The Renaissance (14th-15th century)

The Italian Renaissance was a cultural movement that aimed to bring back the light of classical knowledge after the darkness of the Middle Ages.

Ornate Italian Renaissance-inspired style in the Library of Congress, the most ornate building on Capitol Hill.
Ornate Italian Renaissance style- The artwork and themes for the Library of Congress were inspired by the Italian Renaissance. Arguably, it is the most ornate building on Capitol Hill.

Image source: by yeahbouyee

Catedral de Santa María de Valencia: The interior of a large ornate dome structure with religious paintings, and various gold flourishes and decorations.
Valencia Cathedral- Virgin Mary, polychrome wood carving by I. Vergara (18th century)

Image source: by (vincent desjardins)

Renaissance Architecture

Brunelleschi’s first commission was for the dome that covered the central space of Florence’s cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 14th century without a roof. Brunelleschi’s daring design used the pointed Gothic arch and Gothic ribs that were conceived by Arnolfo. While stylistically this structure is Gothic, the roof is structurally influenced by Ancient Rome, which Brunelleschi could not have ignored during construction.

Brunelleschi's dome, which has fantastical religious paintings painted in light and bright colors.
Brunelleschi’s Dome, detail

Image source: by tpholland

Inside the Pantheon‘s single-shell concrete dome is a coffering, which lightens the weight. The vertical partitions of the coffering are used as ribs. At the apex, there is an 8-meter opening. Brunelleschi knew that a huge dome could be designed without a keystone. Yet, the dome in Florence is supported by ribs and internally by a brick shell. Although the techniques are different, both domes have a thick network of ribs. The structures have a big opening at the top too.

A photo of the structure of Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence, seen from the outside.
The dome of Florence Cathedral (the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore)

Image source: by roy.luck

High Renaissance

Tempietto, from the inner courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio. A white, bright structure with columns along the bottom and a dome on the top.
Tempietto in the Cloister of San Pietro in Montorio

Image source: by MCAD Library

In Rome, Bramante designed the Tempietto in the Cloister of San Pietro in Montorio. This small circular temple was built where St Peter was martyred and is one of the most sacred sites in Rome. The temple has various architectural inspirations from Roman and Greek cultures. Its beauty and harmony were quickly praised by Giorgio Vasari, one of the most important critics of the time.


San Giorgio Maggiore , located in Venice, has four three-quarter composite columns based on high pedestals, which shaped the central door. In the back plane, the lower body of the church is structured with a small order of pilasters, used to support two lower half pediments on each side. The cornice line goes all over the central body and links the two forms.

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which is a large structure with various colored stone.
HIGH RENAISSANCE ARCHITECTURE, Facade of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice,1566,Palladio.

Image source: by TravelingOtter

Renaissance Interior design

The interiors were also an important center of interest to Renaissance sensibility. Palaces were impressed with several spatial effects, such as marble staircases, and impressing decors. Living rooms and bedrooms were furnished with expensive pieces of furniture and designed respecting the spirit of antiquity. The floor, walls, and door lines were adorned with marble or ceilings trimmed with wood.

Skyline Drive Basement Entertainment Center: A tan built-in on the left with a tv in the center and various chairs and tables on the right.
Example of Renaissance furniture

Image source: by KairosPhotography

The Renaissance also impacted furniture, which began incorporating several clear architectural elements, such as a miniature palace with columns, pilasters, cornices, pediments. The main materials used were black and white woods (oak, walnut), ivory, stone, marble, and sandstone. As for colors, dark and gloomy colors were mostly used along with cool shades of white and pastel shades to offer a sense of comfort.

Red walls, green curtains, and warm-tone lamps fill up the majority of the photo.
English Renaissance Interior

Image source: by Incase.

David by Donatello and Sculpture

David by Donatello marks the return of the nude sculpture in the round figure. Cosimo de Medici commissioned it for the Palazzo Medici. David is depicted in a triumphal moment of the bible when he won his battle with the Philistine, Goliath. Donatello seems to recall to mind heroic nudity of antiquity. A Renaissance sculpture usually has these features:

  • Naturalism is evident in the use of contemporary subjects and naturalistic use of proportions
  • The reemergence of classical subjects and forms passes through a revival of classicism in sculpture
  • The craft of metalwork played a key role starting with bronze, employed first for reliefs, statues, and busts
A photo of the Bronze David by Donatello statue.
Bronze David, Donatello, 1440

Image source: by WVJazzman

Renaissance Art

Renaissance art can be divided into two periods:

Early Renaissance (1400-1479) in which artists learned trying to emulate classical artists giving importance to symmetry to produce the perfect form. Artists of this period were: Giotto, Masaccio, and Donatello.

High Renaissance (1475-1525) was featured with a rising interest in perspective and space to make art more realistic. Artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rafael were important in this period.

A photo of the La Pietà de Michelangelo's statue in the Vatican. The Virgin Mary is depicted sorrowful and holding her son after his crucifixion.
La  Pietà (1499)-Michelangelo (Vatican)

Image source: by dalbera

A colorful and vivid painting of the transfiguration of Jesus.
Transfiguration (1520) is the last painting created by Raphael

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Masaccio’s Holy Trinity. A faded image of a painting of Jesus on the cross. Reds, whites and reds are used in this photo.
Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, 1424

Image source: by tpholland

The main artist active during this time was Masaccio, who was famous for his frescoes of the Trinity in the Church of Santa Maria Novella and the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine, in Florence. Masaccio painted for less than six years but was an important influence on the early Renaissance for the intellectualism and naturalism of his works.

Renaissance Artists Heritage

Rome displaced Florence as the most important center of Renaissance art. Three great artists, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, dominated the High Renaissance. Leonardo was even named the “Renaissance man” because of his interest in humanist and classical values. Leonardo’s best-known works, including the “Mona Lisa,” “The Virgin of the Rocks,”  and “The Last Supper,” demonstrate his skill at rendering light, shadows and landscapes around human life.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, which depicts a smirking woman with brown hair.
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1506

Image source: by Joaquín Martínez Rosado

Leonardo's depiction of the Last Supper: Jesus in the center with his disciples surrounding him on either side. They are all seen seated at a long, skinny table.
Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498

Image source: by ideacreamanuelaPps

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