The Renaissance Changed the World

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The quattrocento was a time of revolution in all aspects of society, especially in the art sphere. The art world witnessed great changes and revolutions which paved the way to a new artic style, the Renaissance, a rebirth of the mentality and practices which people always considered as art and maturity in both the commissions of artworks and the depictions of said commissioned masterpieces for many years.

In the heart of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, the Arte di Calimala held a competition between 1400-1401, for the second set of doors for the Baptistry, following the completion of the first set by Andrea Pisano.

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Artists had to submit a design featuring the Sacrifice of Isaac, and amongst the seven artists who enrolled, it tied down between Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti. In the end, Ghiberti was tasked to design the Baptistry doors, since his design, in contrast to Brunelleschi’s is more humanistic in approach, combining movement and narrative, even though Brunelleschi’s has remarkable triumphs for that time. However later on between 1417 and 1419, these two artists competed against each other again, this time to design the dome for the Cathedral in Florence, and Brunelleschi proved to be the victor. This was an achievement which immortalized his name in Florence. His ideas involved studies based on lessons of classical antiquity mainly from classical Roman architecture adapted to meet modern Christian needs, and this time around was adored unlike in his previous competition. This dome would come to serve as the symbol for Florentine originality when it came to ambition, piety, and skill. This form would later on in the year, come to influence architecture and painting far beyond the streets of Tuscany. One thing to note about his dome structure is that it was so elaborately engineered, that it wasn’t possible for anyone else to carry out such a design concept in the 15th century.

In this well-known dome, Brunelleschi designed a new system by which temporary framework was cantilevered out from walls of the drum on which the dome was lifted, therefore reducing the amount of time needed for building. This innovation of a new construction process reflected a bold and analytic mindset which was willing to look beyond conventional solutions. His study of ancient art and his practical application of classical geometric proportions probably stimulated his discovery of a new classification of rendering forms in three-dimensions, the technique which sparked a whole revolution, the mathematical linear or scientific perspective. This method is a symmetrical technique for projecting the illusion of space onto a two-dimensional surface, its central feature is a vanishing point, a single point towards which any set of perpendicular lines converge to. Although Brunelleschi is said to have developed this method, the creation of the allusion of depth actually been experimented with since antiquity, namely by Giotto.

The Foundling Hospital, or Ospedale Degli Innocenti, is considered to be the first true Renaissance work, which was the earliest expression of Brunelleschi’s own architectural ideologies. It was commissioned by the Guild of Silk Merchants and Goldsmiths, which was his own guild, between 1419-1424. When looking upon the arches, vaults, and details of this hospital, it is evident how the early renaissance style is a combination of both Tuscan Romanesque disciplines, together with new features derived from classical antiquity.

His innovations were being noticed by wealthy patrons, one of which was Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, who commissioned him for the new design for the church of San Lorenzo, after being impressed by his rendering of the old sacristy in the church itself. He created a space which highly lit and spacious, yet harmonious and stable at the same inspired by classical antiquity. The church seems more conventional as a new emphasis on symmetry and regularity distinguishes his choice for the architectural design which was inspired by components coming from classical architecture from the past as well as paying attention to proportions.

Brunelleschi’s innovations in construction techniques with regards to designing interiors and exterior facades, as well as using vision from classical antiquity, made his works highly influential to young artists. Michelozzo, a young aspiring architecture, trained with Brunelleschi and was heavily influenced by his work. He was a friend and contributor to Leon Battista Alberti, an architect and the author of the book ‘On Painting’ ca.1435, dedicated to Brunelleschi. The book speaks about Brunelleschi’s formula for perspective, and how those formulas, in the author’s opinion, generate good paintings. This book and its ideals were spreading all throughout Italy and Europe, thus dispersion of said ideals to aspiring artists and creating a new revolution.

Nanni di Banco uses Brunelleschi’s ideals when he is tasked to fill the niche in the San Michele church with an image of four crowned saints called the Quattro Coronati carved between 1409-1417. The martyrs’ bodies seem as though they are spilling out of the confines of the niche, their garments and the heads of the middle two figures are noticeably inspired from ancient Roman sculptures of the first century CE. Hence his figures emulate Roman extreme naturalism and monumentality as he placed them as martyrs in their historical moment.

One of Ghiberti’s former assistants, Donatello, was commissioned to execute several statues for the San Michele church in Florence, and the way he rendered the human body as though it was a pronounced structure with the ability of movement as soon through the folds of the drapery, for example, his St. Mark, was grasping the attention of many commissioners. These works are what made him known outside the confines of Florence, where he was later commissioned to carve relief panels about the life of St. John the Baptist for a hexagonal basin in the baptistry of the cathedral in Siena in 1423. His most renowned panel, The Feast of Herod, is a combination of 3 different stages in the narrative in the same pictorial space in which he depicts the story of the martyrdom of St. John. This is one of the earliest surviving sculptures of the

[image: Image result for feast of herod donatello]exploration of the mathematical linear perspective. His objects are aligned in accordance with the rules of perspective and he has managed to create a sense of depth in a very shallow space. In the foreground, the executioner brings the head of St. John. To the right, we have another group of figures and the portrayal of Salome, who are all reacting to what is happening. Donatello leaves an empty space between the groups of figures and by doing this, he invites us to have a look at another stage of the story. In the middle ground, behind the first row of arches, there is a musician, and this is a different part of the story and must have happened before the story, so what we see is portrayed in a flashback fashion. We are looking at the musician eluding the dance of Salome, which marks the beginning of the story. This scene in the middle ground shows the action before the murder, hence showing us what led to the murder. Another flashback in the background portrays the executioner holding the platter with the head of St. John. This kind of dramatic narration is known as synoptic narrative. It depicts a story in different stages. It represents a scene in which a single character is shown multiple times. Donatello is regarded by many as the founder of Early Renaissance sculpture in Italy because he developed a renewed Artistic language based on classicism.

On the other hand, Masaccio, a fellow friend of Brunelleschi, was the first to use scientific linear perspective in paintings. One of the most well-known examples of his works is his fresco of The Holy Trinity found in the church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence. The setting in which the iconography of the holy trinity is displayed shows the artist’s knowledge of Brunelleschi’s new architecture and of his experimentation with perspective. Traditionally holy figures were set against a gold background to suggest the divinity of the holy trinity. This was an asset in Medieval times. By contrast, Masaccio has portrayed the trinity within a tangible architectural space, a real setting is seen. Therefore, by doing this, the painting breaks down the barrier between the natural and the supernatural. In typical medieval renderings, reverse perspective was used to marginalize the view. The viewer remains a spectator in the portrayal of heaven as opposed to the linear perspective which invites us into the scene as seen in Masaccio’s painting. The vanishing point is found at the foot of the cross and all lines converge towards Christ’s feet. The point is found at eye level which makes the illusion seem much more credible. He creates an illusion which shows a new space almost right before our eyes. The chapel seems to recede outside of the wall. The sarcophagus seems to protrude forward. This was a decisive step forward in the Art of illusionistic paintings.

Outside the ‘friend-group’ of the previous three men, through his interest in the theory of arts, Leon Battista Alberti became to be another well-known architect, and his architectural concepts always seemed closer to classical examples than Brunelleschi’s. Both him and Brunelleschi represent a revolutionary transition to architecture restricted to just walls to the actual space. The façade of his last major work in Mantua, the church of Sant ’Andrea, shows his desire to merge classical temple forms with the traditional basilican church. Furthermore, this façade defines itself from the main body of the church and also gives us a taste of what we can witness once entering inside the church, as the same triumphal-arch motif, reappear inside, upon the walls of the nave.

During the same time, the court painter, trained in Padua, Andrea Mantegna, paints his interests in humanism and archaeology in his panel depicting the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, 1450. Here he shows an anatomically accurate and carefully proportioned body of Sebastian tied to a classical Greek column, unlike usual renderings of him against a pole. The layout and forms are all architecturally influenced from the arches and the columns to the classical ruins at the saint’s feet. On the left, in the background, there is a road by which the archers who have just attacked the saint are fleeing, and the perspective of this road is created in a way to indicate the passage of time passed after killing him. His experimentations with the effects of perspective reached its peak in his Lamentation over the dead Christ where he uses the technique called ‘lotto in su’ (seen from below), which he also used in his famous Camera Picta. Christ’s body is at extreme foreshortening, and thus we find ourselves at his feet, which are hanging off the marble slab, breaking out of the painting space, which makes us literally come face to face with the puncture marks made by the crucifixion nails inviting us to join the other figures in mourning Christ, bringing us closer to the tragic moment. Careful examination of the figure shows that the Artist has somehow distorted the rules of perspective as he has enlarged Christ’s head and reduced the size of his feet. He took the liberty to manipulate the rules of perspective and although he opted for a very low viewpoint to make us close to the puncture marks, he still makes us aware of the facial features and expression on Christ’s face. This painting truly speaks about humanism and scientific

Image result for lamentation over the dead christ exploration of the human body and through this work Mantegna as set new standards in the art of illusionism and trompe l’oei effects (to trick the eye).

Brunelleschi’s discoveries continued to be experimented during the rest of the fifteenth century by many artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, predominantly in his Last Supper, as well as during the High Renaissance in the sixteenth century and later years. It has created an entirely new methodology to the principles of architecture as well as the art to mathematically constructed paintings which are in fact still being applied to this very day.


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The Renaissance Changed the World. (2019, Mar 26). Retrieved from