, Research Paper
April 10, 2000
Artistic Innovations of Renaissance Florentine Painters
During the Renaissance, many new, different styles of painting were developed.
Many of these techniques were perfected by Florentine painters. Some of these styles
techniques include perspective, life-like human forms, realistic looking objects and
chiaroscuro. These developments began to form in the early Quattrocento and were slowly
perfected by a long flow of artists. Their influences included new scientific discoveries as
well as new outlooks on religion, life and visual perception of the world.
Perspective was perhaps one of the most significant methods developed and also the
one with the most impact. It is still widely used today. Perspective is a method which is
used to make a three-dimensional space or object appear three-dimensional on a
two-dimensional space. It allows objects to appear closer or further away and gives them
depth. This effect can be achieved by making all of the lines in a painting go towards a
vanishing point on a horizon line. Artists also found that while using a horizon line and
vanishing point, if you made one object in the painting which was identical to another
object, but smaller, the objects would appear to be at different distances from the
viewer.(see fig.1) ?During the early Renaissance, as humanism focused attention on man
and human perspective, the viewer assumes the active role. Now, instead of projecting
outward, space recedes from the viewer?s eye into the picture plane.?1
The first person to begin using the perspective technique was an artist named Giotto
di Bondone (1267-1337). In an astonishingly short amount of time, Giotto revolutionized
the art of Florence. He is considered by many to be the true father of Renaissance painting.
Since Giotto was from a time before the Renaissance actually began, his style consists of
some methods which later came to be classified as Renaissance, such as perspective and
curvy shapes(see fig.2), as well as some methods which are classified as Gothic, such as
gold paint, large, fancy frames and immense haloes around the heads of all religious
figures(see fig.3). Giotto?s best display of work is in the Arena chapel.
Another contributor to the development of perspective was Filippo Brunelleschi, a
Florentine architect. He discovered that painters could use mathematical laws in planning
their pictures. ?This shows an actual point of view through the technique of perspective.?2
It was he who officially ?discovered? the idea of the horizon line and the vanishing point.
He figured out these mathematical laws using a series of different experiments including the
mirror test. In the mirror test, he would hold up a mirror in front of a building and paint
directly on top of the building?s reflection in the mirror. He would then place another
mirror directly in front of the existing mirror with the painting on it. Since the reflection of
the painting looked the same as the existing building, he knew that his efforts had been
One of the final artists to perfect the style of perspective painting was Maso di Ser
Giovanni di Mone — Masaccio. Since he lived during a later time period, his paintings
abandoned all use of Gothic style and had strictly Renaissance characteristics. He was one
of the first Renaissance painters to apply Brunelleschi?s laws to his paintings. When he used
these laws in his paintings he was able to create the illusion of space and distance. He was
one of the first artists able to create this illusion by using Giotto?s idea of making a system
of lines head toward a certain focal point. His use of perspective can best be seen in his
work ?Trinity.?(see fig.4) Masaccio is considered to be one of the greatest masters of
The second innovation which was developed by a Florentine painter during the
Renaissance was the use of life-like human forms. This painting technique uses curves to
create the illusion of a real person. It is a way of making a human form appear to be
three-dimensional and for its? body to appear to have depth.
One of the ?creators? of this new style was Gentile da Fabriano. He died in 1427
and his birth is thought to be around 1370. During the first and second decades of the
1400?s the sculptors totally carried the banner for the new Renaissance style in the
figurative arts in Florence. The painters were largely occupied in making altarpieces for
Florentine churches and chapels, and an occasional fresco, but all in accordance with the
?This is by no means to say that their works were without quality. Monaco
was a very gifted artist, and many of his minor contemporaries were also
sensitive to the formal coloristic possibilities of the style. But compared
with the four pioneer sculptors, the painters seemed standardized. They were
not concerned with the human and stylistic problems that inspired the sculptors,
and rather productions appear to belong to another era. In the midst of all of this
there emerged, around 1420, a Florentine master of extraordinary vivacity and
originality who, judging from the importance of his commissions, must have
created quite a sensation.?3
This artist was Gentile da Fabriano. Fabriano?s use of curves to show depth and shape in
human faces and bodies could be described using no other word than genius. His style was
masterful and he successfully began the rebirth of classical painting for the Florentine
The next artist to continue the development of life-like human figures was Maso di
Cristofano Fini — Masolino. He was born in 1383 in a small group of houses in the upper
Valderno. He died in 1447. Masolino followed Fabriano?s ideas as well as Masaccio?s
style, but his paintings had a ?dreamier? feel to them. They were lighter in color and in
feel. Also, they included less grim, serious subjects and focused more on the idealistic,
happy images of heaven and the saints. ?His paintings suggest an intelligent, receptive and
gifted painter, ?softer? in style than Masaccio but far from annihilated by working alongside
him?4 Masolino?s paintings abandoned all aspects of Gothic painting since he painted
during the beginning of the Renaissance (the Quattrocento). His style is best represented in
the paintings in the Brancacci Chapel(see fig.5) where you can see the full human forms of
religious figures and saints Their bodies appear realistic looking because of his masterful
use of curves and shadowing.
The third technique which was developed during the Renaissance was the use
realistic looking objects. The use of curves and shadowing to make objects, such as
clothing, appear more natural was used in order to make the objects in paintings look good
instead of only the people.
Giotto was also one of the founders of this technique. He was the first Italian
master to achieve universal importance. He is unquestionably one of the most powerful
artists who ever lived. He was so recognized by his contemporaries. ?In delicate
gradations, the light models faces, drapery, rocks, and trees, establish their existence in
space in his paintings,?5an art critic of his time once said of his work.
Another contributor to the development of the method of using realistic objects was
Gaddi. His best display of this technique can be seen in his famous painting ?Madonna with
Child?(see fig. 6) One can see the incredible realism existing quite easily. ?Even the folds
in the Virgin Mary?s dress appear life-like and real.?6 Gaddi?s true mastery of this skill
showed again how Giotto?s early innovations eventually were taken, used and perfected by
later Renaissance painters.
The last significant innovation of Florentine painters was chiaro scuro. In Italian the
word ?chiaroscuro? translates directly into ?light? ?dark.? It is the contrast of lightness and
darkness in a painting or drawing. It can be used to create the illusion of depth for a very
Perhaps the greatest master of this style was the great scientist and artist, Leonardo
da Vinci. He was ahead of his time not only in painting, sculpture and architecture, but in
engineering, military, science and aerodynamics. ?Of immeasurable greatness in both art
and science, he was able to make his innovations in both by virtue of his profound
conviction that the two were intimately related.?7
Botticelli also was a master at the technique of chiaroscuro. His best display of this
is the painting ?Birth of Venus.? In this painting, Venus is rising out of a shell and being
?born? into the water. The excellent use of shading and light and dark contrast in her face
and on her body illustrate Botticelli?s mastery well.
In conclusion, the evolution of Italian painting and the artistic innovations which
occurred were not developed suddenly, rather they evolved slowly into the masterful style
of painting which has become known as ?Renaissance.? ?No single factor can explain the
unrivaled artistic flowering it (Florence) experienced in the early 1400?s, but the
contributions of Brunelleschi in architecture and Masaccio in painting changed Western art
forever?8 The Renaissance was a time of great change, both temporary and permanent,
materially and spiritually. After the Renaissance, people viewed the world in a whole new
1NGA–The Early Renaissance in Florence. 10 May 2000. National Gallery of Art. 12
May 2000 *http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg4/gg4-mainl.html*.
2Christus Rex Project, 16 March 2000. Christus Rex Project, 1 May 2000
3Hartt, Frederick, The History of Italian Renaissance Art (New York: Harry N.
Abrams, Inc, 1962) 134.
4Levey, Michael, Florence A Portrait (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996) 154.
5Hartt, Frederick, The History of Italian Renaissance Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams,
Inc, 1962) 62.
6Hartt, Frederick, The History of Italian Renaissance Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams,
Inc, 1962) 71.
7Levey, Michael, Florence A Portrait (Cambrigde: Harvard University Press, 1996) 109.
8NGA–The Early Renaissance In Florence. 10 May 2000. National Gallery of Art. 12
May 2000 *http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg4/gg4-main.html*.
Christus Rex Project. 16 March 2000. Christus Rex Project. 1 May 2000 .
Hartt, Frederick. History of Italian Renaissance Art. New York, Harry N, Abrams, Inc, 1962.
Levey, Michael. Florence A Portrait. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.
NGA–The Early Renaissance in Florence. 10 May 2000. National Gallery of Art. 12 May 2000
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