Humanism and Southern Renaissance Art

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Southern Renaissance art was greatly influenced by the emergence of humanism. This focus on the capabilities of the individual and the revival of classic Roman and Latin texts lead to the use of realism, naturalism, portraiture, and mannerism in the arts. During the Renaissance, new types of materials also expanded the capabilities of the artist.

Shifting from the stiff and motionless art style of the Byzantine Empire, realism became an important feature in Renaissance Art. Use of proportion and perspective were vital to realistic works .

Linear perspective was a concept invented in the fifteenth century by Leon Battista Alberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. Linear perspective is the idea that converging lines will meet at a shared vanishing point in a picture. They developed the laws of linear perspective in around 1413, and Alberti featured its mathematical theory in his book Della Pittura. Many artists practicing this technique used grids in order to space the lines correctly along with the placement of objects in the picture.

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Perspective also tied into the idea of foreshortening; the concept that objects appear shorter as they become closer to a perpendicular angle according to the viewer’s position. Giotto di Bondone, a Florentine architect and painter, became one of the first Renaissance artists to perfect foreshortening.

Realism was also achieved through smoother blending and distinct contrasts. Sfumato, a method developed by Leonardo Da Vinci, focused on the blurring of outlines through the blending of color. The word “Sfumato” translates to “transform into smoke”. Paintings using this technique blend highlights and shadows in order to eliminate harsh lines.

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The term “Chiaroscuro”, meaning “light to dark”, describes works with strong contrast between highlights and shadows. Originating in drawings and woodcuts, the use of Chiaroscuro gave paintings a three-dimensional effect.

Another trend, closely relating to realism, was naturalism. Naturalist art is a style that focuses on precise detail and shows things how they appear in the real world. Unlike the works of the middle ages, naturalism in the Renaissance was inspired by the realistic accuracy found in classical sculptures. It first re-appeared in the paintings by Giotto di Bondone in the early Renaissance. Ancient Greeks saw mathematics as the foundation of beauty, so many artists utilized techniques, such as linear perspective, in their art. These works emphasized emotion, flow, and depth. Artists perfected naturalism by making observational drawings, as opposed to working from memory, and studying anatomy and nature. Some artists, including Da Vinci, illegally dissected corpses in order to study proportion and texture under the skin. Other artists used the sciences of geology and botany to inspire their paintings. Because naturalism dealt heavily with the form of the human body, drawing nude models was accepted during the Renaissance, although women still could not.

Sprouting from the humanist concept of individualism, came the popularity of portrait painting during the Renaissance. Drawing inspiration from Roman coins and medals, many artists only included the head and shoulders in portraits, though different regions developed different styles. For example, Venetian portraits depict subjects from varying levels of social class, shown from head to chest, at a ¾ angle, wearing standard patrician dress. Venetian painter Lorenzo Lotto invented the marriage portrait, which emphasized the importance and unification of the bride and groom. The Renaissance also saw an increase of portraits depicting women. In Northern Italy, artists painted beautiful women in elaborate clothing, not pertaining to a certain social class. In Venice, female portraits featured provocative women, often highlighting their figures. Some paintings displayed women as religious figures. These portraits were meant to link the positive attributes of saints to the subjects. It was widely believed that portraits not only provided an outer view of their subjects, but in addition, a window to their souls.

In the later years of the High Renaissance, around 1520, the style of Mannerism evolved, beginning in both Florence and Rome. Mannerist paintings featured imbalance, distortion, neurosis, high contrast, and exaggerated poses. Some works showed immense emotional tension, such as the paintings done by Pontormo, while others focused on the elongation of the human form. Mannerism was viewed negatively by Europeans until the middle of the twentieth century. This style allowed the artists’ bias to greatly affect the outcome of the painting.

The evolution of painting materials and techniques greatly influenced artistic improvement. Dating back to the age of Classical Antiquity, the Fresco reemerged as a popular artform. Frescos are murals painted onto plaster walls, a well-known example being the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. Pigment powders are mixed with water and directly painted on the wall, creating a durable matte surface. There are two main types of frescos. Buon frescoes are more permanent, using pigments that bond chemically to the surface. Secco frescoes are less durable, have bolder colors, and use a binder similar to tempera paints. Tempera paints were applied mainly to wood and smaller paintings and used egg yolks as a binder. While Tempera paints did create clean lines and tones, they were hard to work with because of their quick drying time. Because they dried more slowly, oil paints became popular towards the end of the Renaissance and allowed for smooth blending. Oil paints dried more evenly than Tempera paints and didn’t allow colors to bleed on the surface.

Due to the spread of Humanism and advancements in artistic mediums, Southern European art flourished during the Renaissance. Artworks from this period remain some of the most well-known pieces in history, such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Southern Renaissance art has greatly impacted the techniques used and styles of art seen today.

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Humanism and Southern Renaissance Art. (2022, Apr 02). Retrieved from

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