Characteristics of Renaissance Art

The characteristics of Renaissance art didn't appear out of thin air. They developed over time. In some cases, features of Byzantine and Gothic art continued to be used in Renaissance art for quite some time. For example, many artists used gold halos, a characteristic of Gothic and Byzantine art, in artwork that had characteristics of Renaissance art, especially during the Early Renaissance.

Byzantine and Gothic artwork looked literally flat. The faces and bodies in paintings didn't have and depth or dimension to them. As the Renaissance progressed, figures in paintings became more realistic in shape and form. In addition, painters became adept at showing individuals' emotions.

Figures in Byzantine and Gothic art seemed to be floating in the air. Subjects didn't appear to have weight, even when their feet were on the ground. But, as the Renaissance progressed, people in paintings looked like they were standing firmly on the ground while only angels looked like they were floating in air.

Subject matter also changed. Prior to the Renaissance, almost all of the themes used in art were related to religion. However, the Catholic Church experienced a weakening of control during the Renaissance. This, along with an emerging middle class that commissioned works for its homes and places of business, led to a greater variety of themes.

The Italians experienced a new interest in ancient Greek and Roman art and literature. This not only helped with depth and perspective in Italian Renaissance work, it offered themes from Roman mythology to explore in a new fashion.

Northern artists didn't have as easy an access to ancient literature and art. Therefore, their work was less "classical." What distinguishes Northern Renaissance artwork from Italian Renaissance artwork is the Northerners' attention to decorative details.

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