High Renaissance – 6 Interesting Facts

The High Renaissance era spanned from the late 15th century to the sack of Rome by Emperor Charles V in 1527. This period is defined by a renewed interest in Humanism and the most realistic depiction of man. It was dominated by many of the greatest artists of all time, including Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Behind the masterpieces of this golden age, here are the following facts:

1. Florence and Rome were rivals throughout the Renaissance period.

  • Both states were very prosperous and regarded as centers of culture. They became key locations of the European Grand Tour three centuries later.
  • Rome finally succeeded Florence because of the Popes’ desire to glorify the holy city. It almost went bankrupt due to so many commissions.

2. Artists illegally dissected bodies for the sake of accuracy.

  • The Greco-Roman philosophy of Humanism focused on the importance of man and his intrinsic value. Thus, accuracy became a cornerstone of High Renaissance art.
  • Leonardo and Michelangelo famously studied anatomy this way. During this period, only physicians had permission to perform dissections.

3. High Renaissance aesthetic was contradictory to itself.

  • Many techniques developed to make paintings as realistic as possible. These include chiaroscuro, foreshortening, linear perspective, illusionistic devices, and aerial perspective.
  • These innovations allowed artists to reach the pinnacle of realistic painting. But, instead of recreating from real life, Humanism revived perfection as the standard of beauty.

4. Leonardo and his techniques raised the status of painters.

  • Many artists took up Da Vinci’s process of conceptual drawing and style of portraiture. His prestige placed the significance of painting on par with that of architects.
  • His painting style influenced many other painters of religious subjects in Florence. Leonardo also served as an indirect teacher to Raphael.
  • Raphael changed his outdated techniques after arriving in Florence and seeing the art. He studied works by the local painters, but none quite as closely as Da Vinci.
  • His fresco, “School of Athens,” is one of the greatest works of High Renaissance art. One of the central figures, Plato, is depicted with the likeness of Leonardo.

6. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel against his will.

  • Though he was an excellent painter, Michelangelo preferred sculpting. He began the project working with other painters but later dismissed them. Alone, it took him four years to finish painting roughly 1000 square meters of the ceiling.
  • The masterpiece earned him the notoriety of “terribilita” (awesome power) and the moniker Michelangelo “Il divino” (the divine Michelangelo).

To date, the High Renaissance period was the most fertile ground for artistic talent and development. Its innovations and ideals of beauty lay the touchstone for all forms of fine art to follow.

If you wish to learn more about the masters of the High Renaissance, check out the interesting facts about Leonardo da VinciMichelangelo, and  Raphael.