Renaissance Art Movement: History, Artwork, Artists

renaissance art movementRenaissance art is the decorative, fine, and applied arts produced during the Renaissance, a time in European history. The cornerstone of Renaissance art was Classical antiquity, considered to be the most noble of all historical traditions. The Renaissance period began in Florence, Italy, approximately in the 14th century. Famous supporters of the movement included members of the influential Medici family, which governed Florence for more than 60 years. Starting with Cosimo de’ Medici, they were affluent Italian bankers who controlled Florence throughout the 1400s. Lorenzo de Medici (1449-1492 CE), the head of the renowned Florentine family, was a prominent patron, and his collection of antique artworks was studied by numerous painters. The Medici family gained enormous respect and importance in society thanks to the Medici Bank, which operated from 1397 until 1494 and was the biggest bank in Europe.

The collection of work known as “Renaissance art”—which includes painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and literature—was predominantly created in Europe throughout the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries under the combined effects of a heightened awareness of nature, a resurgence of classical learning, and a more individualized vision of man.

There are numerous key qualities that artists introduced to help us comprehend Renaissance paintings and other art forms like as sculpture and architecture. All of these factors influence the compositions’ aesthetics, the way that colors and light are used, and the accuracy of the proportions shown. Among these characteristics are Naturalism, Contrapposto, Chiaroscuro, and One-Point Perspective, also known as Linear Perspective.

The family of Ferdinando II de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, circa 1621, by an unknown artist

Major renaissance artists include: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci; Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known as Michelangelo; Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, better known as Donatello; Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli; and Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael.

Major Renaissance artworks include: The Mona Lisa which is a half-length portrait painting by Leonardo da Vinci; The Birth of Venus which is a painting by Sandro Botticelli; The School of Athens which is a fresco painted by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael; The Creation of Adam painting by Michelangelo; and The Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio.

Around the 1520s, the art movement known as Mannerism started to emerge as the Renaissance came to an end as Europe’s dominant cultural and aesthetic trend. Artists did not concentrate on advancing the High Renaissance in Italy because they believed it had accomplished everything it could. Instead, they developed a new style that was more emotive, asymmetrical, and unaffected by the precision and proportions that the Renaissance painters so scrupulously committed to. The extremely ornate Baroque, which brought the vibrant colors, intricate details, and dynamic stances of Renaissance painting to a new extreme of overpowering drama and ornamentation, would emerge from Mannerism as the next major school in European art.

History of Renaissance Art

Renaissance art is divided into a number of eras or phases, including the Proto-Renaissance, the Early Renaissance, the High Renaissance, and other regions outside of Italy, collectively known as the Northern Renaissance.

During the late 13th and early 14th centuries in Italy, a significant “proto-renaissance” that drew inspiration from Franciscan radicalism took place before the Renaissance proper. During this so-called “proto-Renaissance” era (1280-1400), Italian intellectuals and artists rediscovered the ideals and accomplishments of old Roman civilization. After the lengthy period of stagnation that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire in the sixth century, writers such as Petrarch (1304-1374) and Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) attempted to resurrect the languages, values, and intellectual traditions of ancient Greece and Rome.

The proto-Renaissance was repressed by sickness and conflict in the late 14th century, and its impacts did not resurface until the early years of the following century. In 1401, the artist Lorenzo Ghiberti (about 1378-1455) beat over competitors such as the architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and the youthful Donatello (around 1386- 1466), who would eventually emerge as the maestro of Early Renaissance art. Although the Catholic Church remained a prominent patron of the arts throughout the Renaissance — from popes and other prelates to convents, monasteries, and other religious groups — civil government, courts, and rich people increasingly commissioned works of art. The rich commercial families of Florence, most notably the Medici family, commissioned the majority of the art created during the early Renaissance.

Artistic geniuses such as Masaccio, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Piero della Francesca, Donatello, and Michelozzo all happened to live in the Florence area at the same time in the early 15th century, creating an environment that nurtured and encouraged many other artists to create works of outstanding quality and ultimately gave rise to the great masterpieces of the High Renaissance.

During the 15th century and 16th century, the Renaissance spirit expanded over Italy, France, northern Europe, and Spain. In Venice, painters perfected a technique of painting in oil directly on canvas; this technique enabled the artist to modify a picture, which fresco painting could not, and it continues to dominate Western art today.

In contrast to the idealized realism of High Renaissance art, the Mannerist style with its focus on artificiality emerged in the late 1500s, spreading from Florence and Rome to become the dominant style in Europe. However, Renaissance artwork was still celebrated.

Proto-Renaissance in Italy, 1280–1400

The years 1300–1425 mark the Proto-Renaissance period, often called the Pre-Renaissance era. Iconographic and idealistic depictions of religious subject matter were characteristic of this time period, which was still distinctly Byzantine in style but was also more two-dimensional and flat in appearance. Nonetheless, there were a few painters who experimented with styles of depiction that went beyond the expectations of the Medieval period

Cimabué and Giotto, two significant painters from the Proto-Renaissance, are sometimes cited as the period’s most influential creators. Both are well-known for works with more realistic compositions, evoking the realism of the Classical period. Cimabué’s final known work is the Christ Enthroned with the Virgin and St. John mosaic in the Pisa Cathedral, which was commissioned in 1301 and completed between 1320. Aside from the Maestà (c. 1280), the Crucifixion at Santa Croce (1287–1288) is also attributed to this artist.

Crucifix by Cimabue at Santa Croce (c. 1265)
Crucifix by Cimabue at Santa Croce (c. 1265)


Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ) (1304 to 1306), one of Giotto’s most well-known paintings, is a prime example of his innovative style:

Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ) (1304 to 1306), Giotto
Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ) (1304 to 1306), Giotto


Early Renaissance in Italy, 1400–1495

The Early Renaissance era began in the 1400s and lasted until 1495. Paintings and sculptures from this time period make use of perspective and represent realistic elements. The Early renaissance artists also moved away from the more strictly religious subject matter and began to include secular mythical themes and people. Florence was the center of Italian culture throughout the Early Renaissance art, especially for the visual arts. More people felt comfortable speaking their minds in Florentine republic than in other Italian cities. People’s perspectives on themselves and the world were altering as the Humanism concept took form and self-confidence grew.

Florence saw emergence of true Renaissance artists in 1401 with the competition to sculpt a set of bronze doors of the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, which attracted seven young sculptors including Brunelleschi, Donatello, and the eventual winner, Lorenzo Ghiberti. Besides designing the dome of Florence Cathedral and the Church of San Lorenzo, Brunelleschi also produced a number of sculptures, notably a naturalistic life-size crucifix in Santa Maria Novella. (1430–1440) by Donatello, one of the icons of the Florentine republic, and the great monument.

Masaccio (1401–1428), a painter best known for his Trinity paintings in Florence’s Brancacci Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine (about 1427) and Church of Santa Maria Novella (around 1426), was the other significant artist active at this time.

David Sculpture by Donatello
David Sculpture by Donatello


For Florentine artists of the fifteenth century, the handling of perspective and light was of paramount importance.

The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello
The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello

Antonello da Messina, a painter based in Naples, may have been the first Italian artist to use oil paints for portraits and religious paintings, perhaps about 1450. He brought this style north, where it had a profound impact on Venetian artists. Andrea Mantegna, a major artist in Northern Italy, was commissioned by Ludovico Gonzaga to adorn the inside of a chamber called the Camera degli Sposi.

As with the commencement of the Early Renaissance, the end of this period in Italian painting is characterized by a special commission that pulled great artists together, this time in collaboration rather than rivalry. Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Cosimo Rosselli were commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV after he had renovated the Papal Chapel and renamed it the Sistine Chapel to paint fresco cycles representing the lives of Christ and Moses on its walls. Although each artist worked in his own unique style, they all agreed on basic compositional principles and made use of the advanced lighting, linear and atmospheric perspective, anatomy, foreshortening, and characterisation developed in the large Florentine studios of Ghiberti, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, and Perugino.

High Renaissance in Italy, 1495–1520

The High Renaissance, which followed the Early Renaissance, took place primarily in Rome, where the Catholic Church and the Pope held sway. During its time span, around 1495–1520, it represented the pinnacle of artistic and cultural achievement. Artists of all stripes (painters, sculptors, and architects) were hard at work at this time, honing and improving upon older practices while also developing whole new ones and experimenting with novel mediums like oils, which gave paintings an entirely new feel. There were also three major figures in the High Renaissance; Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael made to not only the art world, but to the whole globe.

There was a need to return to the ideals of beauty and harmony that had their origins in the Classical period, even as a concentration on realism in painting was at the forefront. The “Universal Man” or “Renaissance Man” (Da Vinci was considered a “Renaissance Man”) was a further development of Humanist beliefs. The human form was used to portray beauty, which elevated it to almost heavenly status. When represented with human emotions, gods and saints become more relatable. Artists achieved a flawless level of anatomical accuracy in their depictions of their subjects. Artistic innovations included the use of sfumato and the creation of quadratura, the latter of which describes the artists’ ability to create convincing illusions in the paintings that adorned the ceilings.

Leonardo da Vinci, the “universal genius,” spent his life studying and meticulously documenting his findings of the natural world, allowing him to further perfect the facets of pictorial art (lighting, linear and atmospheric perspective, anatomy, foreshortening, and characterisation) that had preoccupied artists of the Early Renaissance. By switching to oil paint as his major medium, he was able to more realistically and dramatically portray light and its impact on the environment and things, as shown in the Mona Lisa (1503–1506). As shown by the incomplete Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (c. 1480), his dissection of cadavers advanced the study of bone and muscle anatomy. Finished between 1495 and 1498, his portrayal of human emotion in The Last Supper is considered by many to be the pinnacle of religious art.

The Last Supper Mural by Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper Mural by Leonardo da Vinci

Michelangelo, Leonardo’s younger contemporary, went in a totally new artistic path. The only natural subject Michelangelo seems interested in depicting in his paintings and sculptures is the human body. While still in his early twenties, he polished his depiction of it with the massive marble statue of David and the group Pietà, both of which are on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He next went out to discover all the many ways the human body may be portrayed artistically. After being commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo created the ultimate masterpiece of figurative composition, influencing painters throughout Europe for centuries. The Last Judgment, painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel between 1534 and 1541, is an example of the Mannerist (sometimes called Late Renaissance) style, which replaced the High Renaissance style between 1520 and 1530 and is characterized by usually elongated figures.

Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco by Michelangelo.
Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, altar wall, fresco by Michelangelo.

In his brief lifetime, the younger Raphael painted several lifelike and captivating portraits, notably those of Pope Julius II and his successor Pope Leo X, and various depictions of the Madonna and Christ Child, including the Sistine Madonna. Many art historians believe his death in 1520, at the age of 37, to mark the end of the High Renaissance era, while other painters continued to produce in the High Renaissance style for years thereafter.

Northern Renaissance Art, 1430-1580

Northern Renaissance art began during the 1430s to 1580s in nations including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. This period differed significantly from the Italian Renaissance in that it did not imitate the qualities of the Classical age but was heavily inspired by the Gothic style of art. The Italian side was “dreamy” and “idealized” whilst the Northern side was “down-to-earth” and “practical”.

The use of oil painting allowed for a meticulous realism to be achieved, with every every detail rendered with meticulous accuracy. Panel paintings and altarpieces in churches often went through this process. Artwork featured landscapes, still lifes, and portraits, to name a few categories. Paintings were also smaller and not done on as great a scale as in Italy, where they were generally shown for public reasons in churches. There was considerable employment of woodblock printing and illuminated manuscripts. The invention of the printing press significantly facilitated the distribution of printed materials such as books, pamphlets, prints, and engravings.

Artists like Jan van Eyck, who created the groundbreaking Ghent Altarpiece (1431) and helped set the path for Northern Renaissance art, were very important artists of this period. In addition to the painters’ mastery of the oil painting technique, the work’s famed degree of realism stemmed from the work’s attention to detail. Arnolfini Portrait (1434), another well-known painting by Jan van Eyck, depicts Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, a successful merchant, and his wife.

Arnolfini Portrait Painting by Jan van Eyck
Arnolfini Portrait Painting by Jan van Eyck

Albrecht Dürer, another significant artist of the time, combined Northern naturalism with Italian Renaissance art ideas of proportion, balance, and Humanism. The Four Books on Measurement (1525), Treatise on Fortification (1527), and the Four Books on Human Proportion (1528) are all works in which he applies scientific rigor to an investigation of perspective . The iconic Self-Portrait (1500) by Dürer is one of his works, and it shows the artist staring straight into the viewer’s eyes. Other important artists from the Northern Renaissance include Robert Campin, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and a host of others who depicted ordinary life and people.

Self-Portrait at the Age of Twenty Eight Painting by Albrecht Durer
Self-Portrait at the Age of Twenty Eight Painting by Albrecht Durer

The Eighty Years’ War  (1568)  and other political upheavals brought an end to this time period. Some elements and methods from the Northern Renaissance were also brought back into use during the Dutch Golden Age. This time period and its associated genres also served as a point of departure for later modern art movements including Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Artists from this time period had a greater impact than their Italian Renaissance counterparts, including Jan van Eyck, Dürer, Bosch, and Bruegel.

Characteristics of Renaissance Art

Characteristics of Renaissance Art Include: Naturalism, Contrapposto, Chiaroscuro, Sfumato, and Linear Perspective. All of these elements add to the aesthetics, utilization of color and light, and proportional accuracy of these compositions.


Naturalism arose from the evolution of how painters observed the human body. It was represented more realistically, seeming more natural. By examining dead corpses, some painters gained a deeper understanding of human anatomy, resulting in more realistic depictions of muscles and limbs. Artists of the Italian Renaissance included characters into intricate settings that offered a greater perspective and an insight into the life of the wealthy or affluent. In paintings, light, shadow, and perspective were used to call attention to people. Leonardo da Vinci was regarded as both an artist and a scientist.

In Medieval period, the human body was considered sinful, stinky, and repulsive. Consequently, it was required to be covered at all times. During the Renaissance, however, this altered. Renaissance philosophers saw the human body as an object of beauty. In truth, a model for the cosmos created by God. In “Vitruvian Man” (meaning “universal man”), which Da Vinci drew in 1487, he depicted how a human body with its wings extended fits into a complete circle. And he accomplished so by extending its arms into a perfect square. The naked statue of David by Michelangelo exemplifies the Renaissance’s preoccupation with the human body. And its idea that the human body is God’s crowning achievement. In his “Last Judgment,” Michelangelo included so many naked figures. On the wall of the Sistine Chapel, he did this. And eventually, the Vatican was compelled to pay a second painter to paint modest clothing around his designs in order to conceal several of the naked images.

Vitruvian Man Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci
Vitruvian Man Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci


Contrapposto is an Italian word that means “counterpoise”. When the body is upright, it displays this by having one hip higher than the other and by placing more weight on one foot than the other. This imparts a distinctive “S” curvature to the whole body’s posture. This approach is often regarded as lively and imparts a more relaxed disposition to the figures.

Throughout the Italian Renaissance, a number of painters replicated the classical posing method, which they called contrapposto, and utilized it to infuse paintings and sculptures with a deeper grasp of human anatomy. Numerous depictions of David demonstrate the evolution of the contrapposto style as it got more detailed, exaggerated, and anatomically accurate. This finally culminated in Michelangelo’s iconic rendition of the sculpture, which blended a flowing serpentine form with a strong feeling of strength and bravery.

As seen by Antonio Canova’s The Three Graces  (1817), there was an increase in esteem for the famous Renaissance contrapposto figures. The three female contrapposto figures by Canova provide a rhythmic sense of motion, almost as if they were dancing in tandem, with the surrounding curtains reflecting their free-flowing vitality.

The Three Graces By Antonio Canova
The Three Graces By Antonio Canova


Chiaroscuro is an Italian word that means “light-dark.” It incorporates the interplay of bright and dark color contrasts, which produces a three-dimensional impression and heightened emotional intensity. It also contributes to the composition’s realism by depicting light and shadow.

During the Renaissance, Chiaroscuro is represented by paintings on colored paper in which the artist moved from the paper’s base tone toward light with white and toward dark with ink and watercolor. Woodcuts and monochromatic or two-tone chiaroscuro drawings are examples of the chiaroscuro style. The word used to describe the blending of brighter and darker colours to create the illusion of three-dimensionality in figures is recognized as one of the classic painting styles of the Renaissance era.

Chiaroscuro is one of the four principal methods of Renaissance painting, and it was used extensively by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, and Raphael Sanzio.

Chiaroscuro woodcut of the virgin and child by Bartolomeo Coriolano
Chiaroscuro woodcut of the virgin and child by Bartolomeo Coriolano


The Italian word sfumato has similar meaning to the English words smoky, soft, and hazy. This method was used to blend colors from bright to dark, so creating the sense of space or shape. It was also utilized to blur the composition’s lines and boundaries to make it look more natural. Sfumato consisted of applying many thin layers of glazing to create subtle tonal changes and gradients between light and shadow, as well as introducing tiny alterations to chiaroscuro. Contemporary scientists revealed that the creator’s glazes were often less than a micron thick and made of lead white with 1% vermilion. This procedure required a high level of competence. This method was often used to generate “atmospheric” effects on face characteristics and landscape backdrops.

The sfumato method was developed to soften color transitions and simulate the out-of-focus plane, commonly known as a region that the human eye cannot see. Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the most influential creator of sfumato art due to his knowledge of optics and human perception, as well as his experimentation with the camera obscura. He pioneered the technique and used it in a number of his paintings, including the notable examples of sfumato: Virgin of the Rocks (1486) and his legendary Mona Lisa portrait (1506).

Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci
Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci

Other painters, including Correggio, Raphael, Fra Bartolommeo, and Giorgione, adopted the technique, and it also influenced the “Leonardeschi,” the name for the vast number of artists who knew Leonardo da Vinci or attended his studio.

Linear Perspective and the Vanishing Point

Linear perspective (also known as one-point perspective) and the vanishing point were two methods extensively used to produce a three-dimensional effect in paintings. Artists utilize linear perspective to create the sense of depth on a flat subject by having parallel lines meet at a vanishing point on the horizon. The size of things in a painting or drawing is then determined using these lines. This breakthrough approach enabled painters to create new spaces inside compositions and raise their work to new dimensions, both literally and symbolically, as well as optically.

Flagellation of Christ Painting by Piero della Francesca
Flagellation of Christ Painting by Piero della Francesca

In the early 1400s, Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi pioneered this method. Brunelleschi found that linear perspective consists of parallel lines (orthogonal and transversal) that converge at a vanishing point with a horizon line. It imparts an impression of three-dimensionality to a two-dimensional artwork. An artist does this by selecting a point on the horizon as the vanishing point and then drawing a checkerboard of receding intersecting lines away from that point. Objects closer to the vanishing point are depicted at a reduced size and look farther away. On the other hand, items drawn at a bigger size look closer to the spectator. Visually, linear perspective may be understood by seeing railroad lines receding into the distance: while a train is far away, it seems little, but as it approaches, it becomes bigger and larger.

This approach also gave birth to the notion that each painting is seen by a single spectator, since there is only one perspective from which to view it. In contrast, medieval art portrayed compositions from a variety of perspectives.

Giotto- St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata.

Renaissance artists

Major renaissance artists include: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi better known as Donatello, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi known as Sandro Botticelli, and and Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino better known as Raphael.

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (Leonardo da Vinci)

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci

  • Born: 5 April 1452, Anchiano, Italy
  • Died: 2 May 1519, Château du Clos Lucé, Amboise, France
  • Known for: Painting, drawing, engineering, science, sculpture, architecture
  • Periods: High Renaissance

Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings ushered in the High Renaissance with their demonstrations of psychological depth, the use of perspective for dramatic emphasis, symbolism, and scientifically correct detail. This is especially true of his masterpiece, The Last Supper, which dates to the 1490s. However, both works were completed in Milan, and it wasn’t until 1500 that Leonardo came back to Florence, where art and culture were flourishing, that his work had a significant influence on the city. Many painters traveled to Santissimi Annunziata church to examine his study for The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (about 1499-1500).

Despite his extensive investigations of numerous fields of competence, Leonardo is most known as a painter. His popularity is mostly based on a select few completed paintings, including the Mona Lisa which have been continually recognized with a timeless, international reputation. He developed realism on a higher level using methods like as sfumato and chiaroscuro, which gave his paintings rich depth and a mysterious aspect. There are deeper tones in the front that progressively illuminate her resting hands.

Leonardo’s contribution to the aesthetics and methods of High Renaissance art extended Early Renaissance predecessors including linear perspective, chiaroscuro, realism, and emotional expressiveness. His great attention to detail and use of innovative techniques, like as his sfumato technique, produced in works that seemed so lifelike that it appeared as if his figures breathed and existed inside the picture plane.

Working at full capacity with both sides of his brain, Leonardo’s insatiable curiosity and innovative imagination led to the creation of several contributions to society that were ahead of their time. It is credited to him that he drew the first blueprints for the parachute, helicopter, and military tank. His writings are almost as well regarded as his artwork. They reflect the sum of his life’s labor and his brilliant intellect, and feature drawings, scientific diagrams, and his painting philosophy. They are still researched by artists, academics, and scientists worldwide.

His other works include the paintings Lady with an Ermine (1489), The Vitruvian Man (1485), and drawings such as Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk (1512), Embryo in the Womb (1510–1512), and St. John the Baptist (1491-1508).



Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (Michelangelo)

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni


  • Born: 6 March 1475, Caprese Michelangelo, Italy
  • Died: 18 February 1564, Rome, Italy
  • Known for: sculptor, painter, architect, and poet
  • Periods: Renaissance, Italian Renaissance, High Renaissance

Michelangelo is one of the first authentic “characters” in art history. He was a polymath genius and an Italian Renaissance sculptor who had a reputation for being temperamental, capricious, and difficult despite being being regarded as one of the best artists of the Italian Renaissance. He contributed to the resurgence of classical Greek and Roman art, but his contributions transcended simple imitations of the ancients. Never-before-seen psychological depth and emotional reality suffused his art, which often sparked considerable debate. Despite his defiance, he had lifetime support from the era’s most known patrons and created some of the world’s most iconic works that are still respected and even worshiped upon today.

The Creation of Adam (1508 to 1512) and The Last Judgment (1512) were his contributions to the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1536 to 1541). Michelangelo’s first work was commissioned by Pope Julius II as part of his plan to redecorate the Sistine chapel ceiling. Popes Clement VII and Paul III commissioned The Last Judgment, Michelangelo’s second work. Michelangelo was renowned for his accurate depictions of human anatomy, as seen by the figures in the two aforementioned paintings.

The 17-foot-tall monument to masculine excellence David and the heartbreakingly authentic Pietà, two of the world’s most brilliant pieces of art, continue to attract significant numbers of people. Other completed and unfinished works by Michelangelo include Bacchus (1496 to 1497), Madonna and Child (Madonna of Bruges) (1501 to 1504), Moses (1513 to 1515), which is part of the tomb for Pope Julius II, Crouching Boy (1530 to 1534), and The Deposition (1547 to 1555).

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (Donatello)

Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi
Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi (Donatello)


  • Born: 1386, Florence, Italy
  • Died: 13 December 1466, Republic of Florence
  • Known for: Sculpture
  • Periods: Renaissance, Italian Renaissance, Gothic art

Donatello was one of the most renowned Italian renaissance sculptors during the 15th century and one of the first precursors of the Italian Renaissance period as a result of his unique, realistic, and profoundly emotional paintings.  He used his knowledge of classical sculpture to build a comprehensive Renaissance culture in sculpture. Donatello would go down in history as the most significant artist to revive classical sculpture from the depths of antiquity, owing to a rejuvenated style that departed from the flat iconography of the Gothic era. During his time in Rome, Padua, and Siena, he brought his skills, which he had perfected over the course of a long and fruitful career, to other areas of Italy. David by Donatello, financed by Cosimo de’ Medici, was the first freestanding naked man sculpture since antiquity.

He worked with stone, metal, wood, clay, plaster, and wax, and he had several helpers. Although his most well-known works were mostly three-dimensional sculptures, he created a new, very shallow style of bas-relief for tiny pieces, and a significant portion of his production was bigger architectural reliefs.

Donatello’s innovations in perspective and sculpture during the Early Renaissance were crucial in laying the groundwork for what would become the prosperous Italian Renaissance. Here were discovered the first known examples of Italian  Renaissance sculpture, signifying a dramatic departure from the later Gothic style that had previously reigned.

Among his most renowned works are the bronze statues David (1430 to 1440) and Penitent Magdalene (1453 to 1455). Among his other works is the bronze relief Feast of Herod (1423 to 1427), which depicts two groups of individuals on each side of the composition and an empty space in the middle.


Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi (Botticelli)

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi
Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi (Boticelli)


  • Born: Florence, Italy
  • Died: 17 May 1510, Florence, Italy
  • Known for: Painting
  • Periods: Renaissance, Italian Renaissance, Florentine painting

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi was an Early Renaissance Italian painter. Botticelli, influenced by the renaissance of Greek and Roman ideals in Florence at the period, was one of the first Western painters to show non-religious subjects since antiquity. The concept that art may be for pleasure and not only for religious reasons was a significant development in Western art.

Botticelli bridged the gap between the Gothic style of painting of the Middle Ages and the burgeoning Humanist Realism. His work utilized a developing understanding of human anatomy and perspective, but it preserves a decorative character not seen in the work of the High Renaissance painters or for a considerable period afterwards. In his paintings, he endeavored to fulfill the ideal of beauty, abandoning realism when a more fanciful style better fit the broader artistic concept.

At a period when religious art was mostly iconographic, his discovery of emotional depth in conventional Christian topics was exceptional. He painted his themes in a manner that made them accessible to the average viewer by stressing their human ties. This is especially visible in his earliest depictions of the Madonna and Child, where Botticelli’s signature warmth and compassion characterize the relationship between mother and child.

Other artworks by Botticelli include: Adoration of the Magi (1475), Primavera (1477-1482), Venus and Mars (1485), and Map of Hell (1485).


Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael)

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino


  • Born: 1483, Urbino, Italy
  • Died: 6 April 1520, Rome, Italy
  • Known for: painter, architect
  • Periods: High Renaissance

Raphael left a comet-like trail of painting across the Italian High Renaissance during his brief 37-year lifespan. On the canvas, where he presented the aesthetic ideals of the Renaissance Humanist period in a way that was startlingly innovative, his genuine zeal for life manifested itself. Alongside Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, he is regarded as an equal member of the holy trinity of his era’s finest painters.

Raphael’s painting prowess, despite his very brief life, was the product of instruction that started when he was a young kid. From his infancy spent in his painter father’s studio to his adulthood spent heading one of the biggest studios of its type, he earned a reputation as one of the most prolific painters of his time. Raphael’s paintings were recognized as some of the finest examples of the humanist movement of the period, which attempted to investigate the significance of man in the world via art that stressed absolute beauty.

Raphael not only mastered the characteristics of High Renaissance painting, such as sfumato, perspective, exact anatomical accuracy, and genuine passion and expression, but he also introduced a personal style that perfectly expressed the classical spirit. Although he is most renowned for his paintings, many of which are still on display at the Vatican Palace in the frescoed Raphael Rooms, he was also an architect, printer, and skilled draftsman. In contrast to one of his greatest competitors, Michelangelo, the artist was seen as a sociable, affable, and sympathetic individual who had a strong affection for women. Socially adept and affable, he gained acceptance and professional possibilities at a faster rate than his contemporaries.

Major artworks by Raphael include: The Marriage of the Virgin (1504), Disputation of the Holy Sacrament(1510), The School of Athens (1509-11), and The Transfiguration(1520)

The Transfiguration (1520)
The Transfiguration (1520)

Examples of Renaissance Artwork

Major Renaissance artworks include: The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci; The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli; The School of Athens by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael; The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo; and The Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa


  • Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Year: 1503
  • Medium: Oil Paint
  • Dimensions: 77 cm x 53 cm
  • Location: Louvre Museum

This most renowned of paintings features a lady in three-quarters perspective, draped in lovely textiles in mellow fall hues, and looking at the spectator with a hint of an enigmatic smile. She is seated in a chair with her arms resting on an armrest that is visible in the foreground’s shadow. She is surrounded by a stunning scene consisting of jagged mountain peaks, rock pinnacles, lakes plunging in steep winding river canyons, and serpentine roadways. The lady looked confident, her presence resonating with tranquility. Due to the fact that she is an average lady with no political, historical, or religious significance, the enigma behind her famed grin has attracted an unprecedented amount of cultural intrigue.

The subject’s face exhibits Leonardo’s mastery of sfumato (the use of minute shading) and indicates his comprehension of the underlying muscles and skull structure. The delicately painted veil, the precisely sculpted tresses, and the meticulous representation of folded linen are evidence of Leonardo’s assiduous attention and unwavering perseverance. Moreover, the valleys and rivers behind the sitter mimic the sensual contours of the sitter’s hair and attire. Leonardo’s concept of a cosmic relationship between people and nature is reflected in the painting’s feeling of general harmony, which is particularly evident in the sitter’s small grin. This makes the painting a lasting record of Leonardo’s vision.

The Mona Lisa has had a huge impact on the Renaissance and subsequent eras, altering modern portraiture. Not only did the three-quarter position become the norm, but Leonardo’s preparatory drawings inspired other painters to create greater and freer studies for their paintings and prompted collectors to acquire those sketches. The Florentines learned about his Milanese works via the drawings. In addition, his renown and status as an artist and thinker extended to his fellow artists, granting them equal freedom of action and thinking. One such painter was the youthful Raphael, who drew Leonardo’s work-in-progress and used the Mona Lisa format for his portraits; Portrait of Maddalena Doni was clearly influenced by it (c. 1506).

The Birth of Venus, by Botticelli

The Birth of Venus
The Birth of Venus


  • Artist: Sandro Botticelli
  • Year: 1485–1486
  • Medium: tempera on canvas
  • Dimensions: 1.72 m x 2.78 m
  • Location: Uffizi Gallery

The Birth of Venus by Alessandro Botticelli is one of the most well-known mythical works of art from the Early Renaissance. It represents the goddess Venus landing on the beach after her birth, after she had emerged fully grown from the water. Botticelli is thought to have been commissioned by a member of the Medici family to create The Birth of Venus. In particular, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici, a banker and statesman who was Lorenzo the Magnificent’s relative.

Botticelli used the tempera painting method, which involves blending color pigments with a water-soluble media diluted with a binding substance, often egg yolk. This was unlike fresco paintings; nonetheless, several sources say that this painting had the “freshness” of a fresco. It has been wonderfully conserved over the ages.

In the Birth of Venus, Botticelli is renowned for his use of black contours, which take priority over the colors. In this artwork, line effects perspective directly. The contrast is created by the black outlines surrounding the characters, particularly the two individuals to the left and Venus, who are standing against a bright backdrop. This also highlights Venus’ milky skin tones and attractiveness; one might almost claim that Venus is revered inside Botticelli’s stronger contours.

The School of Athens, by Raphael

The School of Athens
The School of Athens

Artist: Raphael

Year: 1509-1511

Medium: Paint, Plaster

Dimensions: 5 m x 7.7 m

Location: Raphael Rooms

This fresco, which depicts a gathering of ancient Greek philosophers, contemporary scholars, and artists, employs perspective to draw the viewer’s attention to the central figures of Plato on the left and Aristotle on the right, who are walking while discussing philosophical matters beneath the arches. The scene is dynamic, with people engaged in conversation clustered on both the left and right, providing contrast with other persons seated in solitude.

The School of Athens reflects the major controversy in western philosophy, the argument between philosophers interested in spiritual world concerns and those interested in physical world problems. The positioning of the fresco in the chamber in relation to the other paintings, its human figures, and its surroundings indicate the Renaissance’s revived interest in old philosophy, religion, and art.

The painting possesses all of the formally recognized characteristics of the Renaissance style of painting, including the strong presence of perspective, the dynamic depiction of action, the realistic depiction of humans (as opposed to the earlier, more schematic approach of Medieval painting), and the accurate depiction of light and shadow. The artist picked a location that represents the influence of antiquity, and the color palette employed to manage the viewer’s attention and accentuate the main components is likewise indicative of the time.

The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo
The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo
  • Artist: Michelangelo
  • Year: 1508–1512
  • Medium: Paint, Plaster
  • Dimensions: 2.8 m x 5.7 m
  • Location: Sistine Chapel

This famous painting, which is a portion of the enormous masterwork that graces the Sistine Chapel, depicts Adam as a strong classical character who is lying on the left and reaching out to God, who takes up the whole right side of the painting. God rushes toward him, his urgency communicated by his flaring white robe and his kinetic body gestures. God is surrounded by angels and cherubim, all enclosed in a crimson cloud, while a female figure believed to be Eve or Sophia, the emblem of knowledge, peeps out from behind Adam’s arm with inquisitive inquiry. Behind Adam, the green ledge on which he rests and the rocky backdrop form a powerful diagonal, highlighting the distinction between him and God. As a consequence, the viewer’s attention is directed to the centrally delineated hands of God and Adam, which are practically touching. Some have observed that the form of the crimson cloud mimics that of the human brain, as though the artist intended to convey God’s intention to provide Adam not only with life, but also with the crucial gift of awareness.

The artwork exemplifies High Renaissance qualities in an exceptional manner. Informed by Michelangelo’s sculpting technique and understanding of human anatomy, both figures are traditional, but very muscular and anatomically accurate. In contrast to earlier Christian art, which associated the naked figure with shame and sin, reserving its presentation for demonic figures or portrayals of Adam and Eve expelled from paradise, here the naked is used to create a striking picture of deep masculine beauty.

In reality, Pope Julius II persuaded Michelangelo to paint the now-iconic area in 1508, taking him away from designing the papal mausoleum to concentrate on what is today one of the world’s most groundbreaking masterpieces. The large murals that cover the chapel’s ceiling and walls utilize foreshortening, the painting of illusionary architecture, a dazzling color palette, dynamic movement, and the artist’s characteristic figurative approach in its intricate framework of many biblical stories.

The Assumption of the Virgin, by Titian

The Assumption of the Virgin
The Assumption of the Virgin


  • Artist: Titian
  • Year: 1516–1518
  • Medium: Oil Paint
  • Dimensions: 6.9 m x 3.6 m
  • Location: Basilica S.Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

This ceiling painting shows the Virgin Mary being carried higher by a spiraling ring of angels. Numerous holy figures are set concentrically against the heavenly clouds, forming a vortex that pulls the viewer’s attention to the golden light in the center, where Jesus is descending to meet his mother. Identifiable emblems for St. John the Baptist, St. Thomas, St. Bernard, and St. Hilary are shown at the base of the dome. These saints are the patrons of Parma. Also around the base of the dome are disciples reacting to Mary’s empty tomb and the spectacle in front of them.

Characteristic of the High Renaissance, were used to give the impression to the audience that they were a part of this heavenly production. In the metaphorical depiction of Jesus, extreme foreshortening was employed to provide a genuine perspective when seen from below. The artist also produced a cohesive visual environment by including all of the architectural surfaces, making it seem as if the vault of heaven was opening up inside the cathedral from above. This piece by di sotto in su, which translates to “seen from below,” creates the sense of depth and weightlessness when viewed from below.

This work strongly influenced and served as a model for subsequent Baroque and Rococo painters such as Carlo Cignani, Giovanni Lanfranco, Pietro de Cortona, and Andrea Pozzo, who included the trompe l’oeil technique with their focus on grandeur.

Renaissance Art vs Baroque Art

Renaissance is the time in European history that symbolizes the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era, spanning the 15th and 16th centuries, while Baroque is the period of art that began about 1600 in Rome and expanded over Europe. Renaissance art is characterized by naturalistic depictions of the human form and landscape, foreshortening, sfumato, chiaroscuro, and realistic linear perspective, while Baroque art is characterized by contrast, exaggerated motion, extravagant detail, rich color, chiaroscuro, and grandeur.

Renaissance sculpture is characterized by the use of realism, religious themes, syncretistic influences, and marble and stone, whereas Baroque sculpture is characterized by the use of groups of people, dynamic movement and energy of human forms, and many ideal viewing angles. Renaissance architecture is characterized by the employment of mathematically accurate ratios of height and breadth, symmetry, balance, and harmony, as well as the inventive use of arches, domes, columns, and pediments. In contrast, baroque architecture stressed huge masses, domes, and strong spaces.

What Art Movements were Influenced by Renaissance art

Renaissance art had a significant impact on several later art movements. The quadratura paintings of Correggio inspired the painters Carlo Cignani, Gaurdenzio Ferrari, and Il Pordenone, as well as the Baroque and Rococo treatments of domes and ceilings. Michelangelo methods in expression also impacted the Mannerists, notably Jacopo da Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Giorgio Vasari, and Francesco Salviati. Numerous painters were inspired by his figurative style, notably his depiction of naked males.

Renaissance works impacted later artists of the Baroque era, Neoclassicists, and avant-garde movements of the 20th century. Picasso, for instance, took inspiration from Raphael in his 1937 painting Guernica by citing The Fire in the Borgo (1514), which depicts a lady offering her infant to others below as she leans out of a burning building.

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