The Art Of Italy And Northern Europe

From 1300 To 1520 Essay, Research Paper

The Art of Italy and Northern Europe from 1300 to 1520

The years between 1300 to 1520, commonly known as the Renaissance, was an era of extraordinarily advanced achievements made in the art world. Techniques that began to be utilized at this period of time made the artworks surpass those of any other preceding movement.

“A word of caution is necessary when speaking of a ‘rebirth’ of the spirit of antiquity. In Italy, much more so than in northern Europe, the classical tradition had been more or less continuous (Fleming, 283).” Since the classic Roman style was consistently present in the south, the Italian Renaissance was not really a rebirth as is suggested by a literal translation of the word. It was actually a reemphasis and reinterpretation on the already existing techniques and then after this recreation, a surpassing of them.

The Italian revival of antiquity was connected to the newfound concept of humanism. The humanistic approach, was the cause of the studying of classic Pagan authors, therefore explaining the influence it had on many compositions.

The origin of the Italian Renaissance can be identified to the very end of the medieval period. The latter part of the era “was one that seemed to have one foot planted in the Middle Ages and the other in the emerging Renaissance (Fleming, 248).”

In approximately 1305, the visionary Giotto began his frescos at the Arena Chapel. Giotto looked at his surroundings; he saw how things appeared in nature, and painted these objects in the same way. The impression of depth is found in his works, as was the appearance of focal points. In his masterpiece, Miracle of the Spring, Saint Francis is made the focal point. This is achieved by the coming together of the two mountains in the background in a crisscross fashion and meeting where the Saint is, simultaneously. Giotto uses the image of a sloping mountain to draw attention to the main aspect of a painting again in Pieta, Joachim Returning to the Sheepfold and Flight into Egypt. His incorporation of the mountains was done to emphasize the expressions or placement of the human figures in his works, by their appearance of density and austerity (Fleming, 237). “The mountains, or architectural backgrounds, do not exist in their own right but become volumes and masses in Giotto’s pictorial designs as well as inanimate extensions of human nature (Fleming, 237).”

The Florentine Renaissance was dominated by ideas related to classical humanism, scientific naturalism and Renaissance individualism. The Roman Renaissance occurred from the late fifteenth century until the mid-sixteenth century. At that point, art and humanism had reached their pinnacle.

Masaccio was a greatly influential artist of the Florentine Renaissance. His frescoes were done in the Brancacci Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Massicio mastered many techniques, like use of light and shadows. In Expulsion from the Garden, light crosses the painting diagonally from the right. By having Adam and Eve approaching it, Massicio was able to paint the casting of their natural shadows. A further significant procedure- sometimes considered the most consequential modification made in painting- that he mastered was atmospheric perspective (Fleming, 269). This was done by “surrounding the figures with light and air, by relating them to the space they occupy, by modeling them in light and shadow as a sculptor would, so that they appear as if seen in the round with all the weight and volume of living forms (Fleming, 268-269).” Massacio, with the utmost talent, incorporated emotions in this painting. The face of Eve shows the obvious hysteria that she is in by being in the midst of crying, and the position of her arms- attempting to mask her reproductive organs- expresses the shame that she feels for the sins that she has committed. Adam is shown with his upper body hunched over and covering his face with his hands. Both of these characteristics are signs of his mortification. “Even the avenging angel who drives them out of the garden reflects the tragedy of the fall form grace by an expression of human concern and compassion (Fleming, 269).”

During the Florentine Renaissance Sandro Boticelli surpassed the works of many of his contemporaries. The humanistic thought that was so popular during the later fifteenth century was perpetually in his compositions. Throughout the works of Boticelli, there is an evident presence of classic Roman influences. For instance there is a Roman ruin in the background of his Adoration of the Magi. Another example of the classic Roman techniques is that in Birth of Venus, the goddess of love is standing contrapposto. The earlier Roman culture is not the only society that had an impact in Botticelli’s paintings. Paganism is obviously portrayed through the use of Venus in Birth of Venus and La Primavera, which is the depiction of a Pagan celebration.

The Italian notion of humanism was motivated by a reassessment of the merits of the Greco-Roman time period. This was achieved by attempting to combine pagan mannerisms with Christian ones; by renovating the ideas of great historical philosophers of antiquity, and by reviving the notion of human values.

The Northern Renaissance was a development and singling out of ideas that were popular during the Middle Ages.

“Most particularly it was the trend toward an increased awareness of the natural environment, an acute observation of the visible world, and a fascination with what the human eye could see, the mind comprehended, and the human heart could feel (Fleming, 313).”

The technique of northern artists was to interpret what they had seen exactly as it really was. Under those circumstances, northern artwork was not in any way as beautified or idealized as the Italian works were. In other words, they were thoroughly different from one another.

For many centuries, the techniques and thematic issues of Italian artwork have been quite altered than those of the northern art. One case in point occurred during the Carolingian Empire, when unskilled works done by Northerners could not be compared to the sophisticated authenticity that was ever present in the Italians art. In the previous instance, as well as others, the dissimilarities of the art have evidently been a result from the contrasting cultures of the two societies. In the varying civilizations there were different goals that artists obtained.

An illustration of the contradiction between the Italian Renaissance and Northern Renaissance style is the Pieta executed by Michaelangelo and as accomplished by Rotgen.

In Michealangelo’s sculpture, Pieta, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary both appear to be at ease. Christ is shown with a calm and relaxed expression on his face, which was so exquisitely sculpted in a perfect classical form. Mary is also shown in a state of tranquility; she doesn’t display any grief or anger over her tragic lose. There is absolutely no indication of the suffering that Christ had experienced. These awe-inspiring facial characteristics are results of the cult of beauty.

In the Pieta done by Rotgen, the theme of torment is clearly demonstrated and exceedingly impossible to be transgressed. This northern translation of The Virgin Mary is distinctively different then the Italian. She is anguished and deeply distressed. Her screams and moans are as good as audible to the viewer. The Virgin is shown in a position of completely disturbing torment, as is Jesus Christ.

The northern and Italian version of Mary holding the deceased Christ is not the only artwork that has quite contrasted thematic interpretations. For instance, the Flemish version of the crucifixion as done by Grunewald, Eisenheim, is a total opposition of the Italian Christ on Cross.

The Italian piece by Rapheal incorporates a bright, deep and bold use of color. The sky is a vivid blue and a warm reddish tone is used for Christ’s loincloth. Onlookers are not aggrieved or infuriated. The body of Jesus Christ is serene, and is encircled by angels. The overall painting suggests as though it was a painless death. The entire scene is positively beautified.

On the contrary, the sky of Eisenheim is not mistakable for that of the rich azure Italian sky. As a matter of fact, it is a cold, bleak black. The remaining tones are also just as dark, dreary, and somber. Christ’s emaciated and wounded body is in the midst of indisputable torture. His exaggerated hands are claw-like and wrenching from the nails through his palm; he seems to be gripping, as though onto the agony he is in. The attendants of this portrait are not as serene as in the previous painting. The Virgin and Mary Magdalene are each clasping their hands and very much in emotional agony. Not surprisingly, angelic figures are not there to comfort Christ. This is a deliberate image of absolute suffering.

It is conclusive that the Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance contained different views on the same subjects, because of the unlike civilizations. During the years between 1300 to 1520, the north and Italy were cultures of separate values.

The Northern Renaissance was a tumultuous epoch, filled with change. The Reformation was taking place, and this “movement was partly a declaration of cultural independence from the long dominance of the Mediterranean South that had begun in Greco-Roman times and continued through the Roman Ages with the power of the Church of Rome (Fleming, 314).” The art done in the north was centered on Christian humanism- not in the idealistic way the Italians did, but through a more objective and natural, realistic way.

Italians had to “veil some of their criticism of the Church by projecting a past golden age in antiquity (Fleming, 337).” This resulted in the idealistically and more aesthetically crafted images of the abuse and pain Jesus Christ endured.

Both the Northern Renaissance and Italian Renaissance were historically monumental movements for all types of art. The techniques achieved by Massacio, Michaelangelo, and Rotgen, to name a few, are the most influential of any movement in all of art history. To study a painting or sculpture from this age, whether it is of the North or of Italy, is truly a reward.



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