Exploring Renaissance Paintings: Artists, Styles, and Motivation

Renaissance Paintings
The word 'Renaissance' is French for rebirth or revival. And what a revival it was! With the invention of the metal movable type, the Renaissance steadily spread to almost all parts of Europe.
The Renaissance Period can be considered as an awakening of sorts. Painters, sculptors, and musicians started realizing the need for a change in the way they perceive their own art. It was a time of richness in all artistic aspects, and realism in ways never seen before.

It seems that common life had a large part to play in the change of styles: with the Black Plague, famine, high infant mortality rates, and generally abhorrent living conditions for the peasantry, the painters tried their best to reaffirm faith through paintings of God, Jesus, Mary, and other icons of religion, worship, and mythology.

It was an age where utmost reverence was showered on polymaths of any age. The most notable of polymath artists are Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. It was an age of not just exploring new ideas, but also questioning and challenging the old ones. Because it was believed that society cannot progress until existing laws and structures are challenged and then perfected. And as far as progress is concerned, the amount of it that happened in art is astounding at the very least.

We now concentrate on what was it that defined the Renaissance paintings: the artists, the styles, and the motivation.
Timeline of Renaissance Art
⦿ The period can be traced within a general time frame between late 13th and the early 14th centuries.

⦿ The birthplace of Renaissance art is considered to be Italy, somewhere around 1280. The time between 1280 and 1400 is called the 'Proto-Renaissance Period' and was centered only in Italy.

⦿ After the awakening, the styles of Renaissance art spread to other European countries, namely the Low Countries (Netherlands), France, Germany, and Croatia.
⦿ The next phase in Renaissance art was called 'Early Renaissance'. It happened in France between 1385 to 1520, in Italy between 1400 to 1479, and Netherlands between 1400 to 1525.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519)
⦿ The most glorious time for Renaissance art occurred between 1475 to 1525 in Italy. This period includes most of the famous artists, like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Most Famous Renaissance Paintings
Mona Lisa Painting
Mona Lisa
⦿ At the top of the list is the most famous painting of all time - Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. This painting has achieved unparalleled fame and attention, either through its actual brilliance or through historic incidences.
The Last Supper - Painting
⦿ The Last Supper
⦿ Another masterpiece is again, by Leonardo da Vinci, is The Last Supper. Made famous to modern society through books like The DaVinci Code, The Last Supper has always enjoyed a place of prominence.
Michelangelo ( 1475 - 1564 )
Sistine Chapel - Painting
Sistine Chapel
⦿ It took Michelangelo almost five years to finish the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. By the time he was done, it was hailed as one of the greatest achievements earned by any artist, essentially equal in importance and fame to the Mona Lisa.
⦿ Outside Italy, you have the French Jean Frouquet, the inventor of the portrait miniature and the creator of the paintings King David and the Amalekite and the Melun Diptych. Jan van Eyck was the most influential painter of this era in Northern Europe. His most important works include Madonna of Chancellor Rolin and Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele.
⦿ Other great paintings include The Allegory of Spring and The Birth of Venus (both) by Sandro Botticelli, Lamentation of Christ by Giotto, and the Transfiguration of Jesus by Fra Angelico.
The Great Renaissance Artists
Titian ( 1485 - 1576 )
⦿ The five minds considered to be the most influential of all Renaissance artists are Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and Jan van Eyck.
⦿ One of the earliest of the Renaissance artists was Masaccio, who laid the foundations of the style between 1401 to 1428. his conceptions of the incidents are intelligent, his compositions are monumental and his paintings appear very natural. The high degree of naturalism in the paintings attracted more artists towards the development of such paintings.
⦿ After Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Pollaiuolo, and Verrochio developed similar styles. Most of them were also largely influenced by the two treatises of Leone Battista Alberti: De Pitura (On Painting) and De re aedificatoria (Ten Books on Architecture).
⦿ Early Netherlandish art includes names like Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Hugo van der Goes. You also had the French Jean Fouquet, Jean Clouet, and Jean Hey, Spanish artists like Bartolomé Bermejo, and Croatian artists like Frane Vranjanin.
Renaissance Styles
Raphael ( 1483 - 1520 )
⦿ The Renaissance paintings usually had a few common elements to them, mostly due to the influence on all the painters by the founding ones.
⦿ The biggest technique employed was to paint into a composed perspective. In the aspiration for the paintings to be more real and natural, there was a requirement to fill the canvas or wall in such a way that it became a window into the painting itself. The work could stand unique while still stay appealing to the common eye. To do that, a lot of emphasis was given to maintain the right proportions, especially of the human body.
⦿ Artists started using more colors and shades to create the illusion of three-dimensional paintings through heavy contrasts. This was again, an effort to make the paintings increasingly real. The effect, or the technique, was called 'chiaroscuro'.
⦿ Two more techniques refer to the way the artist would draw the lines around objects. One of them is called 'foreshortening', which involves cutting short the longer lines so that they can easily blend in with the surrounding colors. The other technique is called 'sfumato' in Italian (derived from 'sfumare': to evaporate/fade out). It means the effective softening of lines to create a smoother blend of shades and colors in the painting. In essence, sfumato is the opposite of chiaroscuro.
The painters were thinkers than just artists. The paintings were largely religious, but the period also saw many paintings of daily peasant life, as well as those of nature. The paintings invigorate our emotions and enlighten us on various subjects, including human and divine, with the spirit of discovery and antiquity.