High Renaissance

(1490s - 1550s)

High Renaissance art is characterized by self-confident Humanism. Here we see artists admiring classical art and architecture as a way to show off their classical knowledge or for a patron who commissioned these works to seem more knowledgeable about the world and its history.

With the invention and use of the printing press, there was a greater spread of ideas, and artists could sell prints of their work. Travel also increased during the High Renaissance; therefore, art became more international.

Michelangelo prescribed to “Neo-Platonism,” which says God put the sculpture within the rock and that the artist must uncover it, good art comes from divine inspiration and beauty is a path to salvation.

Leonardo, another High Renaissance artist, began to create deep paintings with spatial illusions, which will be more prevalent in the Baroque period.

-halos gone
-more naturalism
-definite light source (shadows, three-dimensional)
-sense of stability and order (static compositions)
-commissions from private sources increased (no longer as dependant on the Church/royalty)


High Renaissance Painting in Italy:

Leonardo, The Last Supper, 1495-98
Michelangelo, David, 1501-4
Raphael, School of Athens, 1510-11
Leonardo, Vitruvian Man, c. 1490
Titian, Venus of Urbino, c. 1538


Leonardo, The Last Supper, 1495-98, Oil and Tempera on Plaster
-oil and tempera on plaster = a disastrous new technique constructed by Leonardo
-no halos (shift from Early Renaissance work) – although a symbolic halo is made in the archway above Jesus’ head
-for the refectory wall
-composition: vanishing point at Christ’s head to show his importance
-perfectly symmetrical (which is contrasted with Baroque art with compositions of motion at diagonal or circular lines); Jesus is in the middle, with two groups of three on either side
-Judas is next to Jesus holding a moneybag within the picture plane (in contrast to Andrea del Castagno’s Last Supper, which has Judas on the other side of the table)
-shows the moment when Jesus tells of the betrayal
-captures the psychological reaction
-Leonardo offers a choice to the audience to consider/soul search for the difference between good and evil – human emotion
-the space is defined by a coffered ceiling with four pairs of tapestries that seem to extend the dining hall into another room
-the Humanism in this piece is that people viewing it are almost eating with Jesus himself

Michelangelo, David, 1501-4, Marble
-shows the moment of David’s thoughtful contemplation (“Renaissance moment”), art of the High Renaissance concentrated on the emotions, the ability to rise above mortal weakness (seen in Neoplatanism)
-frown shows his preparation for the danger ahead
-David is naked, which reflects the Classicism of the High Renaissance, nudes reflected wealth and knowledge in classic readings, also a sign of heroic and divine qualities
-David is the symbol of perfection – composed from various “beautiful people;” David is beyond mortal (natural) beauty, realization of the neoplatonic ideals
-patronage = wealthy merchants
-Neoplatonic ideas: God put the sculpture within the rock and that the artist must uncover it, good art comes from divine inspiration and beauty is a path to salvation; the "genius" is in the act of finding God and His creations
-outdoor sculpture to remind all of the glory of Florence
-David is a symbol of right over might
-according to Michelangelo, sculpture makes things real (versus paintings, which are just an illusion/trick)

Raphael, School of Athens, 1510-11, Fresco
-imaginary gathering of philosophers, Raphael included the faces of friends and colleagues, including Leonardo, Michelangelo and himself
-monumental shapes, idealized faces, rich colors
-ideals of Renaissance papacy shown here with harmoniously arranged forms, rational space, and calm dignity
-main scene is viewed through a trompe l’oeil arch
-Aristotle with his outstretched hand (palm down) emphasizes the importance of gathering empirical knowledge from observing the material world
-clear, even light (single source), characteristic of the High Renaissance
-vanishing point is between the conversation of Aristotle and Plato, as if they are having an infinite conversation
-made for the library of the Pope
-secular painting
-people (artists) are elevated to be in the same room as the great thinkers (Humanism)

Leonardo, Vitruvian Man, c. 1490, Ink
-human body is seen as a form of measurement, true idea of Humanism seen here
-artists throughout history have turned to geometric shapes and mathematical proportions to seek the ideal presentation of the human form
-Leonardo (and before him Vitruvius) equated the ideal man with both circle and square
-diagram for the ideal male figure
-in first century BCE Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius, wrote: “For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses be centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will found to be as the height.”

Titian, Venus of Urbino, c. 1538, Oil on Canvas
-vibrant paint surface, built up with layers of pure colors
-inspired by flesh and beauty
-Venetian courtesan – her gestures are provocative
-spaniel symbolizes fidelity
-maids assembling her clothing in the background lend a comfortable domestic air
-shows the new Venetian subject matter of the naked female (which carries over into later works)
-shows a distinct contrast in sensuality and intimacy with van Eyck’s marriage scene
-colors are mottled (red with purple)
-Titian loved to use the combo of gold and red colors
-the courtesan is likened to Venus, the goddess of love and beauty
-constant, even light is characteristic of High Renaissance pieces, which is more realistic than Early Renaissance pieces
-the piece was commissioned by the Duke of Urbino for his private chamber – the luxurious fabrics, tapestries, etc. show the wealth of the patron