Arts Assignment Paper on Renaissance Painting

Renaissance Painting


The term Renaissance means ‘rebirth.’ The Dark and Middle Age was associated with turmoil, stagnation, and natural calamities such as, the Black Death. Nonetheless, during the centuries between the 1400s and 1600s Europe experienced a rebirth that led to rediscoveries in various fields such as math, astronomy, philosophy, and astrology. Additionally, as indicated by Charles, literature and art witnessed the greatest change during this period (12). The ‘Sistine Madonna’, ‘Assumption of the Virgin’, ‘the School of Athens’ and the ‘Mona Lisa’ are the artistic jewels that highlight the marvels of Renaissance paintings. The virtuoso expressed by artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael, and Giotto di Bondone remains etched in history as some of the most astonishing and hard to replicate abilities. Although the uniqueness of Renaissance painting has been documented, there is limited information that shows the extent to which the Renaissance Painting have played in changing history in art.

Shakespeare, in his 24th sonnet, wrote that perspective is the best of a painter’s art as this is where true image lies (Bomford and Rachel 45). Renaissance artists seem to embody Shakespeare’s notions as most of the principle individualities of renaissance art can be seen from his quote. According to Charles, renaissance paintings highlighted the genesis of the exploration of humanism, which saw a unique use of classicism, realism, as well as mannerism in presenting novelty and complexity (15). Classicism can be defined as a philosophy of art that centers its attention on traditional forms, especially elegance and symmetry (Grafton 85). Levy indicates that classicism in renaissance painting presented the perfection of Greek and Roman art (31).  Artists such as, Belvedere Torso and Medici Venus led the way in rejecting emotionalism in favor classicism that entailed unnatural coloring, lighting, and distortion of physical forms in pursuit of a restless composition that highlighted art in a manner that was livelier than before. An example of such art is seen in Raphael’s masterpiece, ‘The School of Athens’. The detailing in the use of color, lighting, and shading is an impeccable personification of the classical spirit of the High Renaissance (35).  As stipulated by Burckhardt the classicism used in renaissance art also featured realism, which before the Renaissance period was not perceived not to be possible (62). Grafton indicated a mastery of linear perspective was shown by artists such as Michelangelo Buonarroti when using unnatural color, light contrasting and shadows, as well as vanishing points to enhance realism in his artworks (92). The art created an illusion of depth and three dimensions painting that is predominant in modern art.

Figure1: Tribute Money, Masaccio


Painting before the Renaissance period was predominantly understood as a two-dimensional art. However, as depicted in Figure 1, there is addition of depth that is brought about by the vanish points from the hills and the linear perspective highlighting the centerpiece of the painting from the foreground. Therefore, there is an indication of depth and dimension.

Figure 2: Birth of Venus, Botticelli


Figure 2, The Birth of Venus, was done by Sandro Botticelli and completed in 1486. Unlike Tribute Money, by Masaccio, mannerism in form of a giant shell as well as lighting is unrealistic. This impractical manner of art increases the artistic impression of the piece. However, the principles of the vanishing point and linear perspective have been used to highlight the depth and three dimensions that made Renaissance art famous to this date.

Renaissance artists were in pursuit of depth, realism, and complexities that were set to add to the dimensions of painting. Nonetheless, as indicated by Bomford and Rachel, mannerism which is defined as the extensive use of color mixture to bring texture without centering on brightness and contrasting, was a trend best used in Renaissance art (45). Of all the masterpieces produced during the 200 years of the Renaissance period, none stands out as much as the ‘Mona Lisa’, completed in 1517 by Leonardo Da Vinci. The painting used mannerism in a way that showed an array of color tones highlighting classicism in form of simplicity, balance, and clarity in enhancing physical realism (Burckhardt 62). The use of mannerism, which was led by Florence and later seen in Rome, was once understood to be quite contrived and artificial, hence the name. However, portion of Late Renaissance art, such as the Mannerist Painting, indicated the sheer willingness of artists to break the previous perceptions.

Italy has always been highlighted as the heart of Renaissance paintings. However, a variety of such paintings have been discovered in other nations such as modern Belgium and Netherlands. According to Burckhardt, when discussing Renaissance paintings, Italy takes center stage as the birthplace of Renaissance art, consequently, the depiction of such art is explained to entail the properties of humanism as presented by artists from this region (112).  Italian artists highlighted physical realism as it was a part of classicism and it was the best way to apply their work in the Christian or Catholic society. However, other artists from different regions were purely passionate about presenting the world around them as accurately as possible. According to O’Reilly and Erin, Classicism calls for a partial degree of physical realism, as detailing is simplistic (56). Consequently, the painter reduces any form of distraction from the overall balance and harmony of a painting. The Italian artists understood this concept, but customized it to their specifications as dictated by religion (Catholic) and philosophy adopted from the Greeks. Other artists presented genre and landscape painting in there most ordinary form as depicted by nature.


Figure 3: Landscape Painting from the Renaissance-era Low Countries, an example of classicism as presented in nature.


In conclusion, the Renaissance period highlighted the rebirth of visual art, ushering in a new form of paintings.  Renaissance adopted a higher degree of humanism that entailed a unique use of classicism, realism, and mannerism. Additionally, Italian artists influenced the classicism used during this period as influence by the Catholic religion. Consequently, it is for this form of art that Dürer reviewed traditional artistic skills in presenting pieces such as the ‘Last Supper’. In their pursuit to find perfection, Renaissance artists used realism in the form of vanishing point and linear perspective in their pieces. During this period, paintings shifted from their traditional two dimensions to three dimensions whereby depth from the background to the foreground could be highlighted clearly. Finally, the artists employed a degree of mannerism in a manner that did not distort their pursuit to classical realism by using a contrast of colors rather than light as in the case of the Mona Lisa.






Works Cited

Bomford, David, and Rachel Billinge. Underdrawings in Renaissance Paintings. London: National Gallery Co, 2002. Print.

Burckhardt, Jacob. Italian Renaissance Painting According to Genres. Los Angeles, Calif: Getty Research Inst, 2005. Print.

Charles, Victoria. Renaissance Art. New York: Parkstone International, 2007.

Grafton, Carol B. 120 Italian Renaissance Paintings: Cd-rom & Book. Mineola, N.Y: Dover, 2007. Print.

Levy, Janey. Renaissance Paintings: Using Perspective to Represent Three-Dimensional Objects. New York: PowerKids Press, 2005. Print.

O’Reilly, Wenda B, and Erin Kravitz. The Renaissance Art Book: Discover Thirty Glorious Masterpieces by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Botticelli. Palo Alto, CA: Birdcage Books, 2000. Print.