Get SmART: The Renaissance
The “Get SmART” series of blog posts act as a brief introduction to different eras of art history. We will explore how these eras developed, who was involved, what was created, and the impact they had on the world.
Guest Post by Kevin Twitchell, MOA Marketing Intern
The Renaissance was such a broad, sweeping, innovative movement in history that it is difficult to succinctly describe its impact on the world. This article will provide only a brief introduction, focusing on the reasons behind its development, its birth in Italy, and the spread of its influence across Europe. Spanning several centuries, the Renaissance impacted the studies of art, literature, philosophy, science, and religion across all of Europe, and is regarded by many as the cultural bridge between the Medieval Ages and modern history. With its beginning in the 14th century, Renaissance ideas and values endured well into the 17th century, with a notable climax in innovation and creativity in the 15th and 16th centuries specifically.
Near the end of the Medieval Ages, scholars, artists, and religious persons grew weary of the strict, often narrow-minded ideals of their time. The artist Giorgio Vasari even went so far as to describe the Middle Ages as “barbaric,” and as a period of decay after the fall of the Roman Empire. These influential people slowly began a revival of the study of art, literature, and philosophy from the Classical period of the Greeks and Romans. The study of these ancient works grew in popularity and served as a foundation for eventual breakthroughs in mathematics, the sciences, and the arts. Besides its emphasis on returning to the Classical period for inspiration, the movement is also defined by an increased awareness of nature, as well as an awareness of the individual and their place in the world.
Artists developed a unique style during this movement, moving away from some of the methods of the Middle Ages towards a more realistic style in their work. Painters developed a highly realistic linear perspective in their work, focused on portraying realistic subjects and began experimenting with light and shadow. They also began focusing more on the human body, striving to explore its beauty through painting and sculpture. The introduction of oil paints by the artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck allowed painters to use strong colors on hard surfaces that would endure the passage of time. Architects, such as Brunelleschi, adapted the designs of buildings from the Classical Era in their work. Buildings were soon constructed that were adorned with columns, arches, pilasters and other Classical designs. In music, the styles of northern Europe spread throughout the rest of the continent, pushing for polyphony in the composition of new music. With the development of the printing press, music became much easier to distribute, leading to an increased demand for musical education as well as musical entertainment from the general populace.
Many scholars have debated why Florence, Italy in the 14th century served as such a prime place for the birth for such a powerful movement. At this time, Florence was a city-state with a fairly open political structure. A strong and innovative ruling family—the Medici—and is often credited as the destination for many Greek scholars who fled the destruction of Constantinople. Whatever the reasons, the city-state began to flourish as artists, scientists, and great thinkers built upon the Classical ideals of the past.
Other major centers of Renaissance thinking were soon developing in Venice, Genoa, Milan, and across the rest of Italy. The movement eventually pushed north into the main body of Europe, adapting to and adopted local innovations with each new country and culture it encountered. The printing press, created by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany during this same time period, helped develop a network of communication across Europe that made the spread of these ideas that much easier. Although its influence ebbed and flowed across Europe due to wars, plagues, and general political intrigue, the Renaissance movement had a lasting impact on every nation it spread to. Widely considered one of the most influential movements in history, the work of Renaissance artists and thinkers continues to inspire the world even today.