Giotto Masaccio Fra Angelico Botticelli Early Italian Renaissance1300s – 1400s
Renaissance means “rebirth.” • The term refers to the period in which Europe emerged from the Middle Ages and began to value the aesthetic traditions of classical Greek and Roman culture. • There was a renewed interest in the arts, in science, and in the natural world. • There was a renewed focus on the human world, in contrast to the medieval preoccupation with the spiritual world. • Artists sought to depict the human figure in a natural and realistic manner as the Greeks and Romans did in ancient times.
What factors triggered these changes? • The Black Plague swept through Europe in the mid 1300s, killing about one third of the population and paving the way for a shake up of the hierarchical power structure of European society. • The invention of the printing press in 1450 allowed ordinary people to see printed text and pictures for the first time, which led to an explosion of literacy and knowledge.
Giotto di Bondone • Giotto painted almost a century before the Italian Renaissance truly began, but he was a brilliant innovator, who broke away from the traditions of medieval art and provided a jumping off point for the Italian Renaissance.
To understand how revolutionary and comparatively modern Giotto’s work was, compare his paintings with the work of Byzantine artists who preceded him. • These figures seem to float in undefined space. They are two dimensional and their faces are expressionless. • Byzantine artists were not concerned with realism or with decoration. Their purpose was to aid people in understanding their faith.
A Byzantine Christ • Here is another Byzantine work, with the gold background, the symbolic proportions of the figures, and the flattened space that were typical of paintings from this earlier period.
Giotto di Bondone – The Arena Chapel Frescoes – 1303 - 1306 • Painters in Italy continued to cover the walls of churches by painting into fresh plaster (fresco means fresh) even while light filled cathedrals of stained glass were being built in more northerly European countries.
Giotto - Nativity • Giotto’s Arena Chapel frescoes tell, in pictures, the story of Jesus’ life. Here, we see the Nativity scene, with the infant Jesus and his mother in a symbolic stable.
Giotto – Adoration of the Magi • Plaster dries quickly, so only the essential details of the story can be included. Thus Giotto’s images have a stark and elegant simplicity.
Giotto di Bondone – The Flight into Egypt • Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph are all depicted with halos, as is the angel. Giotto was still painting according to some of the traditions of the Byzantine and medieval periods that preceded his own time.
Giotto di Bondone – The Betrayal • Jesus is betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening before his crucifixion. Judas kisses Jesus while Peter cuts off the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who has come to arrest Jesus.
Giotto di Bondone – The Lamentation • The dead tree here represents Jesus’ own death and the promise of his rebirth; Jesus will rise to new life, just as leafless trees put forth new leaves each spring. • Note how all compositional lines lead the viewer’s eye to the faces of Mary and Jesus.
Giotto’s new style • Instead of flat gold backgrounds, Giotto placed his figures in landscape settings. • Instead of lining up his figures across the picture plane, he overlapped them, suggesting 3 dimensional space. • Instead of stylizing and flattening his figures, he modelled them in 3 dimensions, using light and dark values, and he gave them more natural poses and expressions.
Masaccio – The Holy Trinity - 1427 Massaccio is considered the first important painter of the Renaissance. He was one of the first to make brilliant use of the rules of perspective, to create the illusion of 3 dimensional space.
Masaccio – The Tribute Money - 1425 • Linear perspective is used in the depiction of the building at right. • Note how Aerial Perspective is used here to create a sense of endless space receding behind the figures. Find 3 depictions of St. Peter in this work.
Massacio – The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden • 1425 • Adam and Eve express their anguish and shame in a very direct and dramatic way. Both their bodies and their expressions are wholly human, reflecting the Renaissance focus on mankind.
Fra Angelico 1395- 1455 • Fra – “brother” • Angelico – “angelic” • The painter Fra Angelico came to be known by this name because he was a devout Dominican monk. • It is said that he never began a painting without a prayer and never painted a crucifix without weeping.
Two styles of Fra Angelico • In his early work, Fra Angelico painted in the Gothic style, crowding his compositions with figures and using plenty of gold and lapis lazuli (a brilliant blue pigment that was rare and expensive). • Wealthy patrons who commissioned works of art preferred this kind of display of wealth. • However, when he painted in the cells of the monastery of San Marco, in Florence, his work showed simplicity, devotion, humility and charm. His admirers described these paintings as “like the products of heaven and not man.”
Fra Angelico - The Annunciation • This is one of several “Annunciations” that Fra Angelico painted in the San Marco Monastery of Florence, Italy. • Adam and Eve are seen at left, in sin, fleeing the Garden of Eden. On the right, Mary receives the news from the angel Gabriel that she will conceive Jesus, who will save humanity from sin. • The grace of the Holy Spirit, represented by the dove, shines on Mary.
The Annunciation • Note how the artist has framed Mary and the angel in the arches of the porch. • The shapes of their halos are repeated in the architecture. • Mary is traditionally shown wearing blue.
Sandro Botticelli – 1444 - 1510 • Sandro Botticelli began his art career as a decorator for the powerful Medici family of bankers and wool merchants, painting on bed fronts and chests. • This work influenced the development of his highly decorative style of flowing lines and graceful forms. • Botticelli was forgotten for centuries but is now ranked among the most admired painters of the Renaissance period.
The Birth of Venus - 1486 • The subject here comes from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Venus (or Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, was born on a seashell. • Gentle winds, (zephyrs) represented by the figures on the left, blew her to shore. • The figure on the right is a nymph, a mythological creature usually associated with some aspect of nature (there were wood nymphs, river nymphs etc.)
Interpretations of The Birth of Venus • There are many competing interpretations of this painting. A Christian interpretation sees Venus’ nakedness as the innocence of Eve, newly born and not yet arrived on the shores of the world where she will be corrupted by sin and clothed to cover her shame. • A Neoplatonic interpretation suggests that contemplating earthly beauty will allow one’s mind to better understand spiritual beauty. • Still another interpretation suggests that this painting was commissioned as a wedding painting.
Botticelli’s swirling forms and exaggerated gracefulness of line are apparent here. • Prima – “first” • Vera – “green” (think “vert” or “viridian”) • Primavera means springtime, when the first green growth appears • Botticelli has filled this painting with dozens of species of flowers and plants to present an image of fertility and verdant growth.
Primavera • Primavera is one of the most popular paintings in Western culture. It has often been reproduced by advertisers. • It was likely commissioned to celebrate a marriage in the Medici family, and thus has a theme of fertility.
Primavera • An interpretation of the painting begins on the right, with the wind, represented by the male figure on the right, who captured the nymph Chloris, then married her and made her into the goddess Flora, the figure in the flowery dress. • Chloris is shown with flowers falling from her mouth, a symbol of the transformation she is undergoing. • The figure at the centre is Venus, the goddess of love and marriage.
Above her is Cupid, the winged child with the bow and arrow aimed at the dancing figures. • These dancers are the three graces, representing the female characteristics of beauty, love and chastity. • At the far left is Mercury, the messenger of the gods, who is parting the clouds in the sky and allowing the spring sunshine to arrive.
Botticelli – Primavera (detail) • Flora, crowned and bedecked with flowers, throws more of them in her path.