Italian Art of XII-XVI Centuries

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Due to the great changes in the Italian art in XII-XVI centuries, the world culture owes to the Italians much for their incredible contribution to all known spheres of art. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine a world without the specimen of the Italian art of XII-XVI centuries. Though full of controversial issues which numerous art historians still have debates about, the Italian Renaissance will always remain one of the greatest epochs in the history of the mankind.

Split in three main periods, the Trecento epoch, Quattrocento and the Northern Renaissance, this period is truly filled with the artistic innovations. Seized by the desire to see the world in the new way, people were searching for the other ways to reprint the world in their art.


The place known as the center of the Renaissance blooming, Florence was the place where the Italian art was shaping. One of the first people to introduce the new idea of art, Giotto di Bondane astounded the Italians with his incredible Cimabue creation. Disregarded further on in the epoch of Quattrocento (Periti 41), he is rehabilitated now as one of the most genial sculptors of the epoch.

Another creation of the peerless master was the Scrovegni Chapel. Casting a single glance at the incredible artwork was enough to understand that the new epoch was approaching.

It is peculiar that the fresco was created gar before the linear perspective was introduced to the world, yet great Giotto used the abovementioned perspective to create the chapel. Without knowing what he had discovered, Giotto opened a new page in the world art and science, which was truly incredible. It seemed as if the people of Renaissance took their inspiration from the heavens above.

Trecento epoch

Another integral part of the Trecento epoch which deserves mentioning were the magnificent Sienese paintings. Touching partially upon the art of Quattrocento as well, these pieces of art signify that the time came for the Italian art to change radically from the existing ideas of art to the everlasting classicism. It could be traced that the traditional shifting from classicism to baroque style was in motion again. Tired of the grotesque idea of art, people slowly resorted to the classicism ideas.

However, it was still too early to speak of pure Classicism epoch in Italy. Born in the atmosphere of the merchant Italy, the Renaissance art and the Trecento epoch were shaping in their own tempo and way, peculiar and unpredictable.

Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli

Although it is quite doubtful that one can single out the most influential person in the Italian Renaissance, two people contributed to the Italian art in such a way that they can be considered the founders of the Italian Renaissance culture as people know it now.

Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli, the greatest artists and people of incredible sense for what is worth calling a masterpiece, the created the image of Italy of the Renaissance epoch – the spiritual, the beautiful, the magnificent. Once taking a glance at their artworks, it becomes evident that they were the most significant people in the Renaissance period.

It cannot be denied though that their vision of the Italian culture and the Italian art was quite different. Comparing their creations, one cannot help noticing that they pictured different realities – in fact, these were different worlds which they exposed to the eyes of the public.

It is well worth remembering that Leonardo da Vinci was mostly guided by his idea of paragon, which made him create his artworks in the precise and accurate style, making the paintings both with clear lines and soft palette, yet concealing certain mystery, suggesting much food for imagination.

Filled with secret sense, these pieces would always make people’s ideas shift to the sphere of the unknown and the mysterious. A perfect specimen of Italian Trecento epoch art, a crucifix from Duccio’s workshop (Kleinhenz 693) is a piece of the Renaissance epoch which is a clear evidence of the refinement of the epoch and the change in the attitude toward art.

In spite of the fact that the Renaissance was like a beam of light shed on the obscure medieval epoch, the paintings by Leonardo da Vinci rather evoke questions than answer them. Taking a look at his creations, one cannot help wondering if the people depicted by the great maestro are really willing to say more than they can.

Thus, in the picture Lady with an Ermine (1483-90) one can see the Compared to him, Botticelli looks more old-fashioned. With his specific manner of painting which presupposed that each detail must take its shape and place in the picture, Botticelli looks more traditional and even conservative. In spite of the fact that his picture, Venus, is breathing with the spring and with the birth of beauty itself, the picture is filled with numerous details which makes it look quite old-fashioned compared to the creations of da Vinci.

What made da Vinci’s paintings more winning compared to the style of Botticelli was the specific manner of leaving certain vagueness and incompleteness in the picture. This was obviously the ground for the famous sfumato style of painting which was to appear later on. Traced in Lady with an Ermine as well, this feature was exposed barefaced in da Vinci’s self-portrait. There was no doubt that da Vinci was to herald the new epoch which Botticelli had the chance only to have a taste of.

As the country was progressing towards a new culture and creating its own cultural path, the Renaissance was evolving into something completely new and thus extremely peculiar. Once the new styles and new genres were introduced to the society, people became gripped with the idea of the new art and the way the Italian reality could be interpreted in the creations of Renaissance.

Northern Renaissance

What happened then was further on called as the beginning of the Northern Renaissance. Gripping entire Italy and stretching far beyond its boundaries, the new culture was gaining popularity and influencing young and talented artists. Still the common inspiration with the ideas of Renaissance was to be controlled somehow, which led to conducting specific policy. Concerned with the moods in the society, the Pope took his control over the situation.

Although the Pope decided not to fight the new art, but, on the contrary, make it flourish, it was obvious that the Renaissance epoch was slowly filled with the spirit of Christianity. Once an isle of independent art and the sphere where artists could create despite the religion and the morals of the then society, Renaissance was gaining the features of a typically religious culture.

Further on, reaching the Northern states, Renaissance was changed completely. What was called the Northern Renaissance resembled a pious and quiet haven rather than a battlefield where cultures clashed to give birth to the most incredible pieces of art.

In spite of the fact that politics and art have always been considered two separate spheres of people’s activities, it would be a mistake to think that the Italian Renaissance did not trigged any changes in the policy of the state. From this time on perceived as the storage of the new art concepts, Italy accepted a number of students streaming there from all around Europe.

England, France and Germany sent their best students to Italy hoping that the new art will prove much more “contagious” and that students would bring a piece of Renaissance to the rest of Europe as well. However, the shapes Renaissance ideas took in the rest of the countries were way different from its original Italian idea.

Among the Europeans who managed to seize the very essence of the Italian ideas and make them evolve further on, intertwined with the typical pattern of the local art was Albert Durer. His manner of painting made one think of the Florence humanists, and at the same time reminded of Plato and his idea of art.

However, Durer offered a completely new idea of art, bearing very little resemblance to what had been created before; these were only tiny details that reminded of certain artists, yet each picture drawn by great Durer was a thing in itself, a piece drawn in a unique and inimitable manner. As Honour put it,

The reference to Plato recalls the Florentine humanists; but Durer’s attitude was essentially different. He was not concerned with Plato’s theory of ideas so much as with the God-given power of the artist to create. (Honour 393)

However, there was another man who could be a decent rival for Durer’s genius. Jan van Eyck, an artist of incredible talent and especial technique, belonged to the school of Flemish artists with their idea of shadowy contours and shapes – the famous sfumato which has already been mentioned above.

With help of the incredibly impressive new style the Flemish paintings gained the well-known and widely-spoken nowadays expressiveness and the sadness soaring in the air. Leading the art back to the beauty of the nature, its shapes and colors, van Eyck created his own style which featured the amazing transparency of the picture; as Honour said,

Jan van Eyck also rivaled his Italian contemporaries in rendering space. In the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin both the volume of the room and the extent of the view through the triple arches at its end are convincing. (475)

Belonging to the genius of van Eyck, the Ghent altarpiece also demonstrated that the Italian Renaissance reached its peak.


Crowning the cultural development of Medieval Italy, the Renaissance stretched far beyond the country boundaries and had a great impact on a number of other countries. In spite of the fact that the further manifestations of Renaissance in any form of art was somewhat shaped by the influence of religion and politics, there is still no doubt that the epoch was a new stage in the development of the mankind.

Creating new vision of the world, it let the imagination of people loose and opened new horizons in front of people. It cannot be denied that the impact of the Renaissance epoch is enormous. Without this stage of development, the mankind would have been left without a number of masterpieces and incredible ideas. Reborn and rising from the ashes of obscurity and ignorance, the mankind had a perfect start into the new epoch.

Works Cited

Honour, Hugh, and John Fleming. A World History of Art. London, UK: Lawrence King Publishing, 2005. Print.

Kleinhenz, Christopher, and John W. Baker. Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Periti, Giancarla. Drawing Relationships in Northern Italian Renaissance: Patronage and Theories of Invention. Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2004. Print.

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