Early Renaissance

(1400s-1490s)

Early Renaissance pieces focused on Humanism, a 15th century idea produced by the Renaissance, or “rebirth of ideas,” where everyday people could be the subject matter or could be placed alongside famous religious figures. Humanism itself is the revival of classical learning with a focus on human beings and their personal virtue. This form of learning intended to create a value system that emphasized individual effort and responsibility. At this time, scholars and artisans appreciated the works of the past, which took people out of the “dark” Middle Ages.

In the Early Renaissance, one can see the beginning of perspective. Artists followed imaginary lines, orthogonals, which met at a single vanishing point on the horizon. Using these guides, artists could distort or foreshorten objects, making things appear smaller and closer together the farther away they are from the viewer.

Characteristics:
-figures have depth and reality
-naturalistic details
-naturalistic light source

Early Renaissance Art in the North:
-generally painted with oil
-oil on wood – thin layers of oil create a luminescent surface with depth and glow
-iconography – objects in the piece help to tell its story
-more complex compositions with many objects – little space

Early Renaissance Painting and Sculpture in Italy:
-generally painted in frescoes
-very little depth and pigment (due to the medium)
-lighter colors
-more interested in architecture and space versus objects reflecting the story – less cluttered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works:

Early Renaissance Art in the North:

Jan and Hubert van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece (open and closed), 1432
Paul, Herman and Jean Limbourg, February, from the Tres Riches Heures, 1413-16
Robert Campin, The Merode Altarpiece, c. 1425-28
Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, 1434

Early Renaissance Painting and Sculpture in Italy:

Donatello, David, after 1428
Masaccio, Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Donors, c. 1425
Sandro Boticelli, The Birth of Venus, c. 1484-86
Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1470s

 

Jan and Hubert van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece (open and closed), 1432, Oil on Wood Panel
-iconography, characteristic of the North – used symbols to tell the story, can also be seen as a form of Humanism to strike emotion in the viewer
-van Eyck took an artistic liberty and included mountains where there weren’t any (because the area was mostly lowland)
-included the patrons; Humanism – humans are so great that they could meet the Virgin Mary and Jesus
-polyptch – many panels
-layers of thinned oil – light reflects through all the layers
-presents the adoration of the Lamb of God (also God, Mary, John the Baptist, angels, Adam and Eve)
-Adam and Ever cover their nakedness, Eve holds the forbidden fruit (after the Fall); above them is the consequence of the couple’s disobedience (Cain slays Abel – only the sacrifice of Christ will redeem their sin)
-panels are only open on Easter
-the use of oil glazes was van Eyck’s primary medium; his works offered a window into a scene, within which great attention was paid to individual features and allusions to symbolic meaning, ordinary objects could be “hidden” symbols that held religious meanings that the contemporary people would have understood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul, Herman and Jean Limbourg, February, from the Tres Riches Heures, 1413-16, Color and Ink on Parchment

-illuminated manuscript (page from a calendar), made for court nobles to show things going on in their land (in a way that the nobles would want to see – peasants look happy, but are very distinguishable from the nobility – elitist view; for example, men are warming their “parts” by the fire – the abundance of food (sheep and corn) also shows the patron the happiness of the peasants)
-still shows signs from the International Gothic Style: 1.charming subject (lighthearted) because the patronage (the court) wanted to be amused 2. graceful, tall, elegant figures 3. cut-away views/high horizon lines – the artists didn’t want to waste space and wanted to tell more of the story – characteristic of the North to use objects to tell a story (minute details) 4. bright colors, patterns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Campin, The Merode Altarpiece, c. 1425-28, Oil on Wood Panel
-new class of wealthy patrons (rich merchants)
-substantial definition of bodies – greater rendering of the human form – distinct difference from the International Gothic Style
-iconography (again characteristic of the North/Humanism/bringing the viewer in to decipher meanings and be emotionally influenced by the symbols) – candle snuffed out – symbolizes the end of Christ’s life, traps being set by Joseph in the panel symbolize the traps that the devil sets, Campin turned common household objects into religious symbols
-the lilies in the majolica (glazed earthenware) pitcher on the table, for example, which symbolize Mary’s virginity, were a traditional element of Annunciation imagery (the objects within a middle-class home have a religiously sanctioned status)
-include patrons in the right panel – showing that humans are worthy to view the scene of the Annunciation (inside a Flemish home), a clear example of the Humanism of the Early Renaissance
-tilted plane of the scene and cutaways still characteristic of the International Gothic style
-city scene set outside the window – shows the artist’s confidence to include contemporary elements (it's a Flemish city, not a biblical one)
-the complex treatment of light in the piece was an innovation of the Flemish painters; the strongest illumination comes from an unseen source at the upper left in front of the picture plane, as if the sun entered through a miraculously transparent wall that allows the viewer to observe the scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, 1434, Oil on wood
-iconography, characteristic of the North – used symbols to tell the story, show wealth (dog, dress – held at abdomen/style of the time/showed fertility, bed, oranges = fertility), can also be seen as a form of Humanism to strike emotion in the viewer, candle is a symbol of Christ’s presence/life and/or showing a legal event
-inscription “Jan van Eyck was here” – artist becomes the witness, the painting could be showing a marriage or legal document
-mirror – has a self-portrait of van Eyck, could be the “eye of God,” roundels show the Passion of Christ, which evokes in the viewer a reminder of Christian redemption.
-handholding – symbolizes a marriage between people of different classes
-shows gender roles by placement in the painting – the man is closer to the window to show his role in the outside world, while the women is closer to the interior to show her roles in the domestic realm
-the use of oil glazes was van Eyck’s primary medium; his works offered a window into a scene, within which great attention was paid to individual features and allusions to symbolic meaning, ordinary objects could be “hidden” symbols that held religious meanings that the contemporary people would have understood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donatello, David, after 1428, Bronze

-shows the loaded moment (a "Renaissance" moment), the moment after slaying Goliath – David is a young boy with Goliath’s head at his feet
-this piece is the first life-size male nude since Antiquity times
-is not the ideal human form, which is in contrast to Michelangelo’s David
-the idea of a young boy slaying a monster symbolizes “my town winning over your town, the weak triumphing over the strong”
-sword symbolizes strength in the context of the story, but actually offered support to the sculpture
-nudity in the Early Renaissance symbolizes cultivation of classical knowledge, which is important to artists and patrons
-Florence represents themselves as David (symbolizes Florence’s triumph over Milan)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Masaccio, Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Donors, c. 1425, Fresco
-first surviving demonstration of perspective (with orthogonals)
-low vanishing point to make the viewer look up at Christ (the point was at the base of the cross)
-the painting is supposed to represent looking through a window or into a niche (instead of commissioning a real sculpture) to see a vision of the crucifixion; Masaccio created the unusual trompe l’oeil effect of looking up into a barrel-vaulted niche through precisely rendered linear perspective
-inscription on the art that reminds people to be good, because death can come at any moment
-patrons at the bottom (within the piece of artwork, again showing Humanism, saying that regular people could view the Holy Trinity, the Virgin, Saint John)
-the architecture is an unusual combination of Classical orders; on the wall surface Corinthian pilasters support a plain architrave below a cornice, while inside the niche, Renaissance variations on Ionic columns support arches on all four sides
-the Trinity is represented by Jesus on the Cross, the dove of the Holy spirit poised in downward flight above Jesus' titled halo, and God the Father, who stands behind the cross on a high platform apparently supported on the rear columns
-the source of the consistent illumination modeling the figures with light and shadow lies in front of the picture, casting reflections on the coffers, or sunken panels, of the ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandro Boticelli, The Birth of Venus, c. 1484-86, Tempera on Canvas
-in Florence, for the patronage of the Medici family
-nude Roman god – shows her creation story, which is a shift from an Old Testament focus of earlier works, it’s a secular peace of work focusing on a mythological character
-nudity, according to fifteenth century artists, shows the classical knowledge of the patron
-Venus is the goddess of beauty and love (in the center = focus)
-slender curving body, not volumetric, which is a shift away from the International Gothic Style (but the body is still not as realistic as those in High Renaissance and Baroque works)
-consistent light source, setting rendered with strict linear perspective, both characteristics of some Early Renaissance art
-based on an antique statue of Venus in the Medici family collection
-story: Venus is born of sea foam, floating in on a shell, welcomed by a devotee holding a flowered garment
-the arrangement of hair is to enhance or perhaps hide Venus’ sexuality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1470s, Oil and Tempera on Wood Panel
-static, Early Renaissance art tended to have motionless compositions, very different from the later Baroque art (St. Teresa of Avila in Ecstasy) with diagonal compositions and facial expressions that show movement and emotion
-Venice (at the time) was largely swampland; therefore, in their works, like this one, the artists always include mountains
-shows St. Francis having a vision in the Venetian version of “desert land”
-no halos – more realistic rendering
-depth of color, light and dark
-in this work, Bellini demonstrates his intense investigation and recording of nature associated with the Early Renaissance, illustrates his command of an almost Flemish realism
-the saint stands in communion with nature, bathed in early morning sunlight, his outspread hands showing the stigmata (the miraculous appearance of Christ’s wounds on a saint’s body)
-Francis had moved to a cave in the barren wilderness in his search for communion with God, but in this landscape the fields blossom and flocks of animals grave
-true to fifteenth century religious art, however, Bellini unites Old and New Testament themes to associate Francis with Moses and Christ – the tree symbolizes the burning bush; the stream, the miraculous spring brought forth by Moses
-the crane and the donkey represent the monastic virtue of patience
-the detailed realism, luminous colors, and symbolic elements suggest Flemish art, but the golden light suffusing the painting is associated with Venice