"We see nothing truly until we understand it"~ John Constable


"The Turnip Cleaner"
Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin
French Painter 1699 - 1779
Rococo Period




"Bird with Nest"
Jan Davidsz de Heem
Dutch Painter 1606 - 1683/84
Baroque Period

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Renaissance - 1300 – 1600    

Beginning in Italy the Renaissance movement grew and eventually spread throughout Northern Europe and was a true revival in every segment of society. The Gothic movement slowly evolved and as it changed it was overtaken by the start of the Renaissance movement. It appears to have grown in two geographical directions.

There are two distinct phases to this movement, what is known as the Early Renaissance which began in the south, in Florence Italy around the beginning of the 1300's and it took many decades later to reach the North to begin what is known as the Northern Renaissance. This took place in the Low Countries or what is known today as the Netherlands. The south was referred to as the Italian Renaissance and the North to the Northern Renaissance.

The word renaissance comes from the French word meaning 'rebirth'. This was a time in Europe of enormous change, cultural and artistic evolution took place with many new scientific discoveries made. Together they catapulted the world into a more modern way of thinking.

The word 'Renaissance' comes from the French word meaning 'rebirth'
Leonardo da Vinci, Young Madonna,1490, Tempera, 42 × 33 cm, St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum, Italian, Renaissance

Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy - the 'cradle of the Renaissance' was overflowing with artistic genius

Florence, Italy, The Florentine Baptistery

& Florence Cathedral, Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

Early Renaissance...

Gothic styles over lapped those of the Early Renaissance and we can see several transitions and changes as one movement evolved into the next. The catalyst was a society which was becoming gradually more sophisticated and as well more educated. This movement was escalated as the invention of the printed word made ‘printed books’ more readily available to the masses. Economic growth and trade through out Europe forced higher education to come to the forefront with more intellectuals emerging as a result. Schools and Academies became fashionable and it was a new beginning for literature, science and art as well.


Italian Renaissance...began around 1300 A.D. The intellectuals of the time believed that the artistic traditions of antiquity had been lost during the Middle Ages. They turned away from what they perceived as corruption and control as well as the powerful influence of the Church. These intellectuals began a movement of change by revisiting the classical Greek and Latin artistic traditions. They believed that in order to change, they had to study the Golden Age of the ancient Greeks and Romans. This revival or new birth started a departure from the themes of the Middle Ages and the religious influence, thus starting a new value system for a more modern secular world.

The Vatican, Rome, Italy    
  These intellectuals rejected the themes of the earlier Gothic period and instead created new ways of doing things as they revisited the artistic and engineering ideas from ancient Roman and Greek cultures. During the period of the Renaissance, subjects and designs moved away from being only themes of the religious and they embraced those which focused on man and the role he played in society. As a result a new middle class society emerged. We see the birth of Humanism and Classicism which was significant to artists of the Renaissance. The Renaissance movement lasted almost three centuries and is known as a time when artists learned to paint according to the laws of perspective and dimension.
It has been said that Florence could be thought of as a 'laboratory' of new ideas of the 'modern manner'. The technique of Chiaroscuro (shading from light into shadow) first developed by the Florentines was to become one of the most important and revolutionary artistic techniques that would change the way art was painted and viewed forever. Leonardo and Michelangelo are two artists who are synonymous with the this period in art history. There were many other important artists from this period. There were so many artists in Florence that they began to branch out to other cities and countries. At no other time in history had there been so much creative talent in one area. Some artists soon left to join others in Venice, while others traveled to paint for the French Court. Michelangelo moved to Rome and found many commissions there.
Venice Italy was an artistic haven, the busy shipping port allowed extensive trade which gave artists access to many pigments.
Venice, Italy, a merchant port, also became an important center for art.

Artists – Giotto di Bondone, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Cennini, Donato Bramante, were among some of the most celibrated of the Southern Renaissance artists.   

Paint media - Tempera, Oils, Fesco - using water based pigments worked into a shallow layer of wet plaster.

European or Northern Renaissance - 1400 - 1600

In the early years of the fifteenth century the Renaissance took hold in the North, a place known today as the Netherlands. The center of artistic activity was found in a place called Flanders. The main difference between the new styles of art which differed from the previous Gothic art was that the human figures looked more real. Never before, had such dimension or depth been observed. Human figures looked realistic and the themes often depicted the real world rather than the Heavenly ideals commonly seen in earlier Gothic art. The interior rooms of private homes were featured as common settings instead of the interiors of the grand Churches. A common feature in the paintings from this era was to see landscapes painted into the background or they are seen as the view through a window. An important point that was made was the way the Renaissance artists found ways to bring the spiritual world closer to the real world. No longer did the two topics seems removed from each other or viewed as separate.

Northern Renaissance
  Hans Memling, Arrival of the virgins in Cologne, 1489, oil on wood, 42 × 25.5 cm, Brugge, Memling museum, Netherlands.  


Artists from the Northern Renaissance - Albrecht Durer, Mathias Giunewald, Hans Holbein, Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Dirk Bouts, Hugo van der Goes, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Joachim Patinir, Rembrandt, Pieter Aertsen were some of the artists from this period.

Art work – Still life, floral still life and landscapes as well as genre painting which were scenes from everyday life were among the most popular of topics.

Albert Durer
Mona Lisa
Albrecht Durer: Self Portrait, 1500, Wood, 67 × 49 cm
Munich, Alte Pinakothek, Germany
  Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa La Giaconda, 1503-1505, Oil on Wood, 77 × 53 cm, Paris, Louvre, Italy



Title: Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style Author: Michael Baxandall
ISBN: 019282144X 
General Topic: Art History

Title: The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art
Author: Craig Harbison
ISBN: 0131833227
General Topic: Art History

Title: The Northern Renaissance A&I
Author: Jeffrey Chipps Smith
ISBN: 0714838675
General Topic: Art History

Title: Art in Renaissance Italy: 1350-1500
Author: Evelyn Welch
ISBN: 019284279X
General Topic: Art History


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Title: Art in Renaissance Italy  
Author: John T. Paoletti, Gary M. Radke
ISBN: 0131935100 
General Topic: Art History

Title: The Lives of the Artists
Author: Giorgio Vasari
ISBN: 019283410X
General Topic: Art History

Title: The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall
Author: Christopher Hibbert
ISBN: 0688053394
General Topic: Art History

Title: Old Testament Figures in Art 
Author: Chiara de Capoa, Stefano Zuffi
ISBN: 0892367458
General Topic: Art History




Art and Architecture Egypt, Matthias Seidel, Regine Schultz - ISBN - 3833119357

A Biographical Dictionary of Artists - Sir Lawrence Gowing - ISBN - 1861990731

The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett - ISBN - 07894-6805-0

Art and Architecture Tuscany, Anne Mueller v.d.Haegen, Ruth F. Strasser - ISBN -3-8331-1487-8

Florence Art and Architecture - ISBN- 3-8331-1989-6

Old Testament Figures in Art, Chiara de Capoa, Stefano Zuffi - ISBN - 0892367458

Perspective - a marvel of the Renaissance...

Prior to the fourteenth century, many artists painted in a two dimensional decorative style which appeared flat. When the concept of perspective was introduced by artist and architect Brunelleschi, it was revolutionary. This concept enabled artists to create the illusion of three dimensional space which was described with the use of a vanishing point, at the time it was referred to as, 'the centric' point.

Artists embraced this concept, as they were able to make art look realistic. Prior to this discovery, art work was depicted in a flat two dimensional manner. By incorporating the principles of perspective, artists were able to place their compositional elements and figures within the illusionary space. This allowed the viewer a different connection with the work from a more personal point of view.

Renaissance artists use and understand the principles of perspective

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Doors of Paradise

Baptistery, Florence, Italy

Single panel from the door
Close up showing 'depth of field' and 'true perspective'
  It is clear to see that the viewer is looking up at the ellipse, and one can observe the 'backside' of the circle as it is seen in perspective.  
  to be continued...