Art Styles: Early Renaissance

Bronze statue of David bythe early renaissance artist DonatelloThe Early Renaissance bridges the art period during the fifteenth century, between the Middle Ages and the High Renaissance in Italy. The "Early Renaissance" was all about Florence. Firenze, as it's known to those who live there, was the place in which to launch one's artistic career in 15th-century Italy. Florence ushered in the 15th-century with what we'd now refer to as a "juried" competition in sculpture. There was, and is, an enormous cathedral in Florence known as the Duomo, whose construction was begun in 1296 and continued for nearly six centuries. Adjacent to the cathedral is a separate structure called the Baptistery, whose purpose, obviously, was for baptisms. In the 14th-century, the Proto-Renaissance artist Andrea Pisano executed a pair of immense bronze doors for the east side of the Baptistery.

These were modern wonders at the time, and became quite famous. So successful were Pisano's original bronze doors, the Florentines decided it would be a great thing entirely to add another pair to the Baptistery. To that end, they created a competition for sculptors and painters. Any talented artist was welcome to try his hand at the assigned subject, a scene depicting the sacrifice of Isaac, and many did. During the Early-Renaissance art period, the Church stabilized and unified once again under one Pope, provided artists and architects with a seemingly endless supply of subject material.

Cities and towns always needed new or improved churches, and churches were always on the lookout for better works of art with which to adorn themselves. Important persons were forever passing on, and they required the appropriate elaborate tombs. Florence coveted the finest of these churches and tombs, so it was a great time to be an artist in Florence. Great artist from the Prot-Renaissance art period include Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi (Donatello) and Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi).


Donatello was trained as a sculptor by Ghiberti, but used his own vision to create figures that were the most lifelike seen since Antiquity. He invented a new method of relief sculpture that was extremely shallow but conveyed great depth and perspective. Donatello took these methods with him while traveling to Rome, Siena and Padua, consequently influencing many other artists. Donatello's bronze statue of David (shown above) is the first unsupported standing work in bronze cast during the Renaissance period, and the first freestanding nude male sculpture made since antiquity. It created a sensation when it was first shown, due to its portrayal of the nude young male. It depicts the young David with an enigmatic smile, posed with his foot on Goliath's severed head just after killing the giant. The youth is standing naked, apart from a laurel-topped hat and boots, bearing the sword of Goliath. The exact date of creation is unknown,and widely disputed.

Birth of Venus painting  by Boticelli Early Renaissance artwork paintingBotticelli is best known for his allegorical paintings of religious figures, especially Madonna's and mythological characters. He either painted in tempera on wood panels, or did frescos, some of which are in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.The Birth of Venus (shown here) is a painting by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a full grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore.

The effect is distinctly pagan, considering it was made at a time and place when most artworks depicted Roman Catholic themes. Botticelli was very close to Lorenzo de Medici, the most powerful man in Florence and perhaps their friendship is why this painting spared from Savonarola's fires and the disapproval of the church. The anatomy of Venus and various subsidiary details do not display the strict classical realism of Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael.

Near the end of his life, Botticelli came under the influence of the monk Savonarola, and destroyed many of his own works. Botticelli's style was somewhat old-fashioned for the time in which he painted, and he was overshadowed for centuries by other Florentine "names."
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