attributed to reason, method, imitation and measurement and nothing was to be based on creativity. Albert’s scientific philosophy of art was not in favour with the intellectuals in his home city of Florence. (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).The city of Florence was the centre for the Italian renaissance. In the interpretation of the Plato’s theory of love. Albert opinion of love was that love was primarily in relation to its social function while love was considered as a contemplation of divine beauty by the Neoplatonists.  (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).

           Neoplatonist ideas in art were translated into symbolic images and included the images drawn from pre-Christian mythology. These images were symbols for concept which were acceptable by the renaissance Christians. Artists were initially contented with creating images that had analogies that were straight forward. Artist Botticelli is an example of such artists.   (Wolfflin, The Art of the Italian Renaissance).

The Botticelli painting was not meant for general viewing or observation instead it was meant to describe the Venus.  According to the Italian Art, Renaissance was the regeneration of the people of Italians but it was not the age of the common man. (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).The Renaissance culture was mainly intended for the wealthy, powerful and gifted people. It was a society that was exclusively meant for people who benefited from a “proper” education. (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).

                 The Botticelli’s vocation foreshadows several ways in which Renaissance art in Italy was developed. Botticelli described the Renaissance art in Italy as work which focuses on dead objects or dead people and did not portrays the meaning of life to the Italians. (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).Even though the Renaissance art in Italy didn’t give any meaning of life, their art was well designed and much more creative. This is the reason why most of the Italian people thought that the paintings were meant for viewing. (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).

               The primavera had shifted from the early Renaissance and decreases one of the basic Neoplatonist ideologies into an image that resulted into nature plus Grace equals the Human Ideal. There were several customs in Renaissance art that followed the guides that Botticelli had tried to explain before. (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).There was a little difference in the art that Botticelli had explained earlier. For example the current art according to Botticelli paintings symbolizes the Titian’s sacred and profane love. According to the research that was done on the work of the Renaissance artists, there are only three artists that had been the best because of their creativity and focusing on the human nature. (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).

            The three artists are the Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael and their art describes how the human ideals could be explained in different ways according to the Italian art. Leonardo focuses on the design of the “artist as scientific” (cf. Alberti). (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).That is why his art design was totally different from the other two artists. Leonard made the best sculptures as compared to his predecessor. Leonardo had strongly believed in exact imitation of the nature. (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).

              Leonardo’s work most likely focused on the human nature that made him to have better arts as compared to the arts of Alberti which portrayed the actual nature of the human beings.  (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).In the early years artists believed that only the most attractive or wonderful objects in nature should be painted. According Leonardo who was one of the artists in Renaissance, all the figures should be painted in order to give the best description of the human nature. Therefore he felt that “provided he can make figures real, individual and living, it will not matter if they do not conform to some absolute standard of harmony.”  (Seznec, The Survival of Pagan Gods).

              According to the information given by the artist Leonardo, he was not a typical artist during their early times. This was because as things changes in Renaissance, the more the development in nature which depends with the Italian beliefs. (Vasari Lives of the Artists). Another artist in Renaissance was known as Raphael who focuses on Stanza Della Signature which reflects the Vatican attitude. Raphael’s may be known as the “artist as scholar.” The art of Raphael did portray the human attitude as it was portrayed in the Florentine artists. (Vasari, Lives of the Artists).

         The Renaissance artist known as Raphael had a frescoes which was known as the school of Athens which signifies the theme of Pagan Philosophy (Other frescoes in the chamber taking on the parts of poetry, Theology and justice). (Vasari Lives of the Artists).The artist  Raphael’s  School of Athens was found in the encyclopedia of classical philosophy. According to the Raphael’s art, central figures represent the human nature of Plato and Aristotle. The figure of Plato was pointing heavenward, expounding universal ideals. (Vasari, Lives of the Artists).

              According to the art of the artist Raphael Aristotle’s figure was displayed as he was indicating the earth by stressing the practical view of the world.  There are several groups that are surrounding Plato and Aristotle that can be found Ptolemy, Socrates and Diogenes. (Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy)

The whole place was being officiated by the statues of the Apollo and Minerva.  According to the art of Raphael where by he had represented the classical philosophy, he was trying to portray the famous people by using the modern design. (Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy)

               So the artist Raphael was trying to say that some of the artist like Leonardo and Michelangelo should portray the well known ancient philosophers as he did in his art. This was because he portrayed the real life of the most important people who did great and perfect activities in Italy. (Vasari, Lives of the Artists). Raphael had explained that Stanza described the blending of classical and Renaissance Christian cultures. “The disciplined ordering of all the elements in the ensemble…is instantly and strikingly apparent. In this realm, peopled by images in which we hear, but the harmony of choir.” (Vasari, Lives of the Artists).

           According to the Michelangelo, if the Stanza explains the fusion of classical and Renaissance cultures to it’s height then this applies that his paintings in the Sistine chapel reflect the finding that the this fusion was false. This signifies the end of the Italian Neoplatonist movement and the end of the Italian High Renaissance. The outcome of this movement could be traced through the Sistine paintings which were finished 30 years ago. (1508-41). (Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy) When the artist Michelangelo started his work, he was archetypal Neoplatonist painter. In fact “among all his contemporaries Michelangelo was the only one who adopted Neoplatonism not in certain aspects but in its’ entirety, and not as a convincing philosophical system…but as metaphysical justification of his own self.” Like the painting of Adam creation shows the great work Artist Michelangelo. (Blunt, Artistic Theory in Italy)

                                              The Early Renaissance

         The “Father of the Renaissance” believed to be artist Giotto (1267-1337) who was known as a Proto Renaissance painter and his work was an evolution from the late medieval (Gothic). Giotto had very many developments his work which modifies his figures according to the recent modernizations. Giotto had described the emotions in depth that portrays the human feelings instead of static and passive icons. This could be seen from his pictures. (Urton, Artist of the Italian Renaissance).

             According to the art of Giotto, there are the symbols of the people who are lamenting over the death of Christ and the cleansing of the Temple. This gives the detail explanation of the emotions as depth feelings on human beings. (Urton, Artist of the Italian Renaissance). Another artist was Filippo Brunelleschi (1337-1446) who was an architect and an engineer. Filippo Brunelleschi was the first Italian artist to do a series of optical experiments that mark the beginning of mathematical theory of perspective. Filippo was architect that innovated the process of perspective for architectural purposes which was published in the year 1435 (by Alberti). (Urton, Artist of the Italian Renaissance).

           One of the artists that tried to apply the new method of linear perspective in fresco of the Holy Trinity was known as the Masaccio (1401-1428). The figure he used is very correct according to the way he had described the human anatomy. (Urton, Artist of the Italian Renaissance). The painting of Jesus how the real work of artist Masaccio where by the Jesus, the Father and the Holy Ghost  which was symbolized the dove were put together by Mary and St. John the Evangelist. Another Renaissance artist was Piero Della Francesca (1416-1492) described the obsession with perspective. (Urton, Artist of the Italian Renaissance).

           The work of the Piero was characterized by the analyzed spaces, sensitivity to geometric shapes and the understanding the sculptural figures. Piero was the artist that discovers the true cross of Jesus. (Urton, Artist of the Italian Renaissance).This was only one of his work in which he explained the legend of “true cross.” Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was the artist who painted the full length female nude in his birth of Venus. The body of the female sculpture had covered the center of the canvas which was designed according to the Italian traditions. This had explained the classical mythology which implies that this was the most pagan image in the Renaissance. (Urton, Artist of the Italian Renaissance).

Leonardo da Vinci facts and his creative innovations

There are fact about the Leonardo da Vinci an Italian who made several innovations in various fields of science including the anatomy, optics and hydraulics. This has made several contributions in the modern science as it formed the basis of the several developments. He was born in Vinci and was a son of a wealthy Florence Notary. He studies in Florence and was given best education that could be offered by the intellectual and artistic centre of Italy (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).

            He grew rapidly intellectually and socially and was a fine musician and a great improviser. He steadily rises to be called a studio boy and the leading sculptor and painter in those days. He was introduced to many activities in the workshop of Verrocchio. The activities included altarpieces and panel pictures painting and large sculptural project creation from marble and bronze. By 1476 he was declared Verrocchio’s assistant after he was introduced to the painters’ guild of Florence. From here he was able to draw the kneeling angel in Verrocchio’s baptism of Christ (Ament ,Leonardo da Vinci).

            By 1478 he became an independent master and commissioned painting an altarpiece in Palazzo Vecchio chapel. He did several unfinished painting work in his youthful age. Some of his work included the portrait Ginevra de Benci and unfinished Saint Jerome (Ament ,Leonardo da Vinci). He entered the service of the Duke of Milan through writing an astonishing letter to Duke where claimed he can build a portable bridge. In the letter he had indicated that he had enough knowledge and techniques of developing bombardments and cannon making. He further showed that he can build ships, armored vehicles, catapults and war machines. Special to this claim was that he was able to make the sculptures using gold and bronze (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).

            In Duke he served as principal engineer and was involved in several military enterprises as an architect and could also help in the mathematical work. It was shown that Leonardo had pupils in Milan that he could write to various texts that were later complied as Treatise on Painting. In his early days in Milan he did an important paint on his own and it was known as The Virgin of the rocks. He was determined to work for his unfinished work and he had to develop the compositions for a very long time (Ament ,Leonardo da Vinci).

            He worked on his masterpiece, The Last Super in the year 1495 to 1497 which was a reflection of the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. His experimental work on use of oil on dry plaster was unsound because it had deteriorated by 1500. Up to 1726 attempt had been made to restore it but it was not possible. With the changing technology attempts have been made to restore through a concrete restoration and conservation program in 1977. Progress has been made as some of the damages as being restored (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).

In his long stay at Milan he has made several drawings and paintings, designs of theater, architectural drawing and models of dome of Milan cathedral but most of his picture and drawing have been lost. Francesco Sforza the father of Ludovico monument was his greatest commission that he made using colossal bronze (Ament ,Leonardo da Vinci). But since the family of Sforza was driven out of Milan by the French solders in December 1499, Leonardo did not finish the statue and the statue was destroyed by the French forces and this resulted to him returning to Florence (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).

            He later entered to the service of Cesare Borgia, duke of Romagna and son in 1502. He supervised the work of the fortresses in his capacity as chief architect and in by 1503 he was in the commission for the David a colossal marble statue. He later made drawings for the decoration and completed the cartoon but he did not finish the wall painting. These cartoons were destroyed in 17th century and only the copies that survived (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).

                 During these period he made several portraits and they were all destroyed and only the thing that survived was the famous Mona Lisa (1503-1506, Louver). From these he develops some affection with one of the paints and he traveled with it in most of his travels (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci). Leonardo then moved to Milan again and was made a court painter to King Louis XII of France. He stayed between Milan and Florence to visit his step family and take care of it after he inherited. Leonardo continued with his engineering in Milan and worked on the monument to Gian Giacomo Trivulzio commander of French forces; this work was not completed but has been preserved. He lived in Rome in 1514 to 1516 under Pope Leo X and he was involved in scientific experimentation. He later travels to France in the service of King Francis I (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).

            Though many of his work s unfinished, he did a very innovative and influential painting. He has been able to develop compositions that were more evocative and atmospheric (Ament ,Leonardo da Vinci). Stylic innovations are more prominent in his painting the last Supper by representing traditional theme in a very different way. This drawing has been translated where he showed the 12 apostles as a dynamic composition of units. More of his work is historical up to day. The most renowned work is in the Mona Lisa where he displayed his technical innovation through the mysterious of the legendary smiling subject (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).

            Among his innovative work was introduction of atmospheric perspective in his landscapes and many other arts have been developed from the innovation. From his drawing many of his characteristics have been shown very well and he has enabled art of painting to take a new twist where he made. The new approach of three dimensions art and this principle has been applied in architecture and many building has been built through his principles (Ament,Leonardo da Vinci). He purely based his theories through observation and documented them properly. He further anticipated new discoveries in meteorology and geology. Finally he was involved in invention of large number of machines and in hydraulic he was among the inventors of flying devices and underway diving suite (Ament, Leonardo da Vinci).


          Historians consider Italian renaissance as the beginning of modern age. Much attention was given to literary art. Lost art of the ancient world was used by thinkers for new understanding. It is during the renaissance period that a new innovation in art and science was described. Renewed interest in art and history was the beginning of a new way of thinking that was concerned with the world of mankind this way of thinking was called humanism. New ideas spread through Europe based on the Greek concept of man as the measure of all things.

             Renaissance started in the city of Florence in the periods of 1400-1550. Florence was a wealthy town in Italy. The prosperity of art was used to fund the buildings of great cathedrals which were decorated by the best artists the city had. Money was donated by wealthy citizens for commissioning of art projects both religious and secular. The city was decorated by the medic family with sculptures from Greek and Rome. The Medici family commissioned artists and architects to create the sculptures. The Medici family was also the founder of many universities.

                 Paintings and sculptures showed the changes in the renaissance time. The medieval tradition of using the religious subjects to illustrate stories from the bible continued to be used. The religious interests were combined with ideas which were classical about the human figure that were classical in showing nature. Secular works inspired from Greek and roman mythologies were also popular.

            Artists abandoned the medieval technique of using egg tempera and started experimenting for the first time with oil based paints and mixing powdered pigments with linseed oil. The paints were efficient because the paints dried slowly and remained in a workable state for a few months. Sculptures became common in most of the buildings and not in the cathedrals only as it was earlier. A technique known as fresco was introduced in plaster walls and light was introduced in art making the sense of three dimensions a perfect reality. Renaissance artist had a big impact in the world and have changed peoples perception of the world.

                                               Works cited

Ament Phil. Leonardo da Vinci available at accessed on August 27, 2008, 2007

Blunt, Anthony. Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600, Oxford University Press, 1975.

Gombrich, E. H. Symbolic Images, Phaidon, 1978

Panofsky, Erwin. Studies in Iconology, Harper and Row, 1962.

Plumb, J.H. Penguin Book of the Renaissance, Penguin 1964

Seznec, Jean. The Survival of the Pagan Gods, Princeton University Press, 1972

Urton R, Key innovations and Artists of the Italian art. Eycon art. Art history pages 2005

 Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists, Penguin, 1976.

Wolfflin, Heinrich. The Art of the Italian Renaissance, Schocken, 1964.