Renaissance Art
and Its Greatest Artists

Renaissance art as a notion was invented by Giorgio Vasari. After after heaping scorn on medieval art in his 16th century "Lives of Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects", the gentleman then invented the term "renaissance" (literally, "rebirth") to describe what he considered art's rise after the Gothic period. As far as he was concerned, there had been a revolution, and indeed this major change is quite visible in the illustration below.

The Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

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Vasari said the man responsible was the artist Giotto in 14th century Italy. Thanks to Giotto, painters abandoned the stiff, flat, formal Byzantine style to turn to realism and to take inspiration from Antique Roman art.

Before: a Byzantine St George and the Dragon.

Giotto (1266-1337) comes along.

After: a Renaissance St George and the Dragon.

Today historians like to talk about:

Early Renaissance (c.1400-1500). The best artists all seem to be living and working in Florence, pondering Antiquity, starting Renaissance art. And the Medici have money to burn on artists finding their footing with the rules of perspective.

High Renaissance (c.1490-1520). A surprisingly short period marked by the three great Italian Renaissance masters: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael. Art is in Milan, Florence, Venice, but especially in Rome with its rich art-loving popes.

Late Renaissance or Mannerism (c.1520-1600). With Raphael's death, the Renaissance way of painting slowly declines into a stylized "manner" that gets its start in Italy, but spreads across Europe as Mannerism.

The Italians aren't the only ones with a Renaissance: Flanders, the Germanic world and Spain also are undergoing artistic revolution.

Greatest Artists of Renaissance Art

1. A monk, Fra Angelico (1387 - 1455) was an Early Italian Renaissance painter of illuminations, altarpieces and frescoes (portrait).

2. Jan Van Eyck (1390 - 1441), supposedly invented oil painting; great master of perspective and trompe l'oeil (self portrait, mirror detail, "Arnofini Marriage").

3. Noted for his pioneering work and fascination with rules of perspective, Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475) also painted a portrait of Giotto (self portrait).

4. After Van Eyck, Rogier van der Weydn (c. 1400 - 1463) was the most important Flemish painter of the 15th century (portrait).

5. One of the first to employ a vanishing point and rules of perspective, Tomasso Masaccio (c.1401 - 1428) was influential (self-portrait) in Renaissance art.

6. Piero della Francesca's (c. 1401 - 1428) Flagellation is one of the Renaissance's best-known and controversial works (self portrait, "Resurrection" detail).

7. Hieronymus Bosch (1450 - 1516) was a deeply religious man who used remarkable fantasy images to paint his moral and spiritual convictions (self-portrait).

8. Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), best known for his Birth of Venus and Primavera, was a Florentine Early Renaissance painter (probable self-portrait).

9. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is considered one of the greatest artists of all time; the diversity of his talent and his genius made him the very archetype of the Renaissance Man (self-portrait).

10. Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was a German printer, painter, mathematician and engraver who is widely considered the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance (self-portrait).

11. Raphael (c. 1483 - 1520) created some of the Italian High Renaissance's greatest paintings, many of which are found at the Vatican. Considered one of the "three giants" of the Renaissance, with Michelangelo and da Vinci (portrait).

12. Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) was thought the greatest artist of his time, and by many, the greatest artist of all time. Poet, architect, sculptor, painter, his influence on Western art is unparalleled (portrait).

13. Giorgione (1477 - 1510) founded the Venetian school of Italian Renaissance painting, emphasizing mood, lights and shadows, in contrast to the Florentine school, emphasizing line (self portrait as David).

14. Titian (1475 - 1564) was the most important member of the Venetian school emphasizing mood, lights and shadows, in opposition to the Florentine school emphasizing line. His style varied greatly over his life, his early work being known for its luminosity (self portrait).

Click here to go to the Wiki Commons page on Renaissance art.

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