What Major Developments Were Made In Art

In The Period 1400-1650? Essay, Research Paper

At the beginning of this era, a synthesis of local styles known as the ?International Style? predominated Europe?s art and the

Gothic style was dominant in architecture. This era also began in the shadow of the person sometimes seen as the precedent of the great Italian Renaissance masters.? His frescoes, notably those in the Cappella dell? Arena in Padua used the concepts of Byzantine art that

governed ideas of foreshortening, shadow and texture to create the illusion of depth.? Giotto?s mastery had recreated

the concept of depth on a flat surface, and the slow progress to what we

recognise as Renaissance art occurred throughout the fourteenth century. One of

the finest pieces of International Style art is the Wilton Diptych, which dates

from 1400 and portrays the commending of Richard II by St. Edmund, St. Edward

the Confessor and St John the Baptist to the Christ Child. A love of detail is

evident from the painstaking way in which fingers, flowers and even the

Infant?s feet are marked out in loving detail. The artist took a fractal

approach to the painting, trying to add realism to his scene by adding layer

upon layer of detail to the figures.?

The foreshortening of limbs and bodies in the painting is testament to

Giotto?s influence and the figures themselves have a reasonable deal of realism

to them, even if the painting overall does not.? The flowers across the picture are typical of the pre-Renaissance

fascination with the delicate and beautiful, and the diptych shows a great

power of observation, but the early date of the painting is clear when we look

at the background, and the way that space is portrayed within the picture. ?The gilded

background was a show of wealth in a space that usually lay redundant in

paintings of this era, as at the time, a high calibre means of representing

space had not yet been discovered. The gilded background would have been

massively expensive, as would the ultramarine pigments used so freely, notably

upon the dress of the figure of the Virgin Mary. The Renaissance era is usually seen as starting at

the point when artists ceased to be interested in telling a story so much as in

portraying nature and collecting studies of the world. These achieved, they

moved on to exploring the laws of vision and the way in which the viewer

perceives the world.? They began to

study the human body with a view to enhancing their ability to portray it both

in stone and in paint, as their classical forebears had done.? The ?Greek artists of the fifth century were

mainly concerned in how to build up the image of the beautiful body? whilst to

the Gothic artists, all their skill and tricks were merely ?means to an end,

which was to tell a sacred story more movingly and more convincingly[1]?.? The rise of Petrarch, who had become a

?classic? author even by this early stage, and the pre-eminence of humanism had

led to a resurgence of respect for the classical world that we see reflected

across the Renaissance world.? Renewed

awareness of Italy?s great past led to renewed interest in some kind of revival

of the ancient arts.? The millennium

that lay between the fall of Rome and their time was to them merely a sad

interlude in Italy?s greatness.? Giotto?s art and the art it spawned for a century

afterwards had its roots in the artist?s genius in blending the concepts of the

rigid Byzantine school into a combination with the precepts of the Italianate

school, but further progress would require another genius. His reputation

established with Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi went on to spearhead a

revival of Roman forms in architecture.?

He did not intend to copy Roman architecture, nor rebuild Italy in the

ancient model, but to use Roman ideals to create new modes of harmony and

beauty, using columns, pediments and pilasters.? Although rightly remembered as a great architect,

Brunelleschi?s mathematical methods used for his engineering were transferred

by his artist friends to painting and thus created what we today call

?perspective?.? Vitally, this

mathematical model for the appearance of reality was far beyond the

achievements of the ancient Greek artists.?

Pioneered in Masaccio?s celebrated ?The Holy Trinity, the Virgin, St.

John and Donors,? the painting?s background, instead of being a static

scene, a gilded backdrop or an ultramarine wash, shows a realistic transept

chapel in Brunelleschi?s new style using perspective.? The Florentine reaction to this painting, which appeared to have

created a hole in the wall into a new burial chamber, was shocking due to its

heavy, solemn figures and the lack of daintiness to which they had become

accustomed.? The innovation of

perspective so dramatically introduced by Masaccio, a genius who was dead by

the age of 28, was the most dramatic break with the past conceivable.? Introducing the ability to represent space

into paintings is as big a break with the past as is imaginable. It took some

rime for the Italianate trend to spread, where the Gothic architectural style

continued to flourish.? In northern Europe,

the fifteenth century opened clearly favouring the High Gothic decorative

style, a taste clearly visible at the Palace of Justice at Rouen and Exeter

Cathedral.? Just as the Italians began

to revolt against the Gothic style, the century saw a reaction against

complicated and heavy architecture.?

King?s College Chapel, Cambridge (1446), is an excellent example of the

reactionary ?Perpendicular? gothic style. The Burgundian court at Dijon was also producing

work in reaction to the old Gothic trend.?

Not as radical as Masaccio, Jan van Eyck?s style in the 1430s was of the

lineage of his local forebears, but when introduced to perspective, van Eyck

broke new boundaries.? His celebrated

portrait of ?The Betrothal of the Arnolfini? with its mirror reflecting

not only Arnolfini and his bride but also van Eyck himself, shows the painter

as witness and person.? In essence, van

Eyck acknowledges that he is painting what he saw, to the extent of even

leaving in his own impression.? The

subject, a betrothal, is also great naturalism. Despite the efforts of the van Eyck brothers, the

medieval spirit reigned throughout Northern Europe at this time.? Perspective, realism and classical influence

did not trouble the northern masters.?

The preoccupation with the skill of the artist as an expense incurred by

the patron, so evident from the sums paid to Italian masters, is not clear from

the works in the north where ultramarine and gold were still the greatest

expenses troubling northern patrons and impressed contemporaries.? Although Lochner uses perspective timidly in

the Fra Angelico style, contemporary northern work at this time tended to

compare more easily with such work as the Wilton Diptych. Depite the guilds? inadvertent prevention of

dissemination of ideas, it did occur, as on Fouquet?s trip to Italy, where he

painted the Pope and picked up Italian Renaissance ideas.? Whilst still painting on the same theme as

the Wilton Diptych, Fouquet?s image looks less like a collage but more like a

real representation of the event.? Light

and shade, perspective and distance ? all new elements to the north, and all

imported there from Italy.? Yet the

synthesis was not all Italian.? Whilst

Piero was a great Master and had a great interest in light and shade, the van

Eycks? influence is clear from the attention to detail of the textures ?

probably a by-product of the gothic fascination with delicate detail. A contemporary of Masaccio, Donatello was another

leader of the Renaissance.? His

celebrated statue of St. George differs concertedly from the Gothic art that it

was displayed alongside.?? Instead of

heightening the building by accentuation of the height of the alcoves and using

dainty lacework, Donatello aims to restore the art of sculpture to a

representative art form based on the Greek ideals.? Instead of telling the story of St. George by reference to dragon

motifs under his feet, or other such devices that might have occurred earlier,

Donatello?s statue is concerned with portraying the saint as a man gazing at

his enemy and ready for battle.? As

opposed to the serene and vague expressions of the gothic statues of the

decorative style, Donatello?s George is determined, unyielding and brimming

with vim, vigour and vitality.? Just as

Brunelleschi set the tone for architecture for centuries to come, Donatello and

Masaccio set the tone for the coming centuries with their use of a new and

vigorous observation of nature.?

Burckhardt claimed that this period?s natural interest was indicative of

man?s new autonomy and command of the natural world, but this seems a little

oversimplified and is probably just a reflection of 19th century

liberal romanticism and pastoralism. This observation of the world was encouraged by

collectors such as Aldorandi who saw himself as clarifying and classifying the

universe by collecting.? Imperato of

Naples won status by showing off his collection, and saw himself as a Noah

figure, rescuing the forms of nature.?

Patrons were also happy to push for natural observation as a skill.? Maximillian II made a great show a Byzantine

medical text and his menageries, whilst gathering a court of scholars,

philosophers and artists.? Rudolph II?s

Prague garden is also worthy of note, as is his extensive patronage.? Appearing to be sage and wise by being

?scientific? through support of the arts was a big incentive for the patrons of

the day, quite aside from the usual reasons for patronage, such as Richard II?s

obvious motives for the Wilton Diptych.?

Just as the form of Masaccio?s painting is brutally

real, Donatello?s figure of St. George is real, although is a lighter, fresher

way.? By contrast, Donatello shows the

capability to produce the viciously realistic with his relief of ?Herod?s

Feast? at Siena Cathedral.? Whilst

the Middle Ages produced dainty and delicate artwork that showed order and

sterilised such gruesome passages, Donatello?s realism is almost sadistic by

comparison.? Showing the executioner

kneeling before a horrified Herod, his evil wife is shown rationalising the horror

of what was going on, whilst Salome is shown shocked and pausing in her dance.

Meanwhile, the other diners recoil in horror at the sight of St. John the

Baptist?s head. This idea of reflecting the real world was an

innovation localised to a small group of painters in certain areas, and this in

itself was a major development.?

Although minor local variations on themes existed, Europe existed at

this time as an integral continent.?

Art, architecture, learning and politics were universals, common to the

continent.? The emergence of burghers

and merchants willing to protect their local interests changed this before our

period opens, and guilds began to regulate cities and towns for the benefits of

their members, thus excluding ?foreign? employees from taking work from guild

members.? This encouraged the ending of

the ?International Style? and the formation of regional ?schools?.? The guilds forced young boys whose parents

saw art as their calling to train imitating the art of the local masters, so

that the young artist would eventually be able to paint on the master?s

behalf.? This formed and

institutionalised very distinct and separate regional styles.? Brunelleschi?s successors followed in his

footsteps, with Alberti developing the Brunelleschian style.? Ghiberti?s bronze of the Baptism in the Jordan

is similarly a study on Donatello?s style.?

Using Donatello?s ?Dance of Salome? as a guide on the piece?s character

and aesthetics and a twelfth century brass at Liege for content, tone and the

required depth. The printing of pictures preceded the printing of

books by some decades and the most important innovation of the era was to

impact on art also.? The advent of the

woodcut as a cheap means of printing meant that cheap pamphlets were easily

producible.? However, copper prints were

more important for art.? Copper prints

could show variegation of shading by different depths of cut and the plates

lasted much longer.? Skilful use of the

burin allowed the etcher to etch in the style of Botticelli and Mategna ? two

popularly copied artists in Italy ? and thus allowed ideas to spread far and

wide about new artistic trends. The sixteenth

century brought Italy its most celebrated artistic period as the position of

the artist had begun to change.? As

cities competed for artists to beautify their buildings, so the power of the

artists grew.? During the Quatrocento

Renaissance, it is important to remember that artists were not the isolated

visionaries as romanticised about today, but were businessmen in possession of

demanding clients.? Painters did not

paint a picture in the hope of acquiring a buyer, except in extremely lean

periods, when less demanded painters might produce a run of icons of the

Madonna or of some similarly saleable subject.?

In the fifteenth century, pictures were made to order by the client and

no painting was the artist?s genius acting in isolation: on the contrary,

?painting was still too important to be left to the painters.[2]? Art became to

be viewed not as a craft, but as a skilled profession.? Physicians, such as Vesalius, began to

dissect bodies themselves in this period, instead of observing

dissections.? This was a fusion of

liberal artist into craftsman, and indicative of an ongoing general trend that

took the craft of painting into the bounds, despite Aristotle?s snobbery into

the realms of liberal art. The resulting liberation of the artist and the

unleashing of creativity upon the world was vital for the obvious freedom of

the period?s art and served to increase the culthood that Masters had attracted

since Giotto, the first Master. ?Indeed,

Giotto?s reputation was potent two hundred years on, and Masaccio still easily

impressed the world. ??????????? For all the praise of

Burckhardt, Da Vinci makes surprisingly few innovations.? His magnificent ?Last Supper? is

important in that it is the culmination of the solution to the new problem of

three-dimensional composition.? Whilst

Pollaiuolo?s ?Martyrdom of St Sebastian? is obviously forced and

unnatural in its setting, Leonardo?s piece is natural yet compelling, chaotic

in theme yet neat in order. ?He uses

optical illusions in the ?Mona Lisa? to compel the viewer so that sfomato

hides the true expression of the model, and so that the mismatching

background means that the angle of observation of the picture alters one?s

perception of it. These were more gimmicks than developments, but worth noting

for they show the degree of sophistication of art as a science.? Viewing art as a science, Michelangelo?s

great contribution to art was his mastery of anatomy.? In the same way that Turner would become known for his clouds,

Michelangelo became known as a Master to rival his contemporary, Leonardo, by

the age of thirty for his ability to depict the human form. ??????????? Younger still, Raphael

was in Florence at a similar time, but made a vital innovation.? Whereas the Quattrocento artists,

Michelangelo and Leonardo were obsessed with the depiction of nature through

their art, Raphael was happier to use an imaginary ideal for his models.? Galatea is recognised for her beauty, as she

symbolises the classical world as it should have been, and was recognised as a

representation of pure beauty, but famously, she had no model. ??????????? Florence, it must be

remembered, was not the sole cradle of art in Europe ? it was not even the sole

cradle of reform in Italy.? The great

reformers of Florence were less taken by colour than form, whereas in the hazy,

ambient lagoon light of Venice, colour was more important and developments

occurred paralleling the achievements of Florence. Venice?s preoccupation with

colour is a result of the heritage of the Venetian school?s direct descendance

from the medieval tradition, where ?real? colour was almost irrelevant ? the

gold and ultramarine miniatures of the era never claimed any air of

realism.? Giorgione?s ?The Tempest? is

an excellent example of the local school?s importance, as he forgets classical

lessons about the importance of composition, the importance of careful

representation and merely uses the colours of the painting to bind it

together.? Titian, who rose to the same

heights in his own time as Michelangelo (possibly because of his exceptional

longevity) masterminded the deliberate drawing of attention from location to

location by using light and darkness and using straight converging lines. ??????????? The

Italian learning spread across the continent, fusing with native Gothic styles

as a result of the plundering and the occupations of the Italian Wars, but

Italy continued to drive forwards.? In

the 1520s, the plethora of talent led many to claim that perfection had been

attained, and so, Mannerism developed.?

The inability to outdo their forebears in skill led many to try to outdo

them in their invention and originality of form.? Michelangelo?s own disregard for norms, especially in

architecture, had briefed the European public for such an occurrence and taught

the European public to admire an artist?s originality.? The result was the growth of the appeal of

virtuosos such as Cellini and this led to bizarre and extravagant

semi-reactionary works.? Contravening

the most basic of the classical texts on paintings, the Mannerists tried to

drive themselves from what they saw as a rut. ??????????? The

Mannerist Jacob Robusti (Tintoretto) felt that the beauty of Titian?s work was

not compelling enough for story telling.?

Using fragmented light instead of Titianesque swathes of colour and

using imbalanced arrangements of figures, Tintoretto portrayed the legend of

St. George and the discovery of St. Mark?s remains with great power and

excitement.? A further extension of this

school was El Greco?s work.? Raised in

Crete, El Greco was used to the Byzantine style that was devoid of natural

appearance or realism.? Encouraged by

Tintoretto?s work, El Greco?s art disregarded natural form and colours

producing stirring visions, notably in his ?Opening of the Fifth Seal?, a

very shocking piece.? His

residence in Spain where there was a religious fervour suited to his style is a

happy coincidence for the art world.. ??????????? The

idolatry of Spain that sustained El Greco and kept his reputation and finances

afloat was lacking at this time in much of northern Europe.? Protestantism prevented the production of

religious images.? Portrait painting and

illustration alone sustained the northern painters.? Hals? use of ?undignified? poses, unlike Holbein?s contrived

dignity, was designed to convey a characteristic mood, but like Holbein, it

followed strict rules of balance. ??????????? The area

of most interest to art historians in the Netherlands is the fate of the old

altarpiece painters, many of whom began to paint landscapes. By becoming genre

painters, the Dutch artists were able to continue to thrive.? This era saw the birth of the landscape – a

result of a financial necessity to find new subject matter.? The landscape was a pure show of artistic

talent; something that could not have happened prior to the cult of the artist. ??????????? The

seventeenth century saw the greatest advances since Michelangelo?s death.? The Roman Baroque style, with its

abandonment of some of the simplicity of classical architecture whilst

retaining its motifs, rose at this time.?

A reaction to the polarisation of wealth, extravagance unseen since the

Gothic era was possible.? The

triumphalism of the Counter-Reformation, the renewed power of the Papacy and

the rise of absolutism as a doctrine all led firstly the church, and then

royalty, to turn to the Baroque as a show of might.? Breaking new rules by sheer expense and extravagance, this was a

Roman extension of Mannerist independent thinking.? Bernini?s David is not Michelangelo?s David. Carracci, under Rafaelite

influences, moved to an era of classically influenced anatomy, sentimentality,

simple and harmonious painting.?

Meanwhile, Caravaggio moved to unravel the truth at the cost of

beauty.? To him, beauty was not of any

importance, and the world as it existed was all that mattered.? His irreverent ?Doubting Thomas? was

criticised for its depiction of the apostles as common labourers.? The contrast between Carravaggio?s

Aristotlean brutal realism (disparagingly called ?naturalism?) and Carracci?s

Platonic world of ideals we see reflected elsewhere. Rubens? idyllic landscapes

contrast with Velazquez?s early works.??????????? The

Renaissance changes were multifaceted.?

The artist was brought onto a skewed plain in relation to his art, and

this era?s love of ?Masters? gives us our modern preoccupation with the works

of famous artists.? The printing press

allowed dissemination of copies of Botticellis or other popular works, so

popularising art and allowing widespread art appreciation.? Despite this, the era saw the ?schools? come

to the fore, as each supported its champion against one another.? Stylistically, perspective was the single

most important innovation, as Giotto?s understanding of foreshortening had

already allowed some realism to exist in art, paradoxiscally as a result of his

study of the unnatural Byzantine school.?

The movement for the real world as art grew until Raphael?s ability to

conjure natural beauty showed an alternative.?

The movement from the realism of Michelangelo to the blurred impressions

of Velazquez and Rembrandt indicate a middle ground.? Finally surpassing the Ancients, the Renaissance was truly a

rebirth for Italian art, as masters like Donatello, irritated by the staleness

of the vogues of their fields, spearheaded reform, and genii such as Masaccio,

Michelangelo and Leonardo applied the lessons of science to art. [1] P. 144, ?The

Story of Art? ? E.H. Gombrich [2] P. 3 ?

Michael Baxendall ? Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy



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