Italian Renaissance Art
The Renaissance was a period of scientific, technological, and artistic innovation that affected nearly all of Europe by the 16th century. Italy was the center of this roughly 200-year period of rapid advancement (where it had started as early as the 1300s), as names of the great Renaissance artists indicate: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Boticelli. Rather than representing religious subjects through symbols, Renaissance artists revived the humanism that was present in the great works of Ancient Greece and Rome, and began to depict nature far more often. They captured these subjects realistically through innovations in technique — for example, the widespread use of oil-based paint and new ways of organizing objects on a canvas using perspective lines.
Gathered here are websites that explore the history of Italian Renaissance art, provide bios of its major figures, display image galleries of the most notable paintings from this period, and make both information and teaching materials available for educators and students of art or art history. Artists who hailed from, or learned their art in Florence, are most represented on this page as this central Italian city is often considered the capital of the Renaissance. As there are numerous resources available online devoted to the Italian Renaissance, those compiled here are only a sampling.
Prior to the 1300s, nearly all European artwork was highly iconographic in nature, influenced by the style of the Byzantine Empire and limited in its depictions of religious subjects. During the 14th century, however, artists such as Giotto di Bondone began to emphasize three dimensions and more realistic proportions, giving rise to the sub-movement in art known as Late Gothic. The Renaissance proper did not begin in Italy until the 1400s (and even later in the rest of Europe) when works and techniques from Greco-Roman antiquity were rediscovered, and an interest in realism was rekindled. Some of the better known artists to emerge from this early part of the Renaissance are Donatello, Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, and Filippo Lippi.
The Italian Renaissance matured in the late 1400s and early 1500s, centered on Florence and to lesser degree, Rome and Venice. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo Buonarroti all hail from this flourishing period. In particular, Michelangelo’s David was completed in 1504 and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was completed some time before 1519: the year of his death. Their styles of art gave way to Mannerism shortly after 1520, which is characterized by a reaction to the prominent naturalism of Renaissance art in favor of artificiality. This is the last movement in art history that is normally classified as “Renaissance,” and is followed by the Baroque period.
- Art History provides briefs on the history of art from paleolithic times to post-1950s pop art. Its Renaissance section is divided into four periods: Late Gothic, Early and High Renaissance, and Mannerism. Each short summary of the time period is followed by comprehensive lists of external resources.
- Florence and Central Italy, 1400-1600 A.D. is a short part of an exhaustive timeline of art history from 8,000 B.C. onward. Each time period and region is associated with images of sample art and major events that provide historical context.
- Key Innovations and Artists of the Italian Renaissance is actually the first of several detailed articles with numerous visual examples about the Renaissance from the “Art History” section of Robin Urton’s general art resource. The other articles explore the Northern Renaissance and then each of the three key artists from the period: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
Galleries and Museums
Two of the most well-known museums that feature much of the famous artwork from the Italian Renaissance, the Louvre in Paris and the Accademia Gallery in Florence, are represented here, as well as a comprehensive online gallery, the Web Gallery of Art. The latter has a great deal of Italian Renaissance content, but also provides an art glossary, external links, 15 virtual tours, and individual galleries for major artists from a variety of cultures and time periods.
- The Louvre, perhaps the most famous art museum in the world, counts the Mona Lisa among its holding and many other masterworks of the Italian Renaissance. The Louvre was founded in 1190 as a fortress that was gradually expanded over hundreds of years until it became a museum in 1793.
- The Web Gallery of Art hosts several virtual tours that allows visitors to view galleries, histories, and biographies related to the Italian Renaissance (and other movements) by clicking on part of a map of Italy or on a particular school. These include Florence, Milan, Genoa, Rome, and many others.
The following websites serve as starting points in art history research, compiling hundreds of external links and teaching materials. While the other websites on this page tend to focus on a specific use, these provide a consistent source of history, biographical information, and image samples. Fine Art Touch and Italian Renaissance Art, for example, offer bios of major artists and articles that describe movements and sub-movements with hyperlinks to other topics. Renaissance Art in Italy provides all the same content in the form of links to other external resources.
- Fine Art Touch: Italian Renaissance Art gives a summary of the Italian Renaissance and provides alphabetical lists of almost every notable figure, their medium (sculpture, painting, etc.), movement, date of birth and death, and city. The most famous artists have separate sections. Also included are descriptions of each major movement during this time period, including the the Venetian Renaissance.
- Italian Renaissance Art is like Fine Art Touch in that its focus on providing profiles of individual artists and descriptions of movements. However, separate articles (with accompanying images) about sculpture and individual works of art, such as the Sistine Chapel, are available as well.
- Renaissance Art in Italy is an extremely long list of external links arranged in outline format with a section on Renaissance art in general and then subsequent sections for each major period. The website is best used as an index, as the links are organized in alphabetical order by artist and topic.
The quintessential “Renaissance Man” was Leonardo da Vinci who, besides producing two of the most famous paintings in the world, The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, was also a successful inventor (especially of siege engines) and innovator in the field of anatomy, of which his notebooks provide careful documentation. Michelangelo lived from 1475 to 1564 and was, like Leonardo, both an artist and researcher in science and engineering. Besides David, he is most famous for his painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.
Botticelli was less versatile, but nevertheless one of the representative artists of the Italian Renaissance whose painting, The Birth of Venus from around 1485 is clear evidence of how the level of artistic mastery in Italy contrasted with the rest of Europe, which was still in the Middle Ages. Finally, Raphael, who was one of the great Florentines along with Michelangelo and Leonardo, produced a remarkably large body of work despite his short life, mostly famously The School of Athens. He lived from 1483 to 1520, and in his lifetime was commissioned by two different popes.
- Leonard da Vinci’s Life provides a timeline, overview of the man’s contributions, and separate biographies of his life before and after 1500. Descriptions of his three most famous works, the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and the Vitruvian Man are also available, in addition to descriptions of his painting, drawing, sculpture, and scientific approaches.
- Life of an Artist: Raphael of Urbino is a long excerpt from Giorgio Vasari’s book, the Lives of the Artists, which is followed by links to a small gallery. Vasari was contemporary to many of the most famous Renaissance artists. The website includes long bios of Boticelli, Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and many others.
- Michelangelo Buonarroti includes three long articles about the artist’s life, each dedicated to a different period, plus a gift shop and teaching resources section. The latter leads to external resources, some of which are in Italian, while the gift shop provides desktop wallpaper and numerous books about the artist from Amazon.com.
- Sandro Botticelli: The Complete Works is an online gallery of 246 separate paintings that can be organized by popularity, rating, or other criteria. A detailed biography and list of links is included as well. Although the biography mostly follows a chronological order, it is also organized topically: his works, youth, religion, and private life are all discussed.