Evolution of Art - Part 2 - Early Renaissance and High Renaissance

European renaissance was the most exciting period of discovery and change. It spurred art, science, literature, music, industry and technology. It was as if the world was waiting to come out of the Middle ages to usher in peace and creativity. The renaissance is the greatest event in the art world. 

Middle Ages takes the world back to dark

Middle Ages is described as the period beginning 5th century right upto 1490. A few significant events happened in 15th century which kick started Early Renaissance. 

The Hundred Year war between France and England was won decisively by the French.  A few years later, the Tudor Dynasty took control of the throne of England. But the decisive closure to the Middle ages was the fall of Constantinople which marked the end of Byzantine Empire and beginning of Ottoman Empire. Major ancient cities like first Rome and then Jerusalem were given the title of Capital of the World. The last city to get this title was Constantinople. So after the fall of this city there was a reign of peace. Officially renamed as Istanbul, it is now the capital of Turkey, the largest city in Europe. 

10 centuries of warfare by Europeans, Arabs, Mongols and Vikings only had the world making advances in weapon technology. So now it was time for conflict to end and give peace a chance. 

How renaissance began - pre renaissance

Middle Ages were not really devoid of art and culture. Somewhere near the 12th century there was a lot of interest in art. Also the Romans first came up with their architecture followed by Gothic Architecture.

Ancient Greeks were famous for building majestic temples. But it was the Romans who discovered the use of concrete and went on a massive building spree. They build amphitheatres, aqueducts, baths, bridges, dams, roads and temples many of which survive today. They were specially interested in building domes. One of the most famous historic example is the Colosseum of Rome. 

The other great example of Roman architecture is the ancient Roman temple in Nimes, France. Romans did not build big but they had well planned cities and sanitation. Romans were not too keen on art. 

Gothic Architecture took off in the 12th century and went on till 16th. Massive cathedrals came up during this period. Stained Glass art work began during this period along with high arches. The glass was not easy to make and very expensive. Various metal oxides were mixed with glass and metal strips were placed to hold them in place. The windows allowed light to come in and the art work showed scenes from the Bible.

An interesting take of these stained glass was the Rose Window. Intricate colourful circular glass framed in a complex pattern. Was this related to Mandala?

Notice the placement of one of the rose window.

The powerful influence of Christianity is visible in the massive size of Cologne Cathedral in Germany. It is the largest Gothic church in Europe attracting about 20,000 visitors per day making it the most visited landmark in Germany. 

The second largest cathedral in the world is Milan Cathedral which was build over a period of 600 years. Construction began in 1386 and was only completed in 1965. 

It has hundreds of statues and 55 stained glass windows. The largest cathedral is the Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. 

Renaissance begins in Italy

There is a debate on why renaissance began in Italy and why not any other place in Europe. Art depends upon the support and patronage of money. Italy was involved in a lot of world trade during the 14th and 15th century. Plus once the crusade was over, a lot of wealth was brought into Italy. But by the 13th century Venice emerged as the transit point for trade stretching from Egypt to Baltics. Venice also had large number of shipyards which produced both merchant as well as military ships. It had a naval fleet of 5000 vessels. Florence became one of the most wealthiest cities of Europe. Along with trade came in culture and knowledge and brought scholars from far and wide to this city. 

Along with this the wealth of Churches also grew. They did not pay any taxes which caused their wealth to increase even further. 

The 1300s saw devastation of Europe. First the two great banks of Florence collapsed because King Edward III of England was not able to repay his debt. Later the Black Death wiped out almost half the population of Europe. That century finally saw the revolt of textile workers in Florence. But the 1400s again saw Europe prosper. With less people to feed, surplus wealth and new demand, trade grew multifold. By the end of 1400s the renaissance effect gripped entire Europe.

Renaissance art began in Florence, Italy

Art Scholars have tried to pin point the exact event when renaissance in art began. In 1401 Florence Baptistery announced a competition to sculpt a set of bronze doors. Seven young sculptors applied for the competition among them Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. Filippo was already famous with some popular works including the dome of Florence Cathedral which was considered an engineering and mathematical marvel at that time. The judges started evaluating each artist over a period of a year until just two of them remained. At the end not being able to make up their mind, the judges asked Lorenzo and Ghiberti to collaborate and work together. But the ego of Brunelleschi came in his way and he left for Rome. 

The work on the gates began in 1407. To cast the doors, Lorenzo built a large furnace to melt the metal. The first cast was a failure. He made a second mould and recasted around 34,000 pounds of bronze. It took 21 years to complete the doors of 28 panels. They were hailed as the most important art event in the history of Florence. Lorenzo became a celebrity and got many art works of similar nature. 

This competition is widely agreed upon as that event which triggered renaissance in Italy because the complete work for 21 years was paid for by the wealthy church. Later he was asked by the same Florence Baptistery to make east doors for which he took 27 years. 

The bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery were called "Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo. 

High Renaissance - the golden period

In a span of 25 years between 1495 to 1520 some of the greatest artists produced world renowned art works during this period. Art historians call this period as High Renaissance. 

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Somewhere around 1495, the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan approach Leonardo da Vinci to paint one of their walls. Though the original records of the monastery have been destroyed, one document shows the painting almost ready in 1497. When one of the priest complained about the delay, Leonardo wrote to the head of the monastery that he was trying to get the right face to the figure of Judas. If the complaint did not stop then he shall choose the image of the prior who is complaining. The monastery building was finally finished in 1498 along with The Last Supper. 

Instead of using water soluble paints to make a fresco, Leonardo went for oil painting. This medium allows an artist to work slowly and make changes at own pace. He used some special technique to make his colours stand out. Unfortunately the painting does not look the same as what was painted. The repeated attempts to restoration has completely altered the painting. It also had to endure war damage as the monastery was stuck by an air bomb. The Last Supper depicts the scene when Jesus announces that he is going to betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles. The artist treatment of complex human emotions and expressions and handling of perspective has made this painting one of the most celebrated work of Leonardo da Vinci. 

The ceiling of Sistine Chapel - an impossible task for a sculptor

Pope Julius II had hired Michelangelo to design a tomb for himself. He was already a celebrity recently having finished the Statue of David. While the work on the tomb was going on, the court architect Donato Bramante influenced the pope that Michelangelo should be given an impossible task, something which he is not familiar with. So in 1508 when Michelangelo came back to Rome expecting to work on the tomb, the Pope instead asked him to paint the ceiling of Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo too was reluctant but the Pope was persistent. By the time the work was finished and unveiled on 31 Oct 1512, at the age of 37, Michelangelo was recognised as one of the greatest artist of the world. He got the title of ll Divino or the divine one. 

The ceiling has over 300 figures out of which is most famous one is "The creation of Adam" which depicts God's right arm outstretched for the spark of life. The ceiling of Sistine Chapel is regarded as one of the greatest work of mankind. 

The statue of David - the sculpture of the Renaissance 

In 1500 an inventory audit of unfinished work of one of the statue for Florence Cathedral was a huge block of marble. At 26 years of age, Michelangelo convinced the officials that he should be given the task of finishing it. On the morning of 13 Sept 1501, he began working and continued for the next two years. It is one of the most recognised work as a symbol of strength and youthfulness. The detailing of the body is studied even today for medical accuracy. The eyes gaze towards Rome. 

The most famous painting of the world

Somewhere between 1503 and 1504, Leonardo started painting the Mona Lisa. Art historians believe that Leonardo kept working on Mona Lisa for many years and he carried it along where ever he went. Right until 1517 when his right hand become paralytic. At the time of creation and subsequent travel, it was not known to many people. It was first kept in the Palace of Versailles until the French Revolution. It briefly stayed in the bedroom of Napoleon till it want on permanent display at the Louvre in 1797. It remained there in relative anonymity for the next hundred years. On 21st Aug 1911, the painting went missing and was noticed only after one of the local artist pointed out the missing piece. After due investigation it was found that the painting was stolen by one of the museum Italian employee who wanted it to Italy. He managed it too and the Mona Lisa was on display at the Uffizi Gallery for two weeks after which it was returned back to the Louvre. The painting has survived more than 500 years. There are regular attempts made on it. Today it is kept in bullet proof casing. Roughly 10 million people view it every year and most of them come to the museum only to see Mona Lisa. 

Such is the endearing beauty and mystery of the smile of the most famous painting of the world.