During the Italian Renaissance, art in Europe reached its pinnacle. Many of the greatest artists in history, and an abundance of the world’s cultural treasures came from that period. The Renaissance was triggered by humanism in Italian city-states, while the advancement in science gave people a different perspective on the physical world. The discovery of new technologies, new continents, and new astronomy triggered a flowering of new philosophy, literature and art. New styles of painting and sculpture emerged in the midst of changes in 14th century Italy, and reached their pinnacle in the early 16th century.
Renaissance art took its foundation from classical antiquity and transformed itself with the help of humanist philosophy. Florentine painters started to paint in three dimensional representations, and lifelike and naturalistic art appeared in the pulpits of cathedrals and baptisteries of northern Italy. Soon Renaissance artists were no longer satisfied with their linear perspective methods and naturalistic arts. The art work moved from the use of “linear perspective”, made famous by Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Leon Battista Alberti, to “foreshortening”, a method to create an illusion of depth, to “sfumato”, a term coined by Leonardo da Vinci to define a painting technique which blurred and softened the sharp outlines by the blending of one tone into another, to “chiaroscuro”, a method of using strong contrast between light and darkness. Art changed dramatically during those few explosive centuries.
The High Renaissance period saw the development of two very different schools of art, Mannerism and the Venetian school. Mannerism artists, such as Jacopo da Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Alessandro and Tintoretto, wanted to move beyond the harmonious ideals associated with Da Vinci, Raphael and the early Michelangelo. They wanted tension and instability in their compositions rather than balance and clarity. This is evident in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.
The Venetian School of art was another distinctive and influential movement during the Renaissance. It favors color over line and harmony over contrast, a clear distinction from Mannerism. Jacopo Bellini was credited with the creation of this Venetian style of art. Bellini learned his basic techniques from Renaissance masters in Florence. When he later travelled to Bruges and was introduced to oil painting, the new medium forever changed Venetian art. Venetian artists put oil painting on canvas and transformed the rest of the art world.
Bellini’s sons were also great artists. Gentile Bellini’s “The Procession of the true Cross in Piazza San Marco” and “The Miracle of the True Cross at the San Lorenzo Bridge” showed the “Narrative style” of the Venetian School. These two 15th century paintings are filled with people, events and real buildings of the time rather than classical architectures or ideal forms. The focus of the Ducal Palace’s paintings was on the institutions and the people of Venice. Unlike the rest of Europe at the time, Venetians were careful never to extol any single person too much. Today, these two paintings are in the Accademia Galleries in Venice.
Two other artists, Giorgione and Titian, were also apprentices in Bellini’s workshop. The Venetian style uses color to inspire and to create unity within paintings. Glowing colors, atmospheric haze, and uncluttered but interconnected figures all combine to form tranquil and majestic paintings. Venetian art is considered more sensual and poetic than the more intellectual Florentine and Roman traditions.
Renaissance art exerted great influence over later periods of art as well as literature and music. To some extent, it even affected forms of Government and our society as seen today. Renaissance art sought to capture the experiences of the individual and the beauty and mystery of the natural world. It introduced us to the modern social values of today.
Venice has countless artworks from the Renaissance period and other great art from different periods of Venetian history. Venice not only has the largest collection of medieval mosaic art in the world, it also has the largest trove of oil paintings. Today, Venice is not only an active and vibrant city, it is equally a museum. In Venice, wherever one goes and wherever one looks, there is the beauty of art and history.