Renaissance Art: Artists, Paintings, Sculptures & Architecture

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has an M.A in instructional education.

The Renaissance was a period of time in the 14th century when art became centered on the individual and Earthly experiences rather than the mystical or ethereal. Discover how humanism shaped the art of the Renaissance and identify Greek and Roman influences on artists, paintings, sculptures, and architecture. Updated: 08/15/2021

Introduction to Renaissance Art

Hi, it's me, Jessica, your history instructor for the day. Today we'll be discussing Renaissance art, from painting to sculptures to architecture. Our goal for this lesson will be to grasp how the intellectual philosophy of humanism, or the belief in the independence and value of man, shaped the famous artwork of the Renaissance. In order to do this, I've made a scrapbook for us to look at together, filled with some of my favorite Renaissance pieces.

However, before we get to the scrapbook, let's quickly review the definition of the Renaissance - it was a period beginning in the late 14th century. During this period, people began taking an interest in the learning of earlier times, especially the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. As the French word implies, it was a rebirth of the appreciation and study of classical times.

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  • 0:07 Introduction to…
  • 0:57 The Earthly Experience in Art
  • 4:31 Art Includes Earlier Cultures
  • 6:59 Lesson Summary
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The Earthly Experience in Art

Renaissance paintings of Mary did not contain the halo that was depicted in earlier works.
Madonna and Child Painting

Now on to my scrapbook. On our first page, we have the famous Madonna and Child in Glory, painted by Cione somewhere around the year 1360 AD. Notice how Mary is very large in the picture and has an ornate halo of gold. It's like the artist wanted to emphasize that she and the child are supernatural beings, not of this world, and above common man.

Earlier painting of Mary that contains the halo.
madonna and child in glory

Now take a look at the painting on the left. This one is Bugiardini's Madonna and Child with St. John, painted about 150 years later in the year 1510 AD. In this painting, Mary and the child look very human. Mary has no halo, and the halos of Jesus and John are very small, almost translucent. Even more interesting - notice how the background of the two paintings differ. In the earlier painting, the background seemed ethereal, or almost mystical, while the latter painting has a natural, Earthly landscape. This is a great example of one of the main effects humanism had on Renaissance art - works became centered around the human individual and the Earthly experience rather than the heavenly realms.

Side by side comparison of the Deliverance of St. Peter and the Liberation of St. Peter
deliverance and liberation of st. peter

Let's continue. On the next page, we have Raphael's famous Deliverance of St. Peter next to Bellis' Liberation of St. Peter. Raphael's was painted in 1514, while Bellis painted his somewhere around 1665. Notice again how the earlier painting of Raphael's emphasizes the angel with a heavenly glow as the backdrop, while Peter was also given a solid halo. Now contrast this with the very realistic backdrop of Bellis' work, in which the angel looks very human, and Peter sports no halo at all.

Creation of Adam shows Adam as a natural man.
creation of adam

This concept can also be seen in the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. This famous piece of artwork found its place on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel somewhere around 1512. Notice, again, how Michelangelo placed Adam in a natural landscape, with natural man as the emphasis of his painting. In fact, God himself is depicted as human, in human form, he's no larger than Adam, and he's surrounded by very human-looking angels.

Jesus was painted without a halo in this famous painting.
Last Supper Jesus No Halo

This is also mirrored in Da Vinci's The Last Supper, painted in the late 1490s. This painting shows Jesus as a man with no heavenly features at all.

The famous Mona Lisa is a woman in her natural form.
mona lisa

The idea that humans were worth painting in their natural form was also heralded by Leonardo da Vinci in his well-known, uber-famous Mona Lisa. When Da Vinci created this famous lady, somewhere between the years 1503-1519, he opted to focus solely on humanity without any religious themes. This trend is also seen in Carracci's The Bean Eater, painted somewhere around 1582, and Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, painted somewhere in the year 1665.

The Bean Eater and the Girl with a Pearl Earring are examples of humanist paintings.
the bean eater and girl with a pearl earring

This move toward humans standing alone as a valid theme in art is also seen in the sculptures of the day. Again, take a look at Michelangelo's famous David of 1504. In this one, you can definitely see the humanistic influence in Michelangelo's work - how he strove to capture the human essence of David through sculpture.

The statue of David, inspired by humanism.

This is also seen in his earlier work, The Pieta, sculpted in 1499, and his latter work, Moses, crafted around 1515. Again, these two works show Biblical characters in their humanity with no halos or supernatural trappings.

The Pieta and Moses side by side.
pieta and moses

Art Includes Earlier Cultures

The Birth of Venus shows an interest in Greek mythology.
the birth of venus

The School of Athens focuses on Greek history instead of religious ideology.
the school of athens

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