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Renaissance humanism is the
spirit of learning that developed at the end of the middle ages when there was
a renewed belief in the human’s ability to distinguish between what was true
and what was false in their life Baldick states that humanism is a 19th-century
term for the values and ideals of the European Renaissance, which placed a new
emphasis on the expansion of human capacities (361). Baldick also declares that
reviving the study of Greek and Roman history, philosophy, and arts, the
Renaissance humanists developed an image of ‘Man’ more positive and hopeful
than that of medieval ascetic Christianity: rather than being a miserable
sinner awaiting redemption from a pit of fleshly corruption, ‘Man’ was a source
of infinite possibilities, ideally developing towards a balance of physical,
spiritual, moral, and intellectual faculties (361). This is interesting because
it shows the evolution of peoples thinking from the medieval ages into the
renaissance, people were not just relying upon the word of a religious figure
alone but also thinking for themselves and making their own educated decision
on aspects of life. The aim of humanism as to give a more human outlook on life
which focused on the ability of humans to act independently and to not blindly
follow a religious plan which has been set out in front of them. Humanists
therefore believed that god was less important now than he was during the
medieval period. Humanists had a different outlook when it came to the purpose
of god and believed that god had given humanity options to choose from and had
given them the platform to become great and it was there duty to follow this
and succeed. Pabel states that we should not believe that humanism sprung from
and was fully formed from the mind and pen of Petrarch in the fourteenth
century or of Florence as the birthplace of humanism (730). Pabel says that the
emergence of humanism required a lengthy process and its earliest origins lie
in the thirteenth century with the Paduan poet Lovato dei Lovati (730).
Renaissance humanist began to study classical texts to learn the classical
style and how to imitate certain aspects to contribute to their own writing. Renaissance
humanists used the love and their overall knowledge of the past to change how
people saw the present. They basically showed how people acted and what they
believed in and posed the question, does everyone want to follow the same path
of should people change and be different to one another? Humanist now gave and
alternative way of thinking to the medieval ways which went before them and
began to effect culture and society in a big way and was a large contributor to
the renaissance and renaissance art. Renaissance humanist now believed that the
individual could shape their own future by the way that they lived and
experienced life. They placed far more emphasis on experiencing the pleasures
of life and living your own life to the fullest. This was a completely
different way of thinking compared to the religious and spiritual beliefs of
preparing for a better life to come after you when you die. Before the
renaissance Italy was not an exciting city and humanist here believed that the
more outgoing type of mindset could completely change the city and improve it
for the better. There was a complete change in the Italian society with
critical analysis challenging the strong civil and religious authorities which
dominated Italian society during medieval Italy.

This new and improved way of
thinking completely rejuvenated religion and education in Italy and created a
new-found respect for individual’s intellectual ability to express themselves
freely without repercussions. People were no longer blindly following the
religious authorities which dominated Italian society up to this point in
Italy. Renaissance humanism did not just deny and abandon their Cristian faith,
they simply just wanted to have a more personal relationship and connection
with god and cut out some of the unnecessary aspects of the catholic church.
Their main aim was to increase the responsibility of people and allow them to
express themselves freely. However, the subject matter of most of the first
renaissance art is inspired by the Cristian doctrine because the catholic
church was the first group to commission these new art pieces. As the
renaissance progressed the humanistic values which had been created began to
grow in popularity. During the early renaissance artists began to steer away
from religious paintings and wanted to produce more realistic depiction of
human life. At the beginning of the renaissance we see a major development in
the subject matter, although religion was very prevalent in Italy at the time
and was a part of everyone’s and commissioned some fantastic works, we see a
new subject matter emerge mythology. Artists began to introduce different and
more experimental subject matters and were inspired from classical mythology
which really got the people of the time thinking what was out in the world
outside of Italy. Many people point to the “Birth of Venus” as the first
mythological painting of the renaissance. The study of classical literature was
becoming increasingly more desirable among the wealthy academics of the time.
The influx in the amount of intellectuals studying classical literature lead to
the commissioning of artists to produce images based on the Greek and Roman
classics. Pabel believes that Lovato dei Lovati broke from the northern Italian
tradition of producing chivalric poetry in Provençal to write classicizing
verse in Latin (730). Pabel states that the use of Latin and study and
imitation of classical authors gave them a choice of secular themes and these
gave way to the new aesthetic of the time (730). The production of these new
types of works had a massive effect on Italian society, artists who had
previously been regarded as just a simple craftsman was now elevated to the top
of the social standings in Italy. Artists were now on the same level as
scientists, musicians and writers. 

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Humanism had now given artists
the freedom of expression which allowed artists to create marvellous art pieces
using different styles which we are still amazed by today. Subject matter was a
big talking point when it came to renaissance art and another subject matter
which came to the forefront after mythology was portraiture. This genre was
very influential to the art of the renaissance, there was very little portraits
which survived from the antiquity so the artists from the renaissance looked at
sculptures from Greece and Rome for inspiration. Portraiture from both were
different but renaissance artists used a combination of both to form their own.
Greek portraiture searched for perfection of the human form while Roman
portraiture was extremely naturalistic art which represented violence and war
and the success of their military. This type of portraiture be a form of
propaganda which was used to increase their military size. However, it was not
only about their military, they also painted the face naturally and left no imperfections
out. This type of realistic representation is an aspect which renaissance
painters integrated into their work. The first example of this is “The Duke and
Duchess of Urbino” which was painted by Piero Della Francesca from 1465-66. In
the painting Piero Della Francesca does not disguise Federigo’s disfigured face.
His disfigured profile represents and injury Federigo’s sustained in a
tournament and he wears it as a badge of honour and is not ashamed of it. It is
unusual to see a disfigured person in portrait during this time people wanted
to be perfect and have nothing wrong with their appearance. However, with this
new humanist outlook on society allowed people to express themselves to people
and not hide aspects of themselves from others. People began to care less and
less about their physical appearance and this was down to the new humanist outlook
on life. This really shows the impact of humanism on society in Italy and its
impact on renaissance art which was being produced. It was not only Roman
portraiture renaissance artists took inspiration from but also Greek
portraiture. Leonardo Da Vinci painted “La Belle Ferroniere” in 1490 which took
inspiration from the classical sculpture of “Hellenistic” a female head. This
is more evidence to show how humanism impacted art during the renaissance with
artists being able to imitate and capture classical images from the past and in
doing so bring them success.  

Having your portrait painted
during this time was used to display your wealth and prestige. Only the
wealthiest and well-known figures in Italy could have their portrait painted.
One of the most significant representations of this was “Pope Leo X with
cardinals Giulio de Medici and Lugi de Rossi”, which was painted by Raphael in
1518. This portrait shows how powerful and wealthy the pope was and this also
showed that the Catholic religion still had a powerful and influential position
in Italian society. Leon Battista Alberti puts it perfectly when he says, “Painting
contains a divine force which not only makes absent men present, as friendship
is said to do, but moreover makes the dead seem almost alive” (17). Alberti is
basically saying that portraits are used by wealthy people to make sure that
they are remembered at their best when they eventually die. Alberti also says
that “even after many centuries they are recognized with great pleasure and
with great admiration for the painter” (17). These painting were clearly
important to the renaissance movement in Italy and even now people look back on
them with wonder which really shows how good they were for their time. Alberti
also said that Even after many centuries they are recognized with great
pleasure and with great admiration for the painter (17). Alberti claims that
these portraits were very powerful and even after everyone involved in the
painting had died that other people could still enjoy them centuries after they
were painted. However, portraiture was not solely based on humanist values
which were becoming increasingly popular at the time but also had its own fall
back if humanism was to collapse. The first aspect which we discussed was the
commissioning of portraits to show off your wealth, power and fame you
possessed. On the other hand, they were commissioned the work as a donor
portrait. This is when the family are painted kneeling town in front of their
patron saint to give thanks. These donor portraits were given as gifts to the
church and showed the loyalty and belief the family had to their faith. These
types of work would give the family a place in heaven if humanism was to not
succeed. Humanism played a major part in reviving the Italian culture and the
knock-on effect was the renaissance. Works from this time are still viewed as
some of if not the best art ever created. Humanism allowed people to express
themselves freely which they were not able to do to the same extent before and
they did not have to worry about the consequences. The people began to think
for themselves and not follow religion blindly but would make their own
decision when I came to faith and beliefs. All these different factors which humanism
created combined to rejuvenate Italian society and lead to the Renaissance.

Naturalism is a style or theory
of representation based on the accurate depiction of detail and in the
renaissance art it inspired life like accuracy of classical works which had
disappeared. There were certain aspects of naturalism which began to reappear
during the proto-renaissance with the artist Giotto. Giotto wanted to steer
away from the flat and formal figures which had been painted for so long before
him and start to experiment with his art, bringing expression and eye contact
which allowed Giotto to convey the emotions of whoever was in the painting.
This made his art a lot more realistic and relatable. Olson and Planetary tell
is that Enrico Scrovegni commissioned the famous Florentine artist Giotto di
Bandoneon decorate his lavish family chapel (ca.1301-1303). Giotto painted a
flaming comet in lieu of the traditional Star of Bethlehem in the Adoration of
the Magi scene (1563). Olson and Planetary also state that the historical apparition
that he recently had observed with a great accuracy even by modem standards
(1563). This shows the level of detail which Giotto painted with and he was
only the beginning of naturalism. The Byzantine period was where a lot of the
paintings were not naturalistic and you can see a dramatic change from this
period to the renaissance period. The example of Byzantine art we can compare
to renaissance art is the depictions of Christ. “Christ Pantocrator” was
painted during the sixth century and depicts Christ as this almighty figure who
is all powerful and showed in jewels, gold and surrounded by a halo. This is
quite the opposite to the renaissance version “Christ Blessing” painted by
Antonello de Massina in 1465. This painting of Christ really uses all of the
naturalistic styles of the time, with Christ looking like any other man who is
in normal clothing and not showed in jewels but as a figure waiting to help
people discover the faith.   

Artists of the renaissance
practised their drawings to perfect their exceptional representation of their
drawings. Artists mainly practised through observational drawing and studied
anatomy because it was important to know how the bodies worked. Even the most
famous artists of the renaissance such as Michelangelo spent a lot of their
time sketching and studying their next painting to make sure it was a perfect
representation. Anatomy was a very important subject for any renaissance
because it gave them a greater understanding of how the body looked and how it
moved and flowed. Therefore, even now the renaissance naturalistic art is such
a close representation of the human body even for modern standards. Some
artists such as Da Vinci went to the next step and dissected different parts of
the human body to get a better understanding of how it worked and this can be
seen in his notes. The body fascinated a lot of renaissance artists
Michelangelo who began to expose more of the body in his paintings and other
artists followed. Before the renaissance the naked body was not excepted but as
the artists knowledge of the body began to increase because of anatomy lead to
the increase in the amount of nude paintings being produced. Botany is scientific
study of the physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, distribution,
classification, and economic importance of plants and geology is the science
which deals with the physical structure and substance of the earth, their
history, and the processes which act on them and a combination of both helped
improved artist naturalistic paintings. The perfect combination of both is “The
Virgins of the Rock” by Leonardo da Vinci. This painting uses a combination of
both by using his botany studies to create a kind of mystical mood in the
background of the painting by using bizarre and imaginative rock formations. The
invention of oil painting was the next factor which contributed to naturalism.
Oil paints opened a lot of different opportunities for artists at the tie
because it allowed them to produce a massive array of colours which they did
not have previously which would improve their painting and give them the
ability to add even more detail. Their paintings would now become even more
lifelike because it allowed the artists to create an atmosphere inside their
painting giving them far more depth of field and adding shading and lighting.
Naturalism was now improving drastically and making a massive contribution to
the renaissance.

One problem which early
naturalism had was creating the illusion of depth in their paintings. They
found it difficult to arrange the figures and buildings in a landscape to
create depth in their paintings. Leon Baptista and Filippo Brunelleschi who
came up with a solution when they developed the laws of linear perspective.
This is nowhere more clearly evidenced than in Alberti’s perspective
construction. Here mathematics, although based first on the relative and
unknowable man, is used to construct and to control the space which man is to
inhabit both as actor and observer (6). There can be no doubt that Alberti is
deeply concerned with vision and visibility throughout Della pittura. He states
clearly the aim of his investigation: ‘No one would deny that the painter has
nothing to do with things that are not visible the painter is concerned solely
with representing what can be seen’ (6). Alberti is showing his concern he has
when it comes to depth of field and says that the primary objective of the
painter should be to create a depth of field because it is the most accurate
way of representing an image. In Book, I Alberti ‘puts the art in the hand of
the artist’. and shows him how to represent light and shade in the
underpainting. When the local colour of the object is applied over the under
paint, it will appear to be seen under light with deeper colours in the shadows
gradually fading out as they approach the highlights. This matter, however,
exists in space, and for this reason Alberti presents the painter with his
mathematical derived perspective construction to control and to locate matter
in space (7). This type of ingenious drawing allowed artist of the time to
accurately portray a three-dimensional world on a fixed two-dimensional
surface. By using a reticulated net, the painter can locate objects in space
and not their reference to each other in planar terms. These observations
transferred to the perspective construction will relocate the objects in an
apparent space (8). 

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