Art Flourishes in the Renaissance

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.

Art Reflects New Ideas and Attitudes

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.

Painting of a woman kneeling at a seated man’s feet, while other men look on and another woman standing in the background holds a wash bowl. The room is large with a tiled floor and tall columns.

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.

New Techniques and Styles

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.

Close up of a painting with a man seated in the center of a long table, and men on either side leaning and reacting emotively. The man in the center is placed evenly over the base of the table and in the middle of a doorway to the rear.

Analyze Information

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 Architecture

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.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments