How to recognize Italian Renaissance art

How to recognize Italian Renaissance art

(gentle music) – [Man] How do you recognize
Italian Renaissance art? – [Woman] Sometimes we
use the word renaissance to talk about the revival of
something generally, but in art history, Renaissance means
something very specific. – [Man] It means the
rebirth of the culture of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. – [Woman] Which we call
the classical period or classical antiquity. – [Man] Let’s start at the
very end of the medieval. – [Woman] And that’s a
good place to start because it gives us a sense of
what the Renaissance is going to do differently,
so let’s start with this beautiful stained glass window
from Chartres Cathedral. – [Man] This was a very important
cathedral in the medieval period and it’s extremely
famous for its stained glass, and one of its most famous windows is known as the Blue Virgin. In the center is the Virgin
Mary, she’s seated on a throne and the young Christ child
is seated on her lap. – [Woman] Both of the figures are frontal and that’s a pose that is very static, it gives us a sense of the divine. We move our bodies in space, we’re rarely seen from
a perfectly frontal view so as soon as a figure is
represented in a frontal way, there’s a sense of authority,
a sense of the eternal. – [Man] There’s a formality. This is not meant to portray real people, this is meant to portray the Virgin Mary and the Christ child in a heavenly sphere, and in fact, we see above them
a representation of a dove and that’s a symbol of the Holy Spirit. – [Woman] The Holy Spirit being one part of the three-part nature of god. We also see that the figure
of the virgin especially, if she were to stand up,
her body would be so long. – [Man] There’s no concern
with a naturalistic rendering of the proportions of the human body, but one of my favorite
aspects is that you have this very large virgin
and child in the center and then you have these
rather small angels that are framing them on either side. – [Woman] A hierarchy is expressed here between the angels and the
Madonna and the Christ child, telling us that they’re more
important than the angels on either side of them, so let’s now look at a painting, a fresco, by Giotto. – [Man] We’re now in Italy,
we’re in a town named Padua and we’re looking at one scene
in a complex series of scenes painted on the walls of a private chapel which is usually called the Arena Chapel or sometimes the Scrovegni Chapel. – [Woman] So we’ve shifted
to a smaller family chapel and this tells us something
about how patronage is shifting at the very end of the Middle Ages, we have more individuals
who are accumulating wealth and they spend their money
often on religious works of art, on family chapels, to help to
ensure their place in heaven. – [Man] But it also helped to ensure his social position on earth. Scrovegni was a banker, his
father had been a banker and they hired one of the most
prominent artists of the era, Giotto, to paint a fresco cycle. Now Giotto came from the city of Florence and every artist that we’ll
look at in the remainder of this video will be
associated with Florence, which is often seen as the
birthplace of the Renaissance. – [Woman] So let’s look
closely at the Lamentation. This is after Christ has been crucified, his body has been removed from the cross, he’s being held, mourned
by his mother, Mary, in an incredibly emotional moment, surrounded by the apostles who
are also mourning his death. – [Man] So a number of important changes. First of all, we have emotion,
we have emotion in the face of Mary and in the tender way in which she holds her now-dead son. We have emotion in the angels. But I think, even more importantly, we’ve lost the frontality
that we saw at Chartres. – [Woman] We have figures
from profile view, three-quarter view, we
have figures that are seen from behind, this is much
more the way we would really see a group of people. By using modeling, Giotto is able to create figures who take up space. – [Man] When you use the term modeling, or we could use the
Italian word, chiaroscuro, we’re talking about the
creation of an illusion on a flat surface of
something that is rounded, something that takes up space,
and if you look at the backs of these figures, you see
how the cloth is light in certain places, and
shadowed in certain places. The figures seem to take up space, they have a sense of mass and volume. – [Woman] He’s also
using that light and dark to call attention to the forms of the body underneath the drapery, so for example, Mary Magdalene, who’s seated
at the feet of Christ, we see her knee pressing
through the drapery, we see the beginnings of an
interest in the human body. – [Man] One other important change is that we’re now in a landscape. At Chartres, we were in a heavenly sphere, we had this marvelous red background, but here we see a bit of
a hill, we see a tree, we see a sky, what we’re
seeing is an increased interest in placing Christ on earth. – [Woman] So we’re gonna
move from the early 1300s to the middle of the 1400s, to
a period that art historians usually call the early Renaissance. – [Man] Now, the image
that we saw at Chartres was stained glass. The Giotto was fresco, that is, it was painted directly on the wall. This is different, this
is a piece of wood, and on that, the artist
has happened with tempera, pigment that is suspended in egg yolk. – [Woman] Tempera on wood
means that the artist has created something that is movable. This is something that
can be bought and sold. – [Man] This is by Fra Filippo Lippi and we see again the Virgin Mary. – [Woman] Even though
her hands are in prayer, she seems more like an earthly
mother and those angels seem much more like little boys
than they seem like angels. – [Man] In fact, they
even look mischievous. – [Woman] And the Christ
child seems more like a baby. – [Man] Lippi’s facility
with naturalism is evident. We wanna believe the
truthfulness of these figures. In fact, they seem to literally come out of the frame into our space. – [Woman] And I just
wanna call our attention to that word naturalism, it
means like nature, truthful. – [Man] And we see it not only
in this increasing ability to render something that seems believable but also in the landscape beyond. We see a convincing
representation of depth and that’s represented
by diminishing scale as well as something that we
call atmospheric perspective. That is, as things go back
in space, they become lighter and their colors become less intense. But these are all formal qualities. Why are artists interested
in this kind of naturalism. – [Woman] We have an
increasing number of families in Florence who are accumulating
vast amounts of wealth and people want to enjoy
their earthly life and one of the things that they do
is commission works of art. – [Man] And works of art become a signal for somebody’s social status. – [Woman] Although these
are religious paintings, we are still looking at a
culture that is deeply religious. – [Man] And we see the conflation of those issues in this painting. Here we have tremendous
naturalism, a tremendous interest in the anatomy of the human body, in human emotion, human
intimacy, but at the same time, this is the Christ child,
this is the Virgin Mary. – [Woman] Let’s move now
to a period art historians call the High Renaissance,
and the artists there are Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. – [Man] This is the Creation
of Adam from the center of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. – [Woman] Michelangelo
is a artist from Florence but he’s been called to Rome by the pope. – [Man] So what are the
formal characteristics of the High Renaissance? For me, it is an
extraordinary understanding of the anatomy of the human
body, of its skeletal structure, of its musculature, and a direct focus on the beauty of the human form. – [Woman] There’s this new
interest in the graceful movement of the human
body, making that body move through space in an incredibly
graceful and elegant way. – [Man] And in increasingly
complex ways as well. We see god on the right,
who seems to be moving with great velocity, his arm reaches out. His other arm, however, moves
back around another figure. We see his legs are crossed. His face is in profile
but his chest is forward. We have not only this careful
articulation of the body, but we have that body in
the most complex poses. – [Woman] And the same
could be said of Adam. His right arm comes back and
his right shoulder moves back. His left shoulder moves
forward, his head tilts back as he looks toward his
creator, this is an expression of the beauty and love of the
body in the High Renaissance. We’ve been talking about the
elegance and the complexity of god and of Adam, but we could also say that that complexity extends
to groupings of figures, so we see those angels who
surround god, they twist, they turn, they lean forward
to see what god has created. We have this complex
interaction between the figures and layering of the figures that is also very High Renaissance. – [Man] So where do you go after Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam? – [Woman] And after the other great works of the High Renaissance, like
Raphael’s School of Athens or Leonardo’s Last Supper,
it’s as though the interest in naturalism had reached
this level of perfection, so where do you go after
you’ve gotten to the perfect? – You heighten the perfect.
– You complicate the perfect. – [Man] And the Renaissance
is slowly transformed into a style that we know as mannerism. This was a moment when the virtuosity of the artist comes to the fore. – [Woman] During much of the 15th century, Florence had been a republic,
but in the early 1500s, Florence becomes basically
ruled by the Medici, and the court culture
results in this new style that we call mannerism. – [Man] We’re looking
at Pontormo’s Deposition or Entombment of Christ. Look at the length of his body. Look at the length of the
figures that support him. They are unnaturally long. There’s an unnatural
complexity to their poses. – [Woman] And to the composition, we don’t know where to look,
our eye doesn’t rest anywhere, and there’s no earthly setting here. – [Man] But this is not a regression, this is not painting that is
less technically proficient than the High Renaissance,
this was a further development, the culture had changed and
therefore, the art had changed. (gentle music)

23 thoughts on “How to recognize Italian Renaissance art

  • February 2, 2017 at 6:47 am

    gracias!,,,,,a video on how hard science stimulates Hirsch & his contemporaries latest sculptures/ art,,,,in the tradition & spirit of Davinci & bellini? merci!

  • February 2, 2017 at 6:55 am

    Step 1 is to see if there's an Italian name signed at the bottom.

  • February 2, 2017 at 7:19 am

    I am utterly unable to express my gratitude to Smarthistory enough. You not only provide information about important works of art, but you teach, guide and prod listeners to keep learning about what you have just been discussing. Once again, thank you.

  • February 2, 2017 at 7:22 am

    It is incredible.

  • February 2, 2017 at 9:45 am

    So it seem's more arian.
    and later theres more Hadrian themed art.
    Its like there going back in Time.

  • February 2, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    i like the idea that Michelangelo painted god and the angels surrounded by this red cloth in a form of human brain, saying that god is not real, he is just in our heads

  • February 2, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks for your work! I really appreciate it! It's one of my favourite projects on youtube:)
    I would want to add though that Late medieval art and so called "Renaissance" Art in Italy didn't reemphasise humanism and naturalism out of a mere sense of materialism (due to the rise in economic prosperity). In fact, as it is with the Capella Scrovegni, strong spiritual motivations were at the heart of these patronages. Scrovegni was atoning for temporal punishment due to the sin of usury which was often conducted in his sector of services (an early form of banking).
    However, this is but a detail, the larger sense of humanism and naturalism was spirited by an attention placed on the Dogma of the Incarnation of Christ. This is an era which is consumed with St Francis and a Franciscan spirituality which highlights the "Word made Flesh". Christmas celebrations become far more important (see the story of the nativity scene by St Francis at Greccio), the physical poverty of Francis and his mendicant brethren was of particular focus and attracted interest if not imitation (see the conversion of Jacobo da Todi) and of course, Francis receives bodily "stigmata" making him the first recorded case since the Apostolic age (the historical first probably belonging to St Paul). This strong sense of the Temple/Body suffering the Cross out of obedience and imitation of Christ placed an enduring spotlight on Italian art which carried on throughout many centuries. St Francis was a towering figure in popular and hierarchical Catholicism, leading him to gain the title "Alter Christus" (other Christ) because he so re"embodied" the penitential spiritual call to live out the Gospel in the flesh. This message was absorbed by powerful spiritual, intellectual and artistic energies of men like Giotto, Gaddi, Cavallini going on into Michelangelo and so on.
    I don't think it's unfair to say that without the spiritual force who is St Francis, certain trends in humanism and naturalism might have remained far more aloof and abstract, or might have been absorbed as decorous elements in sumptuous works of the international Gothic style (see the Annunciation by Simone Martini), especially as Platonic idealism would see a particularly strong resurgence/rediscovery in 15th century Italy.

    Just my two cents:) Again, thanks you guys for your work, I learn so much and really like this channel!

  • February 2, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    I <3 high renaissance

  • February 2, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    ugh I love these videos so much – you guys are the best

  • February 3, 2017 at 3:17 am

    Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker have the most relaxing voices! I wish that many of their past videos were at least an hour long. The content of every video is fascinating, yet I sometimes find myself drifting off. This is truly ASMR for the art history set.

  • February 6, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Thank you so much for both dr Steven and dr Beth, you changed my life.

  • April 6, 2017 at 8:01 am

    I love all your videos!

  • May 18, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you. Question: at 7:57, who is the female so lovingly embraced in the Almighty's left arm?

  • September 11, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Thank you for uploading these videos! I ADORE art history. But I love the renaissance art the most!! I find their art so delicate and beautiful. Thanks for the upload and lesson 🙂

  • October 2, 2017 at 4:05 am

    Thank you Smarthistory. I have been completely ignorant on (but love) art history & related. Now I cant stop going through each of your videos. Great work! Please keep it up.

  • October 23, 2017 at 10:24 pm


  • December 28, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    amazing videos! thanks for all the knowledge

  • October 11, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Thank you for this. Concise yet informative.

  • December 5, 2018 at 6:21 am

    your voice makes my mind calm

  • December 28, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    an amazing video, thank you!

  • March 4, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    I'm watching this for class, can someone sum this up for me?

  • June 12, 2019 at 10:28 am

    8:20 explain further

  • August 7, 2019 at 4:48 am

    Whos here for the subject area Art k-12 exam?


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