High Renaissance art in Florence, Italy did not last very long, but made an enormous impact on the art world. In the paintings of this era, artists put emphasis on personality and the mental state. Perspective, classical cultures, and anatomy were of a greater interest to the artists of this era. The analysis of Guido Reni’s Portrait of Cardinal Roberto Ubaldino, Papal Legate to Bologna, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Michaelangelo’s David, and Raphael’s Baldassare Castiglione could offer insight into the paintings of the High Renaissance artists in Italy with respect to personality and the mental state, detail, and use of color.
“High style” was the mainstay of this period of the Renaissance. High style art was characterized as the idealistic, perhaps heavenly. High style had a respect for ancient imperial standards of wealth, magnificence, and grandeur. (Emison, xxx) During the Early Renaissance, artists had to choose between realism and spirituality. During the Early Renaissance, figures were painted to look so real that many thought they lost their spirituality. From then on, an artist had to choose to either make his figures realistic or spiritual. When the High Renaissance began, Leonardo Da Vinci believed that an artist did not have to make that choice.
For example, when Da Vinci painted the Last Supper, he made the figures in his painting realistic, however the figures had an undeniable spirituality about them. Da Vinci did not choose between realism and spirituality, he used both. (“High Renaissance”) The High Renaissance lasted from about 1490 to 1530. This era unfolded amidst a fury of mounting political and religious tension. This affected artists, as well as patrons of the arts, throughout Italy. Political tensions were high. In 1512, Copernicus determined that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe.
Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492 and Magellan circumnavigated the world in 1522, which dismissed the idea of a flat earth. All of these discoveries changed many assumptions about human life and rocked the foundation of theology. (“Italian High Renaissance Period”) In those years, the masters created a new profession with its own rights of expression and its own character. Regional differences existed during this time, not only between Northern Europe and Italy, but within Italy, with the leading artistic centers being Rome and Florence.
During the High Renaissance period in Italy, most artists worked for the papacy. These artists explored an interest in perspective, personality, and anatomy that became the main characteristics of the High Renaissance era. In Florence, artists emphasized preliminary drawings, based on careful and detailed preparation, before the painting began, whereas in other parts of Europe, artists just began painting. This is part of the reason why so many regard Italian Renaissance art as the finest art in the world. (Kleiner, 579-623) This artistic period represented a culmination.
The High Renaissance artists took all of the artistic explorations of the Proto-Renaissance artists, which flourished during the Early Renaissance, and used these explorations to its full capability. (Esaak) Guido Reni’s Portrait of Cardinal Roberto Ubaldino, Papal Legate to Bologna was painted in 1627. Oil on canvas and 77 ? by 58 ? inches, it resides at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The subject was placed in front of a purple cloth, which insinuated honor, next to a velvet-covered table. The subject had obviously been writing, noting the letter and quill pen in the inkwell. The room opened to the left, revealing a courtyard.
Rich colors, depth, and great detail add to the perception of the artist and the personality of the subject. The juxtaposition of the brightly-colored clothing with the dark background keeps the viewer’s eye on the subject. The subject looks thoughtful, looking at the viewer, giving the air of an intelligent man. Great detail was used by Reni. For example, the flecks of white in the subject’s beard, the lines on his hands, the patterns and sheen of the clothing, and the fringe on the bottom of the chair shows that Reni wanted to capture every aspect of the subject’s personality.
It shows that the subject enjoyed the finer things in life, while looking perhaps within himself for the answers to life’s mysteries. Raphael’s Baldassare Castiglione, painted around 1514, oil on canvas, with the dimensions of 2′ 6 ? ” by 2′ 2 ? ”, typifies High Renaissance portraits in the attention the artist paid to the subject’s personality and mental state. The painting makes use of muted tones and Raphael favored clarity over obscurity. The muted tones fit the mood and temper of the subject. (Kleiner, 587, 623) The subject’s facial features are clear, lending to the notion that Raphael focused on the subject’s personality.
The subject is dressed soberly, yet splendidly, and looks directly at the viewer. He has a thoughtful and kind gaze. This shows his humanity and lends an emotional openness to the painting. The subject looks sensitive and vulnerable, and his clothing suggest a certain softness to his character. This gives the viewer the feeling that the subject is equal to the viewer. The subject seems open enough to sit with and have an intellectual conversation. (Jones) Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, painted in the sixteenth century, is an oil painting on poplar panel. The painting depicts a woman with an ambiguous expression.
This work has been at the center of study, scrutiny, parody, and myth for many years because of the fascination with the mysterious woman. The subject’s expression seems mischievous, and she is looking directly at the viewer, a quality of High Renaissance art. The colors are dark, lending to the mysterious notion of the woman subject. The subject is seated on a marble chair, and behind her, a body of water with some rocks visible create the backdrop. The juxtaposition of the dark background and the skin of the subject tends to keep the viewer’s eye on the subject.
Michelangelo’s David statue, carved from a single piece of marble and finished in 1504, is the representation of physical male perfection. The Cathedral of Florence commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt the statue from a block of marble that was originally from another project. David was to originally be put up on top of one of the buttresses of the Cathedral, however, when the sculpture was finished, they decided to put it in front of the main government building in Florence, Italy. (“Michelangelo, David, 1501-4”) All of these artworks are portraits.
An great artist who paints portraits must have the skill necessary to depict something beyond its physical appearance to convey the subject’s life and character. All of these artists imbued their works with psychological insight and authenticity that other artists of the day could not match. This is what made these particular artworks part of the High Renaissance era of Italy. (“Captured Emotions”, 3) Figures in portraits that were painted during the Early Renaissance were in profile and cut off at the bust. This was not so with portraits of the High Renaissance.
These portraits, such as the Mona Lisa and Baldassare Castiglione, were not painted in profile, but with the face frontal, and the shoulders ? , with hands included. This was done instead of the profile because when the face is frontal, the viewer gets a better sense of the subject’s personality. This revealing of the personality in paintings was a main interest during the High Renaissance and in artwork since. (“Leonardo’s Mona Lisa”) As was explained through these four examples, High Renaissance art in Florence, Italy focused on subjects’ personality and minds.
The artists wanted to capture what the subject was really like and how they thought. The point of the High Renaissance was to delve deeper, to bring out qualities, not only in the subject, but also in technique and color use, that made the work stand out and say something. High Renaissance artwork has influenced the world of art ever since. For example, when children sit to have their school photo taken, they sit the way the subject in the Mona Lisa did. These works have withstood the test of time and continue to provide insight into not only the subject’s personalities and minds, but also the artists’.