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3 Tutorials that teach Late Gothic/ Early Renaissance in Italy
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Late Gothic/ Early Renaissance in Italy

Late Gothic/ Early Renaissance in Italy

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the transition toward a more humanist style in the arts that occurred in fourteenth-century Italian art.

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Tutorial

An introduction to the art and architecture of the Late Gothic and Early Renaissance periods in Italy.

Video Transcription

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about the Late Gothic and Early Renaissance in Italy. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe examples of Gothic works of art, describe the work of Giotto as a rejection of maniera greca and a move toward an increase in Naturalism, and describe how Florence Cathedral combines elements of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term maniera greca. In Italian painting, the tendency to paint in the Greek style reminiscent of Byzantine icons with stiff flattened forms, hard lines that indicate folds in cloth, and the use of gold leaf. Perspective is a technique that depicts three dimensional volume and space relationships on a flat surface. Humanism, study or system of ethical practice that promotes human interests, values scientific investigations, and human pleasures in the natural world, and often rejects the belief in God.

And Renaissance, a cultural movement marking a time of accelerated activity and learning expressed by art and literature in Europe during the 14th to 17th centuries. Campanile, usually freestanding, a bell tower. Naturalism, an artistic approach that involves reproducing objects as they appear to the eye. This term is often used in art history as a substitute for realistic to avoid any confusion with realism as an artistic movement. And modeling, in painting, the depiction of forms, particularly the human form, as having a rounded, three-dimensional shape indicated by the use of shadows.

The big idea for today, that the Renaissance developed gradually over time, time that was interspersed with artists like Giotto marking distinct instances where the shift to classical ideals was notable. So the artwork and architecture that we're looking at today originates between 1200 and 1450 AD in Italy, by the way. That's right, we are returning to Italy once again, the birthplace of the European Renaissance, and we're focusing our attention primarily on the city of Florence.

So there are changes afoot. And why do we care? The Renaissance didn't just start, it developed. And it developed gradually over time, and in different times around Europe, beginning with Italy around end of the 13th century. The development of the visual style during this time can be attributed to a number of things including the rise of city-states in Italy, the increase of trade, and the refinement of the concept of Humanism in their terms, in literature, which is attributed to the increase in and eventual complete return to Naturalism that we see in the art of the Renaissance.

Now perspective in the two-dimensional visual arts hadn't really been perfected yet. This example of a Fresco, titled Peaceful City from Effects of Good Government in the City by the Italian artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti, shows attempts at creating a sense of depth, but there isn't a single vanishing point. They're all over the place. And it's easy to see that something about this isn't quite right in that regard.

So Italian Gothic art from this time also shows the continued influence of the Byzantine style, or maniera greca, which was used by Italian artists like Duccio from Siena, and Bonaventura Berlinghieri in his altarpiece of Saint Francis of Assisi. Notice how the images are very flat, as the use of tempera paint was a limited medium in terms of creating shadow that suggested depth. Oil paint hadn't yet arrived. Rather, the folds of cloth appear as hard lines, and rather than gradients of shadow, there was a sharp contrast of black on color.

The first artist to really start to depart from the Byzantine style of Italian Gothic painting was the artist Cimabue. The Byzantine influence is still there, particularly with the arrangement of forms and the golden background. However, instead of the flatness associated with the Byzantine style, Cimabue uses the architecture to create a sense of depth in the image, as well as space for the individual characters to recede back into that space.

Now compare this to another image of the madonna and child enthroned by the artist known as Giotto. Now Giotto is often considered the first Renaissance painter. And rather than emphasize a style of painting, he turned to nature and painted by observance. His ability to do this so well is largely attributed to his particular style, rather than the influence of a particular master.

The Virgin Mary is enthroned, again, within Gothic style architecture like in Cimabue's painting, but the physical depiction is very different. There's a sense of a physical body under the clothing and it's better articulated in this painting than it is in Cimabue's, as well as a truer feeling of space around and behind Mary's throne.

Giotto was an accomplished artist and was commissioned to create a number of notable works of art, including the campanile at the Florence Cathedral, which we'll see in a moment, and this fresco at the Arena Chapel. It's a great example of buon fresco, or paint applied to wet plaster, which worked quite well in the mild Mediterranean climate of Italy. Something you wouldn't see in the cooler climates of northern Europe.

The Italian examples of Gothic architecture are quite unique compared to the French Gothic architecture we've discussed before. This example of Gothic architecture from the 13th century, the Siena Cathedral, offers the opportunity to compare the Italian Gothic style with the French. Now in essence, it is a traditional cruciform style church. The Western facade shown here is quite large and magnificent, with a central rose window and a three portal entrance. The design, however, is very ornate.

And notice the absence of the bell towers, or the campaniles, attached to the facade. They've been pushed back toward the middle of the church. And this creates a less imposing presence, and creates a more intimate feeling with the surrounding city.

Now compare this with the commanding presence of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The addition of the two bell towers up front makes for a dramatic change. And it really dominates the surrounding landscape, or cityscape, rather than integrating with it.

So the final piece of architecture we'll look at is the famous Florence Cathedral. It combines elements of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. For example, the use of the pointed arch and ribbed vaulting are Gothic, but the overall design is more earthbound than vertical. Actually, more horizontal than vertical. The exterior is decorated in white, green, and pink marble in geometric designs rather than the elaborate sculptural programs of French Gothic cathedrals. The interior is also much more reserved and efficient in terms of its design. Again, notice the use of the ribbed vaulting and pointed arches.

dome, which clearly dominates the church, is tremendous in size. It was designed by the artist Brunelleschi, and it's considered one of the major achievements of the Renaissance. The artist Giotto was responsible for the design of the campanile, shown toward the left side of the image. It has geometric patterns that reflect the exterior decoration of the church, but it is itself unattached to the church, and functions very much as its own structure. Simultaneously a part of the church as well independent of it.

That brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe examples of Gothic works of art? Can you describe the work of Giotto as a rejection of maniera greca and a move toward an increase in naturalism? And describe how Florence Cathedral combines elements Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

And once again, the big idea for today is that the Renaissance developed gradually over time, time that was interspersed with artists like Giotto marking distinct instances where the shift to classical ideals was notable.

And that is it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Perspective

    A technique that depicts three-dimensional volume and space relationships on a flat surface.

  • Maniera Greca

    In Italian painting, the tendency to paint in the "Greek" style reminiscent of Byzantine icons, with stiff, flattened forms, hard lines that indicate folds in cloth, and the use of gold leaf.

  • Humanism

    Study or system of ethical practice that promotes human interests, values, scientific investigations and human pleasures in the natural world and often rejects the belief in God.

  • Renaissance

    A cultural movement marking a time of accelerated activity and learning expressed by art and literature in Europe during the 14th to 17th centuries.

  • Campanile

    Usually freestanding, a bell tower.

  • Naturalism

    An artistic approach that involves reproducing objects as the appear to the eye. This term is often used in art history as a substitute for realistic, to avoid any confusion with realism as an artistic movement.

  • Modeling

    In painting, the depiction of forms, particularly the human form, as having a rounded three-dimensional shape, indicated by the use of shadows.