Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Art: Renaissance Art

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Raffaello Sanzi, Fire in the Borgo, Rome, Vatican MuseumThe Fire in the Borgo by Raffaello is a painting depicting the fire that took place in the Borgo apartments of the Vatican in 847 C.E. The desperation can be seen clearly through each person’s gestures and facial expression. Starting from the left, the viewer sees an old women trying to leave the building as quickly as her old body can move. Beside her is a man carrying another man and this is meant to recall Anchises carrying his father from the fires of Troy. The allusion is therefore meant to symbolically state that Rome has replaced Troy, and Christianity has replaced monotheism. After having quickly gathered his clothing, the boy walks about a step ahead of the two men and he seems concerned for one or both of them. The other two men beside the wall are climbing down or helping others down and the women in front cry out for their loved ones while similar concerns seem to be voiced on the other side of the piazza. The painting uses soft light and a strong sense of realism, which makes the painting easy to interpret. The painting conveys a desperate, tragic scene while still maintaining a calm feeling that is characteristic of many of Raffaello’s paintings done in the Mannerist style (Hartt, 511; Rabb, 125).

Michelangelo, Christ Risen, Rome, Santa Maria sopra Minerva

This statue shows Christ standing in contrapposto carrying his cross. The piece is done in marble except for a golden colored robe that is used to conceal Christ’s nudity (Edizioni, 430). The accuracy of Christ’s anatomy likely is the result of Michelangelo’s careful study of anatomy. He went beyond societal constraints of the time and took advantage of the opportunity to study cadavers. Michelangelo was an artist that was heavily influenced by Platonism. As a result, he strived to be considered a divinely inspired artist that brings to life the ideal image hidden within the marble. Michelangelo even destroyed most of his models in order to maintain his image as a divinely inspired artist (Vossilla). In this case, the image that Michelangelo has depicted shows a face of Christ who triumphs over death. Before Christ’s death, the cross and the rope and wooden cane were instruments of pain that helped prop him up for a long and tortuous death. Now, however, these instruments are symbols of Christ’s eternal glory over death and the reality of the Resurrection and his saving grace. As Michelangelo rose to the pinnacle of his artistic career, Michelangelo’s school was a major force in the city of Rome during the Renaissance. Tuscan sculptors such as Baccio da Monelupo, Baccio Bandinelli, Raffaele da Montelupo, Giovanni Lippi, and Tiberio Calcagni all were working in Florence as the result of privileged opportunities (Edizioni, 430).

Sandro Botticelli, Stories of the Youth of Moses, Rome, Sistine Chapel

Sandro Botticelli was a painter trained by Fra Filippo Lippi, and he quickly became respected and well-known through the Medici family (Janson, 483). In this painting, Scenes from the Life of Moses, the experiences occurring all throughout Moses’ life are realized for the viewer in one unitary frame. In the foreground on the right side of the painting, Moses kills the Egyptian slave master, and behind this scene he can be seen escaping from Egypt. Right beside the fleeing Moses, Moses drives away the people who would not allow the women to water and tend their sheep. Beneath that image, Moses gives water to the sheep. To the left of the trees, Moses removes his shoes and talks to the burning bush, and underneath that Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt (Pittaluga, 16). The piece offers a beautiful depiction of Moses’ life, and Botticelli expertly uses the trees to unite the different scenes into one piece. The piece was made to be placed in the Sistine Chapel, so that the viewer will have to look up towards the piece. Without taking the viewer’s perspective into consideration, the painting seems overly crowded with rich colors and multiple characters, but seen at a distance (as the artist intended) the piece fits together perfectly.  

Arnolfo di Cambio, The Statue of St. Peter, Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica

The statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio is cast in bronze. The statue depicts a stern looking St. Peter who sits holding the key to heaven in his left hand while blessing the viewer with his right hand. The piece is significant because only a handful of bronze statues were preserved from the medieval period. The first plausible time period for the statue’s creation was the classical period. This assessment, however, was determined to be flawed because the decision was largely based on iconographic considerations of details. The next suggested time period for the piece’s creation was during the second part of the thirteenth century. Most historians agree that this assessment appears correct because it takes into account the stylistic tendencies of Arnolfo di Cambio. However, even now, the dating of this piece seems to fall under a shadow of doubt because an even more recent investigation using historico-documentary, stylistic, and iconographic variables coupled with technical research into thermo-luminescence measurement gives an approximate date of 1300 for the piece. The influence of the not fully developed classical style is evident because St. Peter is not completely three dimensional,  the chair is being used to support the piece. The larger ears and stern eyes of St. Peter follow Arnolfo di Cambio’s distinctive style. The coloring of the bronze is incredible considering that during Arnolfo’s time period the metal was difficult to acquire and thus doubly difficult to create a beautiful sculpture using largely untested material. All of these elements demonstrate the wide variety of styles that Arnolfo was able to incorporate in order to make an extraordinarily aesthetically pleasing statue (Edizioni, 284).

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s Balachin, Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is a monstrosity of a Church, and Lorenzo Bernini was assigned the task of decorating it. The ultimate challenge would be to make the cool stone and enormous size of the Church coalesce in such a way that would make it affectively stirring and aesthetically appealing to each individual viewer. St. Peter’s Balachin meets Bernini’s objective. The piece has a bronze sculpture (I learned in Rome that the bronze was stolen from the Pantheon) of angels and scrolls supporting a cross on a golden orb signifying paganism being vanquished by Christianity. The bronze sculpture is combined with 4 corkscrew columns that recalling the later period of ancient times during which they were invented. The whole piece therefore is an embodiment of the Baroque style (Janson, 556). The canopy structure also serves to bring the lofty ideals of God, the saints, and the perfection of holiness that seem so far removed from everyday life as shown by the grounded, spiraling pillars. Since the canopy is grounded in the earth which we all walk on, the holiness that the saints embody is not some faraway goal but something that can be accomplished in our day-to-day living. The canopy also draws attention to the tomb of St. Peter (the Church’s namesake) that rests in front of it and it frames the beautiful decorations of the apse behind it.

Masaccio, Madonna and Child with St. Anne, Florence, Uffizi Gallery

Little evidence can be found explaining the details of Massaccio’s life. Some documents show the facts about Massacio’s transactions, but little can be evinced about the path of his career as an artist and few paintings can be accurately dated. Massacio was born as Tommaso di ser Giovanni di Mone Cassai in the small town of San Giovanni Valdarno. The date of his birth was December 21, 1401, and he was the oldest son of a notary. In 1406, Massacio’s father died and his brother (who would later be known as lo Scheggia) was born. He completed six years of abacus school where he learned the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic necessary for getting a job. The details of who taught Massacio the art of painting are still undergoing debate, but by the age of 16 Massacio had already made a name for himself as a painter in Florence. Massacio lived was  constantly falling into debt, and he had a family to support. So, at the estimated age of 26, he died (Ahl, 3-5).

            The painting itself shows Mary seated on a throne holding the baby Jesus with St. Anne standing behind and blessing them. On the sides of Mary and the two other figures are angels. All the figures are disproportionate to one another and when looking at the figures what is above is meant to be behind the preceding object. The mix of colors draw the viewer to the piece, almost allowing the viewer to experience the sense of awe that St. Anne experiences upon seeing the holy child.

Giotto, The Navicella, Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica

The patron for the Navicella was Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi who was a significant contributing patron during the first half of the fourteenth century. Once the Navicella was finished, it gathered enormous amounts of attention as the copies by Jung Sankt Peterkirche and Parri Spinelli demonstrate. The painting has undergone several restorations. In fact, the only surviving portions of the first Navicella are two medallions with images of angels. After completing this piece, Cardinal Stefaneschi had Giotto work on the great triptych and paintings in the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica. Unfortunately, the paintings in the apse were not preserved (Edizioni, 338). The painting represents the time when Jesus went out with the disciples in a boat on the sea and he proceeded to walk on water. Most of the disciples stood in the boat amazed at what was happening, but Peter decided to walk out onto the water and stand next to Jesus. After a while, Peter got scared because his faith was weak, so he began to sink. Jesus, however, intervened and helped Peter stand again. The scene is a powerful one that reminds Christians to be strong in their faith; therefore, the painting’s location over the entryway serves as an excellent reminder for incoming Catholics.  During the period of Pope Boniface VIII, a wave of figurative art was emerging and the jubilee of 1300 also added to the intense period of artistic development during that time period and Giotto was becoming a major player. This period of excitement is likely what brought Giotto to Rome in the first place to do projects under Pope Boniface VIII.

 Pietro Perugino, Crucifix with S.S. Jerome, Francis, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, and the Blessed Giovanni Colombini, Florence, Uffizi Gallery

A prominent painter from Perugia was Pietro Vanucci. In fact, he became so prominent in the area that he is now widely known as Perugino. No documents exist that illustrate where Perugino received artistic training, and it is possible that he came into contact with Verrochio. Despite these uncertainties, it is clear that Perugino learned the Florentine concepts of perspective and figure drawing. The skyline in the background seems to be one that reoccurs in Perugino’s works. The darker top portion of the sky contrasts the lighter void underneath, and the background blends harmoniously to create a sense of tranquility. The rocks found in the painting may be reminiscent of the rocks found in another famous painting of the crucifixion by Perugino, the Crucifixion with Saints. In that painting, the rocks of the eroded plateau in the upper Arno Valley protrude into the sky like in this painting (Hartt, 376). The body language of the saints present at the crucifixion also draws the eye. With anguished disbelief, the person on the left leans forward in order to get a better look at Christ who has been defeated by death. Interestingly, the top part of the cross has been cut off in the painting in order to allow the viewer to focus less on the actual cross and more on the dead body of Christ. Christ’s hanging body is also the central point of the piece with all of the saints’ gazes directed toward him. These elements make the viewer reflect on the horrible sacrifice Christ endured, and the silent tranquility that the painting evokes makes the reader feel reverential respect for his sacrifice.

(Fra) Beato Angelico, Coronation of the Virgin, Florence, Uffizi Gallery

bFra Angelico’s real name was Guido di Pietro, but as his skill for creating breath taking scenes was more widely known he came to be called Angelico. He was born in the late 1390s and died in his fifties in 1455. Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar working at San Domenico in Fiesole and then at San Marco in Florence. Towards the end of his life, Fra Angelico took filled St. Antonine’s place as prior of San Marco (Hartt, 222). This panel shows the vibrant use of colors that combine on the golden background to command a sense of awe and tranquility that is characteristic of Angelico. The friar is considered by many art historians to be a late-Gothic artist, and one that always depicted religious scenes (Fleming, 246) With supernatural radiance, this painting depicts Jesus crowning Mary the queen of heaven on a hovering clouds in front of a crowd of onlookers. Among the onlookers several holy people (which are set off by haloes) are present Mary Magdalene seems to be standing in the foreground on the right wearing red and high ranking members of the clergy are present. In the background angels proclaim the majestic nature of the coronation with trumpet blasts, and in the throng of people, what is above is meant to be behind.

Pietro Lorenzetti, Madonna and Child in Glory with Angels, Florence, Uffizi Gallery

Pietro Lorenzetti was an Italian painter of the Sienese school who carried on the Byzantine tradition and also added some late-Gothic flare in order to create Italo-Byzantine painting (Fleming, 182). Like his brother Ambrogio, Pietro shows that Florentine art had a definitive impact on his style of painting which is demonstrated through the Gothic and human qualities of his art including well-defined features, strong hands, and the full proportions of his figures suggest an encounter with Giotto’s work. Lorenzetti’s paintings almost achieve one point perspective a feature that will dominate later Quattrocento art, but further examination of paintings reveals that the floors and sides have distinct vanishing points and often more than one vanishing point (Hartt, 119-123). This painting shows Mary holding baby Jesus while sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. Mary wears a robe that is a very dark purple color which shows that this painting was commissioned by an aristocratic patron because Mary herself is wearing the expensive robes of an aristocrat. The figures are done on a double scale to emphasize their importance (therefore Mary who holds the baby Jesus is obscenely large), and the angels on top are meant to be behind the angels underneath in a consecutive order. Golden haloes also emphasize the holiness of the figures and Jesus’ limbs are somewhat disproportionate to his body. Anatomical features are not accurately depicted at this point in time.

Works Cited

Ahl, Diane C. The Cambridge Companion to Massacio. Cambridge. 1-276. 

Berti, Luciano. The Uffizi All Paintings in 696 Illustrations and the Vasari Corridor. Firenze. 30-31. 

Fleming, William. Arts and Ideas. New York. 1-557. 

Edizioni, Udine M. Rome Art and Architecture. Konemann, 2004. 282-283. 

Hartt, Frederick. History of Italian Renaissance Art. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Incorporated, 2003. 511. 

Janson, H W. History of Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams Incorporated, 1991. 483. 

Klinke, Harald. “Role-Playing the Stanza Dell’Incendio and the Use of History as Representation of Continuity in the Pontificate of Leo X.” University of East Anglia. 16 Mar. 2008 http://www.stud.uni-karlsruhe.de/~um9t/sa/ART311_4_6.html

Pittaluga, Mary. The Sistine Chapel. Firenze: Le Monnier, 1965. 16. 

Rabb, Theodore K. The Last Days of the Renaissance. Basic Books, 2006. 125. 

“The Fire in the Borgo.” Answers.Com. 16 Mar. 2008 http://www.answers.com/topic/the-fire-in-the-borgo

Vossilla, Francesco. “Michelangelo.” Florence. Spring 2008. Lecture.



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