Although some historians and academics dispute the existence of Europe’s Renaissance period, there was an undeniable evolution from the art, literature, and philosophical thought of the Middle Ages to the 15th century. Though these would not reach their apex until the High Renaissance, the achievements of the Early Renaissance period were nothing short of extraordinary. For more on the Early Renaissance, here are some facts:
1. The Early Renaissance period had its beginnings in Florence in 1401 and from there, spread to the rest of Europe.
- With the shift from religious thought to a more humanistic philosophy came the shift from the patronage of the Roman Catholic Church to the merchant classes of the Italian city-states.
- Artists leaned heavily on patrons for support. As such, wealthy families such as the Medicis began commissioning works of art and architecture from the likes of Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Fra Angelico.
2. The Early Renaissance was kickstarted by an architectural competition in 1401.
- The aim of the competition was to design new bronze doors depicting the biblical sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac for the Baptistry of St. John in Florence.
- Sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition with a depiction of a muscular Isaac of Classical proportions. Other notable names who entered the competition were the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello.
3. Classical humanist thought was revived and expressed through art and philosophy.
- There was a marked return to the aesthetics and values of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
- The concept of the Christian Divine, so essential to life in the Medieval period, was not so much cast off as reformulated to accommodate the emphasis on the individual and their control of their own destiny.
4. Artists of this period aimed for more realism in their paintings and sculptures.
- Previously flat Byzantine depictions of people grew to have more realistic poses and more emotions.
- A natural progression of this evolution was the study of anatomy, light, and shadow.
5. With greater realism in the techniques appeared greater realism in terms of subject matter.
- Although artists were borrowing Greek and Roman mythological themes and humanizing divine subjects, peasants and workers began appearing in many works of art, as well.
- The peasants and workers were also depicted with realistic anatomical flaws and within everyday scenes.
6. Early Renaissance artists innovated the use of perspective in painting.
- Giotto, Brunelleschi, and Leon Battista Alberti all made headway in the study of linear perspective and depth. But it was Tommaso Masaccio who first utilized such techniques in a major way.
- Masaccio’s Holy Trinity fresco in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence features an illusion of a chapel. It is the first major example of perspective in Early Renaissance art.
While the innovations and philosophical thought that characterized the Early Renaissance did not trickle down to the lower classes, the achievements of the age were symptoms and expressions of the rise of the middle class. This paved the way for the even greater achievements of the High Renaissance period.
To learn more about other great art styles and movements, check out their interesting facts here.