Materials & Techniques of Renaissance Art

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Lesson Transcript
Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

In this lesson, you will explore the materials and techniques used by Renaissance artists and discover how these defined Renaissance styles. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Renaissance

So, you want to be a Renaissance artist? Okay, that's a great goal, but there are a few things you need to know about the Renaissance. Like what it was. The Renaissance is a time period in European history from roughly the late 14th century CE through 16th century CE, characterized by new wealth, education, warfare, religious fervor and an incredible production of art. Art was a big, big deal during the Renaissance. Not only did people create art, but they developed new techniques, styles and materials, innovating and challenging the limits of art.

Materials in Renaissance Art

artist in studio

Well, here we are. This is your studio. I'd say you should get to work, but it's kind of empty. I guess now is a good time to talk about the sort of materials you'll need to be a Renaissance artist. If you want to be a sculptor, you've got a wide choice of materials. The most common is marble. This soft, white stone can be sculpted to reflect various textures and is very popular for both freestanding statues and reliefs. Other artists may cast statues in bronze, which requires creating a clay mold and then casting individual, hollow sections of the statue and soldering them together. Goldsmithing was also a common form of art, mostly used for reliefs, although both bronze and gold are much more expensive than marble.

Painting in the Renaissance was most commonly done as fresco, or murals painted onto plaster walls. For frescos, pigments were mixed with water and directly painted onto the wall. However, some artists did paint on wood using tempera paints, which are pigments that use egg yolk as a binder. The egg holds the pigments together making paint, but it dries very quickly. Up in Northern Europe, artists developed a new style of painting that used paint made from pigments bound with oils. Oil paints were pretty popular in the Netherlands and near the end of the Renaissance, would be embraced by Italian artists as well. Oil paints dry more evenly, the colors don't bleed and you don't get that yellowish tint that tempera paints sometimes end up with. So, there are your materials, take your pick.

Techniques in Renaissance Art

To be a Renaissance artist, there are some tricks you're going to have to learn. The techniques developed by Renaissance artists defined this era, and artists competed to master these tricks. First, and possibly most important, is the idea of perspective, which is the realistic illusion of spatial distance. In other words, things that are in front are larger, and objects meant to seem further away get smaller at a consistent rate relative to the position of the viewer.

Perspective was important for Renaissance artists
A road

Look at an empty road. You know that the sides of the road are straight, but they appear to converge together way in the distance. These sorts of illusions, achieved through mathematical formulas, defined Renaissance art. The first real uses of perspective in painting came from the artist Giotto in the 14th century. Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti codified the use of perspective in both paintings and reliefs in the early 15th century, and perspective became one of the most important aspects of Renaissance art.

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Additional Activities

Renaissance Art Writing Activity

Renaissance Techniques Essay:

For this activity, you will be writing an essay which explains the popular artistic techniques used during the Renaissance. The Renaissance artists used many different techniques, but for this activity, focus your essay on only three of these techniques. Once you know which techniques you are interested in writing about, it is time to develop a thesis statement. Your thesis statement should clearly state which three techniques will be included in your essay. Here is an example of a thesis statement: Renaissance artists used and developed many different techniques, including foreshortening, sfumato, and chiaroscuro. Once you have your thesis statement, it is time to organize your ideas using an outline. Below is an outline that you can use; alternately, develop your own. After completing your outline, it is time to write your essay. Make sure to use your outline as your guide as you write. Finally, make sure to polish your essay by proofreading, revising, and editing it.

I. Introduction

  • Hook/Attention-Getter
  • Introduce the Renaissance era.
  • Thesis statement

II. Body Paragraphs

  • Technique #1
  1. Thoroughly explain the technique.
  2. Include famous artists that used this technique, the specific time frame in which it was introduced, and the regions where this technique was most popular.
  • Technique #2
  1. Thoroughly explain the technique.
  2. Include famous artists that used this technique, the specific time frame in which it was introduced, and the regions where this technique was most popular.
  • Technique #3
  1. Thoroughly explain the technique.
  2. Include famous artists that used this technique, the specific time frame in which it was introduced, and the regions where this technique was most popular.

III. Conclusion

  • Re-state the thesis statement.
  • In short, explain how these techniques impacted Renaissance art.

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