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The Early Renaissance in Florence

The Early Renaissance in Florence

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the early Renaissance art of the city of Florence.

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Tutorial

An introduction to the early Renaissance in Florence.

Video Transcription

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

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and find today's key terms, explain the influence of the princely courts in Italy during this time, and explain innovations in perspective and naturalism during this time using the artwork provided in this lesson. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term is linear perspective, a form of perspective in which the lines of man-made objects, like roads and buildings, are at right angles to the picture plane and converge toward a vanishing point. Orthogonal. In mathematics, two lines or curves are orthogonal if they're perpendicular or at right angles at the point of intersection. Vanishing point, the point on the horizon where the straight lines of linear perspective converge. The two sides of a road appear to come together at the vanishing point, for example.

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 the big idea for today is that the spread Humanism, a growing emphasis on individual achievement and the princely courts of Italy were all highly influential on the early Renaissance artwork of Italy. The time period that we're looking at today is about 1401 to 1440 AD. And once again, we are in Florence, Italy.

So what were the princely courts and why do we care? Well, it's important to remember that Italy wasn't a kingdom at this time. There was no centralized power like there were in other areas of Europe. It's made up of independent city-states which could be duchy's, papal states, which were owned by the church, or republics like Florence and Venice.

The term princes was just a term applied to the people that were in charge in those areas. It could be, for instance, a Duke or a Count. Didn't necessarily have to be a prince. And they were enormously wealthy, for the most part, and strong supporters of the arts. Like the Duke of Urbino which is pictured here on the right. It's also important to know that they are one of the main sources of artistic patronage at this time.

So the resurgence of Humanism during this time did much to swing the pendulum away from the Byzantine style and towards that of the classical. Artists were interested in the naturalism and scientific rationalism that developed in ancient Greece and applying it to the work that they were producing. But it wasn't just the artists. These ideas were penetrating in all areas of culture and the arts. The artists desire to utilize them was as prevalent as the patrons desire to see that. And it was a rediscovered ideal of classical form and beauty that found a pairing with religious imagery of the time, which is a combination which really celebrated God's greatest creation which is a man, and humanity's devotion to its creator.

So the nude form had essentially vanished in the artwork of the Middle Ages. It was viewed as obscene and idolatrous, a relic of the pagan past. Within religious imagery, however, it could be reinterpreted as a depiction of innocence. Now, the commission to create the Baptistery Doors was the prize given to the winner of a contest in which several artists were given the task of creating a bronze panel relief depicting the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.

Now, the contest came down to two finalists, the artist Brunelleschi and the actual winner, the artist Ghiberti, whose submission was a much calmer depiction of the event-- which I'll show you in just a moment-- compared to the dynamism displayed in Brunelleschi's work. So this is Brunelleschi's panel. You can just see the movement, much more dynamic than in the calmer image you'll see in just a moment. Notice all the angels rushing in to stop Abraham from killing his son and Abraham's clothes kind of flowing back as he rushes towards Isaac.

Now, although there's still some sacrificing going on here, it's not as dynamic or is not as energetic as the previous panel. So his rendering of Isaac-- Ghiberti's rendering of Isaac-- as a male nude is particularly interesting and should be, or could be considered, the first example of a male nude since antiquity, which is a title usually given to the statue of David by the artist Donatello, which we'll see in a moment.

The winning-- or his winning is largely attributed to the artist's superior skill of casting compared to that of Brunelleschi, who, thanks in large part to this loss, went back to study architecture and eventually designed one of the most impressive domes in history, the dome of Florence Cathedral. It's probably good that he lost. And here are the Baptistery Doors as they look today.

Now, the mathematical description of perspective was undoubtedly influential on the artist Masaccio and his Holy Trinity painting from the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. He used his understanding of linear perspective to near perfection in how he essentially creates extremely realistic depth in his composition. However, the entire image is a painting, a fresco in fact, which is an important form of painting in Italy and a medium suitable to it's mild climate. For instance, you wouldn't see fresco paintings in northern Europe.

Now, the image is divided into two sections. At the bottom a crypt. The imagery and writing above it is a reminder of what is to come for all mankind. And above it are the patrons, a husband and wife kneeling and praying below the image of Christ crucified, flanked on either side by his mother Mary and by Saint John and held by the image of God the Father. And the vanishing point is below the feet of Christ. And the entire scene is fixed within a triumphal arch of sorts with a coffered barrel vaulted ceiling that recedes believably back into space.

It's actually been said that the overall mathematical execution of Masaccio's use of perspective is so precise that the virtual dimensions of the architecture that recedes into space can accurately be calculated. Not too shabby. And here's a close up again of the bottom crypt with the writing above the skeleton.

Now, it's the artist Donatello that's often credited with bringing back the male nude, specifically with his sculpture of David that was commissioned by members of the wealthy and influential Medici family to sit within their courtyard. David is depicted as a youth standing in the Grecian contraposto style pose with one hand on his sword, one hand on his hip and one foot on the severed head of Goliath. We see in the return to naturalism that was so celebrated during the classical era with a clear understanding and deep appreciation for the mechanics of the human expressed in this sculpture.

Now, the sculpture of St. Mark by Donatello was another oppressive example of the artist's understanding of human form, human mechanics, such as the contraposto stance, and perspective. The realism is really striking, for example, in the veins that can be seen in the hands of the saint. It's a realism that I personally feel wasn't repeated until the later work by the artist Michelangelo. But I'm sure that's up for debate.

Donatello's understanding of perspective, however, isn't. He's mastered it and incorporates it into the proportions of the statue. It was intended to be viewed in a niche well above eye level, and so Donatello adjusted accordingly. From straight on the statue looks slightly disproportionate, particularly with the head. But these adjustments were made so that from the original vantage point, where the person would be below the statue, the statue appears perfect.

Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that we've seen the lesson, are we able to identify and define states key terms? Can you explain the influence of the princely courts in Italy during this time and explain innovations in perspective and naturalism during this time using the artwork provided in this lesson? And once again, the big idea for today is that the spread of humanism, the growing emphasis on individual achievement and the princely courts of Italy were all highly influential on the early Renaissance artwork of Italy. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • 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.

  • Linear Perspective

    A form of perspective in which the lines of manmade objects (roads, buildings) are at right angles to the picture plane and converge toward a vanishing point.

  • Vanishing Point

    The point on the horizon where the straight lines of linear perspective converge. The two sides of a road appear to come together at the vanishing point.

  • Orthogonal

    In mathematics, two lines or curves are orthogonal if they are perpendicular or at right angles at the point of intersection.