The Early Italian Renaissance

 In the period of time between 1400 and 1450, Florence, Italy was the crucible in which the Italian Renaissance started to flourish. As the young city-state successfully fought off the advances from the Duke of Milan to the North, a sense of civic pride blossomed over Florence, which eventually proclaimed itself "the new Athens." Just as Athens defeated the more formidable Persian army, so did the intellectual and culture-rich Florentines fight off more powerful aggressors. The victory of the mind over the sword elevated the "liberal arts" (which, for the first time since the Classical era, included the visual arts) to a position of prestige and respect. Riding along this new popular wave were the artists and the architects........the new hero-celebrities of Florence. From now on, the artist is seen as a part of the educated social elite, and/or as the gifted, temperamental genius who discovers truth in paint or stone.

Although Renaissance Florence looked back to the Classical eras of Greece and Rome for its inspiration, it placed a new spin on the old, Platonic ideas of "art as an imitation of the ideal." For now, art becomes an expression of human emotion and ability.........and the artist becomes the "M.C." (if you'll excuse the crude contemporary analogy) by molding, sampling and orchestrating the creative event to reflect whatever concept they might choose. From now on, the artist is (pretty much) in control.

Sculpture First: Donatello

 It is with sculpture that we first see evidence of the early Italian Renaissance. Yes, it's true that Giotto started to paint figures in a more classically realistic way, but it wasn't until Donatello, Masaccio, Ghiberti and Brunelleschi came onto the scene with scientific perspective and free-standing nudes that we can see something radically different.

And it is with Donatello that I would like to start. Looking at his most famous work on the right, David (c. 1425), we see the first free-standing nude in almost 1000 years! (I'm sure Donetello would have been executed had he sculpted David 100 years earlier, for it would have been seen as an obscene idol to the Church!) Although David raised some eyebrows at first, the city of Florence came to love the sculpture as a symbol of itself. Here we see a young, adolescent David, modestly stepping on the helmeted head of the larger and stronger Gliath, whom he had just decapitated. The symbolism is obvious: David (Florence), smaller and weaker than the city-state of Gliath (The Duke of Milan), through logic, intellectualism and devotion to the arts, is able to not only defend himself, but claim victory over the brute of an enemy, just as Athens had done to the Persians 1800 years earlier. So. . . . Florence = Athens, except for the fact that the pre-pubescent David is hardly what you'd call a "Classical Greek-like figure." While the contrapposto stance echoes earlier Classical poses, David is truly a new, Florentine hero. . . . . . . young and full of promise as the city-state itself.

For more of Donatello's sculptures, click on the image of David to the right.


Ghiberti: "The Gates of Paradise"

 Having been influenced by Donatello's Feast of Harod a year or two earlier, Ghiberti set out to create a set of doors for the Baptistery of San Giovanni, right next to the"Duomo" in Florence. The results were so beautiful, they were dubbed "The Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo a few years later. As in Donatello's doors, Ghiberti uses changing relief elevation to show depth as well as scientific (one-point) perspective. I must say that these doors are indeed a sight to be when you visit Florence, make sure you stop by the Baptistery next to the Duomo and get a good look at them. (Go in the early morning to avoid the huge, daily crowds that congregate around the doors.)

(Click on the image of the doors to the left for a detailed look at the Gates of Paradise.)

Brunelleschi: A couple nice chapels and one, BIG dome.

 Although Burnelleschi was a fine sculptor, he is now more readily known as a talented and ingenious architect. Few of his surviving chapels exist in their original state, as the facades have been altered many times in the past 400 years. Their orderly and harmonious designs, however, remain in tact. And it was Brunelleschi's ability to design structures with geometric harmony and balance that won him respect as an intellectual as well as an artist......which fits into the new, Florentine practice of elevating the arts to high academic standing. Pictured to the right is the famous Pazzi Chapel of Sta. Croce in Florence. (Click on the chapel for more information and an interior view.) However,Brunelleschi's masterpiece was the celebrated Dome of the Florence Cathedral (c. 1420-36). This remarkable structure deserves a page of its own, so click on the image below for more information and a great view:)

For more information on Renaissance Architecture, click on the image below:

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 Early Italian Renaissance

 Late Italian Renaissance

 Italian Lingo 101

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 Renaissance in the North

 History 1400-1600

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