Renaissance – Introduction


From Florence one of the most well-known and beautiful Art styles ever…

let’s find out all its secrets!

Hi everyone and welcome back to Exploring Art with Alessandro!

We are walking on the path of the visual art and today we reached one of the most known and important moment in the whole art history: the Renaissance!

We learnt a lot in the previous posts about art styles that happened before because Renaissance is the result of a combination of study of the classical works of art, political/social changes and presence of geniuses who wanted (and they were allowed) to use their talent to make something unique and immortal.

Like I often say, it’s very important to contextualize the historical moment we are looking at to fully appreciate not just the works of art, but the entire style and the artists’ skills. And this is probably even more true for the Renaissance.

Why? Well let’s start!

Why Renaissance is so important?

Why Renaissance is so important? What makes it so well-known and loved?

Renaissance was a period in European history between the Middle Ages and Modernity. More “precisely” from the 15th century to the second half of the 16th. How often it happens in art history, it is hard to say when a style exactly started and ended. Here as well we don’t have precise dates, just some theories that help us to have a better ideas of the events.

One of the theories propose starting point in 1401, when the rival geniuses Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi competed for the contract to build the North bronze door for the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. I know that at the moment these names maybe do not say a lot, but do not worry because I am going to give you all the elements to understand everything 😉

North bronze door for the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence
North bronze door for the Baptistery of San Giovanni


What it is important for the moment is Florence: a first variable in our exploration. Because it’s Florence where Renaissance and the name is from the term rinascita (rebirth) used by Giorgio Vasari around 1550 to emphasize the artistic rebirth after the Medieval time. Actually the modern meaning of Renaissance (as artistic style and cultural/historical movement) started to be used just after the 1830, but Vasari wanted to focus on the big change that took place in art starting with Giotto.

That point of view “pushed” many scholars to see Renaissance like a breakthrough compared to the Middle ages. However, a more modern view (that I agree with) considers it an evolution from the Medieval art.

It is wrong to think the Renaissance like an “independent” style since the foundations are both on Middle ages and classical art.

Classical Art

Looking back to classical art is one of the main variables that brought to the new style. Why? Because the rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy became the foundation for the Renaissance Humanism. Studying the ancient texts, Humanists’ goal was to make a citizen able to speak and write with eloquence and engaged in the civic life with virtuous and prudent actions with benefits for the whole community. Humanists believed that the individual encompassed “body, mind and soul“. And, at the same time, “Man is the measure of all things” (Protagora).

One of the best example of what I just said is this famous Leonardo’s drawing:

The Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci
Vitruvian Man

The Vitruvian Man. Man as perfect balance of body, mind and soul and measure of all the things. Individual who is getting more and more importance in the universe while in the Medieval time his role was more “passive”. And that meant also a more scientific approach that brought to many discoveries and theories (like the perspective).

Why Florence?

That approach started in Florence and then it spread in all Europe. But why Florence?

The Republic of Florence was a city-state (like many others in Italy at that time) with a perfect cultural environment. First of all it was an important Humanist city, opened to the world thanks to its merchants, pretty wealthy and, even if there was an oligarchic government, there were forms of participation in governance and belief in liberty. All these elements combined were a perfect soil to make the culture grow up, in particular when the Medici family got in charge and they started to patronizing and boosting arts.

The main catalyst for an enormous amount of arts patronage has been Lorenzo de Medici who personally commissioned and promoted art in the whole city pushing the art-demand and discovering geniuses like: Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, … and I could continue with a long list!

Now some historians have postulated that Florence was lucky to be the birthplace of these “Great Men”, it’s not completely true since you can have great talents, but if you don’t let them create they cannot make a difference.


The “weak” Florence

Florence did that: it gave to the artists the opportunity to show their talents investing in art and culture. It’s true that Florence was pretty wealthy, but it couldn’t compete with other more powerful city-states. Lorenzo de Medici was clearly aware of that and he knew that Florence couldn’t be the strongest, but the finest city in the world, probably yes. A city can be the strongest because of its army and defenses, but just art is really immortal and he wanted to make Florence an example of his mission.

And the best work of art that represents what I said is, not by chance, this masterpiece:

David of Michelangelo, Florence, Renaissance
Michelangelo's David

David, symbol of perfection because of the balance between “body, mind, and soul” who defeated the strongest Golia…

And actually Lorenzo de Medici succeeded as well because Florence became the center of the Renaissance and still today we know Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi,…and their masterpieces that we are going to discover together in the next posts.

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