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High renaissance

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  1. Overview

A. Time period

  1. Late 1400s – 1530s

  2. Late 15th century – early 16th century

B. Locations

  1. Florence’s prominence declines

  2. Rome becomes the center of the High Renaissance

  3. Venice is also an important center for the arts

C. Patrons

  1. Renaissance popes” especially Pope Julius II

  2. Confraternities – groups of monks

  3. Private individuals

D. Key points

  1. Blend of humanism with Christianity

  2. Pictorial illusionism become more pronounced

  3. Understanding of human anatomy increases

  4. Desire to raise the status of the artist

  5. Renaissance architecture was influenced by humanism. It is rational, symmetrical, and incorporates classical motifs.

E. Major artists

  1. Leonardo

  2. Michelangelo

  3. Raphael

  4. Titian

II. Leonard da Vinci

  1. What do you associate with Leonardo da Vinci?

  1. Background

  1. Born in Vinci, a small town near Florence

  2. Illegitimate son of a notary

  3. Quickly showed artistic talent, father took him to the workshop of Verrocchio in Florence

  1. Paintings

  1. Baptism of Christ (1470)

    • Altarpiece created by Verrocchio and Leonardo

    • Which angel did Leonardo paint?

  1. Ginevra de Benci

  • It’s the only Leonardo painting in the United States. It’s located in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

  • Ginevra was the sister of an astronomer friend of Leonardo’s. She was married at the age of sixteen. Leonardo painted her portrait for the occasion.

  • The Juniper bush in the background symbolizes the chastity of the young bride

  • The Italian word for Juniper, “ginepro” is also a play on her name

  • Curly golden-brown hair --- Renaissance ideal of beauty

  • An incredible diaphanous bodice

  • Look at the landscape --- shows the influence of Northern Renaissance painters to include a landscape in the background of a portrait

  1. Madonna of the Rocks a.k.a. The Virgin of the Rocks

  • One version is in the Louvre and another in the National Gallery in London. Leonardo painted two versions.

Version 1 – The Louvre

  • The figures are Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin) and an angel named Uriel

  • They are being shown on the flight to Egypt, a time when King Herod of Judea was killing all young male children in the region. Joseph is omitted from the painting and supposedly there was a miraculous meeting between Jesus and John the Baptist, whom Leonardo depicts as little more than babies

  • A pyramidal grouping

  • Aerial perspective – giving the illusion of distance by painting objects in the background in grayish hazy tones

  • Sfumato – means “smoky” in Italian. The technique involves using several thin layers of oil paint to make contour lines dissolve.

  • Compare Leonardo’s portrait to Botticelli’s portrait of a youth. Notice that Botticelli intentionally left in the contour lines to give a feeling of gracefulness. Leonardo used sfumato to make the painting appear more lifelike

  • The Hands – Gestures are vital to conveying the meaning of this silent scene

  • The angel is pointing to John

  • John’s hands are joined in prayer in recognition of Jesus, the appointed Redeemer

  • The Christ Child in turn blesses the prophet who is to herald His coming; Jesus’ gesture also points to heaven

  • The Virgin extends her hand in a gesture of protection

Version 2 – in the National Gallery in London

  • The original version was commissioned by the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for the altar of San Francesco Grande Church in Milan.

  • There was a dispute in payment, and Leonardo sold the first version to a private buyer.

  • The second version was probably painted when a suitable agreement was reached.


  • Palm branches behind John – an ancient symbol of victory, symbol of martyrdom

  • White flowers in bloom – Mary’s chastity and beauty

  • Water – the Jordan River, in which John baptized people; also, the Latin word for sea is mare which can be a play on Mary because as the sea gives life so she gave life to Jesus

  • Rocky enclosure can represent a womb and a tomb – the cycle of life, death, and rebirth that Jesus experienced

  • The second version was not finished (the angel’s left hand is incomplete) and details such as the cross and haloes were added by another artist

  1. Last Supper ca. 1495 – 1498

  • Painted in a refectory, or dining hall for an abbey of friars in Milan

  • Famous but flawed – The scientist in Leonardo combined oil paint with tempera in an experimental combination and painted onto a dry wall. The painting began to flake during his lifetime. Leonardo worked slowly and deliberately and fresco buon (true fresco) did not suit his style.

  • The most recent restoration required 20 years and was completed in 1999.

  • The narrative being portrayed is when Jesus and the apostles are celebrating the Passover dinner in Jerusalem. During the dinner, Christ compared the bread that they ate to his body which would be broken for humankind, alluding to the crucifixion that was to come. He also alluded to the wine as his blood which would be shed for their sins. The Last Supper became a blueprint for the Christian rite of Eucharist/Holy Communion.

  • During the dinner, Christ revealed that one of the apostles would betray him. The apostles immediately began questioning him and each other. He said that the one who dips his food into the same bowl as Him is the betrayer.

  • Judas happened to be dipping into the same bowl and so was revealed as the betrayer. Later, after he left, he led the authorities to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver. In Last Supper scenes, Judas is often shown with the bag of silver.

  • The composition – Christ is in the center. Leonardo used linear perspective (orthogonals in the ceiling and walls) to make the vanishing point near Christ’s head, making him the focal point.

  • Christ’s arms form a triangle as they stretch across the table

  • But where is the halo that reminds us that Christ is the “light of the world?” It is shown by the light in the central window behind him which encircles his head.

  • Leonardo depicts the emotions of the apostles and captures the intensity of their souls through their gestures and facial expressions. “Lord, is it I?”

  • Leonardo groups them in threes and they interact with each other.

  • Peter looks in angry disbelief, clutching a knife behind his back (Remember what he will do in the garden?”

  • John faints backward, shocked and dismayed by the revelation

  • Thomas points upward (the upward pointing finger is a motif that Leonardo will come back to) doubting the revelation (Remember what Thomas will do with that finger after the Resurrection)

  • Judas recoils at the revelation, his face is clouded in darkness, clutching his bag of silver

  • Leonardo treated the silverware on the table with such attention that the place settings could have been independent still-life paintings. According to one source, when Last Supper was originally completed, you could see the reflections of the apostles in the silverware.

  • Leonardo worked so slowly and deliberately that the abbot began to complain. When Leonardo threatened to paint his likeness as Judas, the abbot left him alone to work.

  • What do you think? Will you visit Milan some day and go to see it?

  1. Mona Lisa

  • A small painting – 2 feet 6 inches by 1 foot 9 inches

  • It is catalogued as #779 in the Louvre’s over 6000 paintings. Yet, the Mona Lisa is the only one held in a special container, set in concrete and protected by two sheets of bulletproof, triple-laminated glass, separated from each other by 25 centimeters. The painting has been in this box since 1974.

  • What do we see?

  • A young woman is seated in a loggia with columns, which have been trimmed off the original painting. Her right hand upon her wrist, her left hand on the wooden arm of the chair gripping its edge. She is believed to be Lisa di Antonio Gherardini del Giacondo, the wife of a Florentine merchant. Mona is an abbreviated form of Madonna meaning “Lady.” The arm of her chair is parallel to the picture plane, as is the unseen lower part of her body. If she sat straight, we would see only her profile. But she turns towards us, presenting three-quarters of her upper torso.

  • She seems to face us directly. Her brown eyes glance towards the right. Her missing eyebrows enhance her broad forehead (Vasari said that she contained a lovely set of eyebrows). He cheeks are full. Her hair, shoulder length is wrapped in a translucent veil, which Florentine women wore the days after they gave birth. She wears a pleated mantle. She wears no jewels. She smiles. According to Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo provided entertainment for Mona Lisa with musicians and gestures.

  • Revolutionary painting

  • The famous eyes – Leonardo himself described the eye as the “window of the human body.”

  • Pyramidal composition from the head to the arms

  • Detailed landscape of the Tuscan countryside using the techniques of linear perspective and aerial perspective

  • Sfumato – notice how all contour lines around her face and hands seem to dissolve into light and shadow.

  • Notice the detailed understanding of the human form, her proportions, her hands --- Fit in with Leonardo’s fascination with human anatomy

  • For reasons that are unclear, Leonardo never gave the painting to the patron, Francesco del Giacondo.

  • Later in life, Leonardo was invited to live in France under the support of the French king, Francis I. He most likely brought Mona Lisa with him, and after his death, it went into the possession of French monarchs. It was considered a national treasure throughout the centuries hanging in the bedrooms of such famous French leaders as Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte.

  • Over the years, many have discussed whether or not Mona Lisa was a real person. Some theories were that it was really a self-portrait of Leonardo as a woman or that it was a figment of his imagination expressing ideal beauty.

  • Recently, a note from a member of the Vespucci family found in the margin of a book of classical literature from the early 16th century states that Leonardo was working on three pictures including one of the Lisa Gherardini, who was the wife of Francesco del Giacondo. This latest discovery seems to put to rest the questions over the identity of Mona Lisa.

  1. Cartoon for Virgin and Child with Saint Anne

  • Cartoon - a preliminary drawing prior to the finished work. This is a charcoal drawing onto brown paper heightened with white. It is 4 foot 6 inches by 3 foot 3 inches.

  • Notice the full-figured bodies of the characters in the cartoon.

  • Notice the gracefully modeled figures. Leonardo used chiaroscuro masterfully to eliminate contour lines. Leonardo casts a gentle glowing light on the figures.

  • Notice the unity of the composition. He unites the figures both through pose and psychologically through their interaction.

  • Notice how Saint Anne’s finger points upwards. This is the same motif as can be seen with Thomas in Last Supper.

  1. Notebooks

  1. Introduction

  • The natural desire of good men is knowledge.”

  • Leonardo’s desire became an obsession: to write all he knew, to sketch all he saw.

  • By the time of his death, he left a “collection without order.” Over 5,000 pages survive. Let’s take a look.

  1. Human Anatomy

  • In the midnight hours in the company of these corpses, quartered and flayed and horrible to see.” Leonardo learned and illuminated in his notebooks, the “mechanism of man.”

  • Leonardo was a pioneer anatomist who sought to render with exquisite draftsmanship his detailed knowledge of the human body. He gained precise knowledge by dissecting more than 30 cadavers – until at last Pope Leo X barred him from the mortuary in Rome.

  • Leonardo invented graphic techniques for portraying the body: cross-sectional, semi-transparent, cutaway views that reveal the inner organs.

  • The Fetus and the Lining of the Uterus – not exactly precise because he gave the uterus a more spherical shape and his representation of the lining isn’t accurate. However, the fact that he exhibited this interest in human anatomy was remarkable. His understanding was invaluable to his drawings and paintings of human bodies.

  1. Nature

  • Plants and animals intrigued Leonardo as much as the human figure. His wide-ranging eye encompassed the full spectrum of life, from the movement of a crab or a cat to the growth patterns of a flower or tree

  1. Flying machines and weapons

  • Many men of the Renaissance dreamed of flying; a few even jumped off towers in exotic winged contraptions. Leonardo shared the dream and designed many flying machines. Although visionary in scope, his machines do not work although a museum as made models of many of them.

  • He drew pictures of bird wings perhaps to understand their mechanisms that could make human flight possible.

  • A bird is an instrument working according to mechanical law. This instrument is within the power of man to reproduce.”

  • Leonardo was a military engineer for Duke Sforza. He designed weapons that the duke could use. Yet, Leonardo, the lover of life, harbored an inner fear that some of his designs would be so devastating to human life that he hoped they would never be built.

  1. Final Years

  1. In France – 1516 – 1519

  • Vasari tells a touching story of how Leonardo died, on May 2, 1519, in the arms of King Francis I

  1. Final views

  • He passed too quickly from one task to another; he was interested in too many things; he lacked a unifying purpose, a dominating idea; this “universal man” was a medley of brilliant fragments; he was possess of and by too many abilities to harness them to one goal. In the end, he mourned: “I HAVE WASTED MY HOURS.”

  • Contemplating his achievement we marvel at the distance that man has come from his origins, and renew our faith in the possibilities of mankind. Will Durant

  1. Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)

  1. Introduction and Early Years

  1. Vasari referred to Michelangelo as the “Divine Michelangelo.” To his contemporaries, Michelangelo was the supreme example of a new kind of artist: an artist of divine genius, owning no obligation to a master, respected by rather that respecting his patrons and for whom art was a compulsive inner calling rather than a profession.

  1. Michelangelo Buonarroti was born to a distinguished Florentine family and was very proud of his Florentine heritage. His family had a history of involvement in politics, and his father had hoped that Michelangelo would pursue this route. His father attempted to discourage Michelangelo’s interest in becoming an artist.

  1. Michelangelo’s persistence in becoming an artist succeeded and his father enrolled him as an apprentice to Ghirlandaio.

  1. Michelangelo’s precocious talent was recognized by Lorenzo de’ Medici, under whose patronage he studied sculpture and was exposed to classical art and humanist thought.

  1. Pieta (1498 – 1499)

  1. Translates to “Pity” and refers to a scene in which Mary holds her dead son Jesus.

  1. Carved for the tomb chapel of a French cardinal. The contract stipulated that the completed work would be, “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome.”

  1. Michelangelo’s only signed work. Hearing an official attribute this work to another sculptor, Michelangelo signed his work. The inscription on the sash across Mary’s chest reads: “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this.”

  1. Composition – a pyramid resting on a circle

  1. Mary’s open left hand – with the open gesture of her left hand, she presents her son’s sacrifice to us.

  1. Let’s look closely at Mary’s face and at Christ’s face. Who is older? Does Mary seem too young? “Do you know that chaste women maintain their freshness longer than those who are not?”

  1. Mary is the personification of “perpetual purity.”

  1. Size

  • Let’s look at Mary’s head and Jesus’ head once again

  • Are the head’s about the same size?

  • Now let’s look at their bodies. Are their bodies the same size?

  1. Let’s take a close look at the work to enjoy its timeless beauty

  1. Did wonders for his reputation: “Wonder herself must marvel that the hand of a craftsman should have been able to execute so divinely and so perfectly, in so short a time, a work so admirable.”

  1. David (1501 – 1504)

  1. The challenge – Michelangelo carved David from an 18 foot tall marble block known as the “Giant.” It had been abandoned as too difficult for sculptors to work as evidenced by an earlier sculptor abandoning his work on it in the 1460’s.

  1. When he completed it, Michelangelo commented that all he did was free the figure from the marble – it had been there the whole time.

  1. The completed statue (13 feet 5 inches high) took 40 men 4 days to move on tree-trunk rollers down the narrow streets of Florence to its location outside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. David was the symbol of Florence. The government made it the focal point of the town square.

  1. Unlike Donatello and Verrocchio, Michelangelo chose to show David just before his battle with Goliath. The young biblical hero stands, with his sling over his shoulder, frozen in a pose of tense anticipation and defiance.

  1. An incredible face – God’s champion gathering strength for the battle ahead. David is connected to his unseen adversary.

  1. David represents the power of right over might. The statue quickly became the symbol of Florence’s defiance of tyranny.

  1. A famous story: One city official thought David’s nose was too big. Michelangelo palmed some marble dust, tapped the head with a chisel, and spilled the dust. “Now look at it,” Michelangelo told him. “Better,” replied the dupe.

  1. Without any doubt this figure has put in the shade every other statue, ancient or modern, Greek or Roman… To be sure, anyone who has seen Michelangelo’s David has no need to see anything else by any other sculptor living or dead.” --- Giorgio Vasari

  1. Notice David’s tremendous naturalism – the muscles, the veins, the sinews and joints. Yet, Michelangelo did not follow all the proper proportions. David’s hands and feet are too big for his body. Michelangelo sought to convey and young man who still needed to grow into his hands and feet. Michelangelo remarked that “the compass is in the eye of the artist.”

  1. Michelangelo and Pope Julius II

  1. The “Warrior Pope” – Can you guess why he took the name Julius?

  • Given this title because of his dream of building a Christian empire in Italy by taking over many city-states.

  • Julius even formed an alliance with great powers in Europe to conquer Venice and plunder its riches

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