The High Renaissance is seen as the artistic pinnacle of the era and is a term given to a particular period within the Renaissance. This thirty-year period was exemplified by the groundbreaking and iconic works of art being made in Italy. This time general was considered a thriving societal prime. There was a deep rejuvenation of classical art that was married to an intense exploration into the humanities. This spurred artists on to wield their exceptional skills, exploring the concepts of science, anatomy, and architecture through their work. Even today, these works remain some of the most awe-inspiring artworks of history.
This was the dominant style in Italy during the 16th century and also saw the birth of Mannerism, which we explore in further essays. The High Renaissance period is traditionally taken as starting in the 1490s, with Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco of The Last Supper. It ended in roughly in 1527 with the Sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V. The term, “High Renaissance” was first used in the 19th century, some 300 years later. However, it is important to note that in recent history, many academic art historians criticize the term for oversimplifying the artistic developments that took place and ignoring historical context. There is also a notable focus on only a few iconic works and the era was truly blooming with culture and art.
High Renaissance is seen as being “high” because it was considered the period in which the artistic aims and goals of the Renaissance truly reached their pinnacle. The era is seen to have been dominated by three individuals: Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo was an exquisite sculptor, painter, and architect and he demonstrated a true mastery of the human figure. His frescoes rank among the greatest works of Renaissance art. Raphael was skilled in creative incredible perspective and hailed for his delicate use of colour. Da Vinci painted two of the most well-known works of Renaissance art: The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. Despite this, it is important to note that he was actually a generation older than Michelangelo and Raphael, though his work is still stylistically consistent with the High Renaissance. Because of this, he is therefore often seen as the father of the movement.
In terms of the artworks themselves, they followed a certain set of principles and ideologies. Stylistically, painters during this period were influenced by classical art and their works were harmonious. However, this can be said for Early Renaissance too. What separates the two eras was the unity of the image, for one. And two, it was during the High Renaissance that artists first began to use oil paints. Traditionally, tempera paint or was the only available painting medium and artists were therefore fairly limited. Tempera dries superbly fast but with oils, the artist could achieve a quality to the work that had simply not existed before. There was a restrained beauty to a High Renaissance painting. Coming back to the unity of the image, we see in these works a process where all the distinct parts and details of the works come together to support a cohesive whole.
One of the other furthering factors in the endeavors of the High Renaissance was that the number and diversity of patrons had increased tenfold and this allowed for greater development in art. For example, Da Vinci is credited for inventing the Sfumato technique, which allows tones and colours to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. This can be seen especially in the Mona Lisa and is likely one of the reasons she is so revered. This technique originated in part due to the introduction of oil paint as a viable medium but also because artists like Da Vinci were given the space and freedom to explore and push boundaries.
It is easy to see how the High Renaissance is viewed as the pinnacle of artistic success but it truly was just the beginning. Finally, there was truly room for art to grow and not just follow the norms of the day. It is the beginning of a series of flowering into further art movements that would only serve to enhance man’s ability to communicate through art. And was this not the purpose of Renaissance art? To explore the possibilities of humanity?
Medieval art is a term that encompasses a general period of economic and social stagnation in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. It spanned roughly from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD to the early stages of the Renaissance in the 1400s. Though art historians debate the exact styles and chronological separations in the Medieval period, it is generally accepted that it is divided into three sub-categories. These were Early Medieval Art or Byzantine Art, Romanesque Art and Gothic Art.
There was very little evolution during this period and much of the knowledge gained from the Romans and Greeks were discarded and destroyed. This was because they represented a belief in a pantheon of Gods, as opposed to the singular creator that represents Christianity. The evolution that did occur was through mankind addressing Biblical subjects, Christian dogma and
combining it with Classical mythology. During the Early Middle Ages, the Catholic Church funded many projects and the oldest examples of Christian art survive in Roman catacombs or burial crypts beneath the city. By 350 AD, the Church had two primary power hubs, Rome in the West and Constantinople in the East. Constantinople was also the capital city of the Byzantine Empire.
This played quite an influential role in the evolution of Medieval art and the Byzantine period. However, despite this seeming progress, this age of art is generally also referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’. This is the period of time from 500 to 1000 AD. The main form of art produced here is called Byzantine art and originated from the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantine art was characterized by its lack of realism. The artists did not try to make their paintings realistic but
focused on the symbolism of their art. Paintings were flat with no shadows and the subject matter was usually very serious and somber. The subjects of the paintings were almost entirely religious with many paintings being of Christ and the Virgin Mary. After this period came the Romanesque art phase, which began around 1000 AD.
The Romanesque art movement lasted around 300 years. The focus here was much the same as the Dark Ages, with religious subject matter being at the fore. However, they explored other areas like stained glass detailing, large murals on walls and domed ceilings and carvings on buildings and columns. Following immediately from this was Gothic art. Here we see a move towards more realism, with proportion and perspective being more closely examined. The
Gothic artists also used brighter colours and began to play more with shadow and light. With these new techniques, they found themselves more interested in trying varied subject matter and themes, shifting to include mythical scenes in their art, as well as religious representation.
It is important to look at all facets of life during this time and acknowledge that the majority of literature from this time also focused heavily on religion. Most people who were literate were clerics and monks. Very few people knew how to read and write and relied on these figures to relay information to them. It is only natural then that the perception of knowledge was very much skewed to show but one side of the coin. The reason this era was called the Dark Age was because of the lack of progression. People were not taught to think for themselves and relied only on the word of others. Past cultures were even seen as being ‘Pagan’ and thus to be feared and destroyed. Progress simply halted because there was nothing to be learned from the past and no way through the lack of information. It was only when the bloom of the Renaissance took hold that more and more people had the skills to question and critique the world around them.
Islamic art will typically encompass all visual arts produced from the seventh century onwards by culturally Islamic populations. It is not art from a specific region, time or place and is not encompassed by a single medium. It spans across about 1400 years and covers many lands, populations and includes a wide range of artistic fields from architecture to calligraphy, painting, glass ceramics, and even textiles, among others.
One of the key identifiers of Islamic art is that it does not usually show the human form. Unlike other religious arts, Islamic culture believes that the depiction of the human form is idolatry and is thereby a sin against God. It is forbidden in the Qu’ran, which it the central text of Islam. Calligraphy and architectural elements are given more important religious significance in Islamic art for this reason. However, despite this, it is a misconception to say that all Islamic art is free from figurative representation. Most of it is because most of it stems from religious or public spaces. In secular, private areas, one has a bit more freedom to explore. The areas where this is a bit more gray is usually in secular, or non-religious representations of Islamic art. Depictions of the human form can be found in these instances. Often private residences of sovereign rulers were filled with vast figurative paintings, mosaics, and sculpture.
Islamic art also developed from a variety of sources. From Roman art and early Christian influences to Byzantine styles. Even the influence of central Asian styles brought by various nomadic excursions can be seen in Islamic painting, pottery, and textiles. In general, however, Islamic art encompasses the visual arts produced from the seventh century onwards by both Muslims and non-Muslims who lived within territories that were inhabited or ruled by a culturally Islamic population. It is thus a very difficult art to define because of how wide spread it was. Islamic art is not necessarily restricted to religious representation and can include art from all manner of different, culturally rich walks of life. Because figurative representations were and still are generally forbidden in Islam, the written word takes on religious meaning in art through calligraphic inscription. Calligraphy and the decoration of manuscript Qu’rans is an important aspect of Islamic art as here the written word takes on the religious and artistic significance, instead of a figure meant to represent a god or angels.
Islamic architecture is also particularly important to look at. Architecture such as mosques are embedded with religious significance. There are repeating elements in Islamic art and architecture. Wall decorations or murals will typically be stylized, feature geometric floral or vegetative designs in a repeating pattern known as the arabesque. The arabesque in Islamic art is often used to symbolize the transcendent, indivisible and infinite nature of God. Some scholars believe that mistakes in these patterns may be a deliberate show of humility by artists who believe that only God can produce true perfection. This carries through to many different iterations of their craft, from an imperfect stitch in a carpet to a missed repetition on the decoration of a vase. The focus primarily in Islamic art was on the depiction of patterns and calligraphy.
One of the most famous monuments of Islamic art is the Taj Mahal, a royal mausoleum which is located in Agra, India. Hinduism is the majority religion in India however because Muslim rulers dominated large areas of modern-day India for centuries. As such, India has a vast and dynamic range or Islamic art and architecture. In general, Islamic empires and dynasties controlled territories from Spain to Western China at differing points in history. However, few artists from these areas would have labeled themselves as Islamic artists. An artisan from Spain would have just been a Spanish painter. As such, it makes it difficult for art historians to use the term “Islamic Art” as an umbrella term. Places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art have decided instead to omit the term “Islamic” from their new galleries. They will instead call them things like “Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, and Central Asia.” This stresses more the regional styles and individual cultures associated with Islamic art. Despite this, there are still themes and types of objects that link the arts of the Islamic world together. Certain building types, for example, appear throughout the world. Mosques, gardens, mausoleums and religious schools can all be found across the Islamic world.
Byzantine art, architecture, paintings and other visual arts were produced in the Middle Ages in the Byzantine Empire, which was centred at Constantinople and in other various areas that came under its influence. The styles that emerged from this period were all particularly similar or homogeneous. It began this way in the 6ht century and continued on until Constantinople was captured by the Turks in 1453. Byzantine art was almost entirely concerned with religious expression and more specifically, with a very carefully controlled church theology. Essentially in that, the church controlled the artistic terms of the period. Its architecture grew out of this, as well as its paintings and for the most part, remained fairly uniform and anonymous.