Why did Italy's historic legacy make it an ideal place for the Renaissance to begin?
The Renaissance attained its most glorious expression in its paintings, sculpture, and architecture. Wealthy patrons played a major role in this artistic flowering. Popes and princes, along with successful merchants, supported the work of hundreds of artists.
Renaissance art reflected humanist concerns. Like the artists of the Middle Ages, Renaissance artists portrayed religious figures, such as Mary and Jesus. However, they often set these figures against Greek or Roman backgrounds.
In this painting by Italian Renaissance artist Tintoretto, Mary Magdalene anoints the feet of Jesus. Classical columns in the background reflect the Renaissance style.
Painters also produced portraits of well-known figures of the day, reflecting the humanist interest in individual achievement. Renaissance artists also painted scenes from Greek and Roman mythology and depicted historical events.
Renaissance artists studied ancient Greek and Roman works and revived many classical forms. The sculptor Donatello, for example, created a life-size statue of a soldier on horseback. It was the first such figure done since ancient times.
Ancient Roman art was realistic, a style that was abandoned in the Middle Ages. Renaissance painters developed new techniques for representing humans and landscapes in a realistic way. They discovered the rules of perspective, which allowed them to represent a three-dimensional world—what people see—onto a two-dimension surface, such as wood or canvas. By making distant objects smaller than those close to the viewer, artists gave the impression of space and depth on a flat surface.
Artists also used shadings of light and dark to make objects look round and real, making scenes more dramatic. Renaissance artists studied human anatomy and drew from live models. This made it possible to portray the human body more accurately than medieval artists had done.
Leonardo da Vinci used perspective in his painting, The Last Supper, completed in 1498. What techniques bring the viewer's eye to the central figure of Jesus?
Renaissance architects rejected the Gothic style of the late Middle Ages. To them, it was disorderly. Instead, they adopted the columns, arches, and domes used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.