The Renaissance (which means rebirth) is a period generally considered to cover the period from the beginning of the 14th century to the end of the 16th. The period marked an important cultural change throughout Europe, and is often considered a bridge between the medieval and the modern age.
Mostly, the Renaissance was an intellectual movement, an explosion of free thinking which spread to architects and artists of the time. Independent cities in northern and central Italy had significant economical and political success at the time, providing excellent conditions for Humanism to emerge.
With the rediscovering of Greek and Latin texts, a revolution started in virtually all types of art. The Italians considered themselves to be living in a golden age, superior to any preceding time – and their ideals eventually spread to all Europe.
While many talented artists emerged in this period, three of them are considered the most relevant for Italian renaissance art.
Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael, was born in Urbino. He was the son of a painter in the town’s court, where he likely began his training. Raphael had a very privileged upbringing, until he lost both his parents in a three-year period.
Exposed to works by the great artists of the time, such as Piero della Francesca and Andrea Mantegna, Raphael was a pupil of Pietro Perugino – and his early works thoroughly reflect his teacher’s influence.
In 1500, Raphael began working in central Italy, eventually becoming known for his portrait paintings and Madonnas. Pope Julius II invited him to decorate the Vatican’s papal rooms eight years later, and many of his best works were created there, including ‘The School of Athens’, one of the most important works in renaissance art.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Da Vinci has always been considered an incredible genius – even by his own contemporaries. He was born in 1452 in a village near Vinci. Da Vinci had basic schooling and traditional education for the time.
At 14, Leonardo started his apprenticeship in the workshop of Verrocchio – one of the most renowned artists of his age. A sculptor and painter, Verroocchio had connections to Ghirlandaio and Botticelli – but the artist who was most associated with him is still Da Vinci.
Leonardo became a Master in the Painters’ Guild in 1372. He had his own workshop at the time, in Florence, although he still lived in Verrocchio’s house then. In this period, he painted ‘The Annunciation’, the Benois Madonna, the Portrait of Ginevra de’Benci and an unfinished picture of St. Jerome.
Like Da Vinci, Michelangelo mastered a variety of artistic trades. Born in 1475, he was raised in Florence and was apprenticed at painter Domenico Ghirlandaio’s workshop – where he mastered the techniques of fresco painting and others.
In the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted two impressive frescoes of utmost important for Western art: On the altar wall he painted ‘The Last Judgment’, and on the ceiling, scenes from Genesis.
Michelangelo was the only renaissance artist to have an biography published while he was still alive. In fact, there were two, one by Ascanio Condivi and one by Vasari. At the time of their publication he was the most famous artist in the entire world, all thanks to his Italian renaissance art.