Italian Renaissance Art History

Italian Renaissance art didn't just appear out of nowhere. Renaissance art developed from earlier art forms, such as Byzantine art. As the old art forms transformed into the new, fewer and fewer attributes of the old forms remained.

It wasn't just pre-existing art forms that affected the Italian Renaissance. At that time, the Catholic Church was starting to lose influence, a middle class with more money was emerging and classical literature from ancient Greece and Rome was rediscovered. There was also a surge in scientific discoveries that was opened the door to modern science. All of this had an impact on art in Italy and its artists.

Italian Renaissance art can be divided into three periods, Early, which covered most of 15th century art, High, covering from about 1495 to 1520, and Late, from about 1527 to about 1600.

The heroes of Early Italian Renaissance art were Donatello (1386-1466), Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Masachio (1401-1428), a sculptor, architect and painter, respectively. Their work was more natural in both appearance and in expressing emotion.  Their work was also more realistic in showing proportions, perspective and depth.

Some of the most famous Renaissance artists emerged during the High Renaissance, including Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Michelangelo and Raphael. These artists worked to make the human form not only realistic in perspective and balance, but perfect in appearance. Light was used more effectively to highlight or contrast important elements in their work. Backgrounds, which were sometimes painted in Early Renaissance art, became increasingly accurate and important to the overall construction of the piece.

Conflicts and power struggles within both Italy and Europe as a whole resulted in the Sack of Rome in 1527, when mutinous troops from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V pillaged and destroyed Rome. Pope Clement VII was forced to surrender and pay a ransom for his life. Artists fled to other areas of Italy and Europe. At the same time, artists were unsure of how to further perfect the achievements of the High Renaissance. Mannerism started to emerge as a reaction against the classical perfection of earlier Renaissance works. Artists from this period include Giulio Romano and Bronzino.

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