The Italian renaissance is known for the three greatest contributors to the world of art – Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Raphael. These three artists of the Italian renaissance are collectively known as the three giants of the world of art. However, unknown to many, there are many other artists who contributed a lot to the glory of the Italian renaissance and in this regard, all of these artists have had their own significant contributions to the art world and to the period in general. However, it is important to note that among all these artists, the three giants were all the mid-renaissance period which makes those who came before them just as important as those who came after them to include the post renaissance artists.
During the early period of the renaissance the most notable artists were Giotto (1267), Brunelleschi (1377), Ghiberti (1378), and Donatello (1386). (Thinkquest) While it would be impossible to compare these artists based on their contributions because each contributed to the development of art in their own ways, their impacts may well be viewed according to the contribution to the corpus. Giotto, for instance, is known for introducing some of the earliest techniques in the creation of three-dimensionality in paintings. (Thinkquest) He is known to have influenced artists of the mid-renaissance to include two of the giants, Michelangelo and Raphael. Following Giotto was Brunelleschi who introduced more complicated techniques in perspective by using geometric principles. Brunelleschi however is more known for his work as an architect and his winning the contract for the creation of cupola of the Florence Cathedral. So, unlike Giotto who established or perhaps even originated techniques in creating dimensions in paintings, Brunelleschi merely improved on earlier techniques pioneered by his predecessor. Unlike these first two artists of the early renaissance, Ghiberti was more focused on bronze work and sculpture which are entirely different genres from the previous two artists. Ghiberti focused more on the enhancement of already existing structures such as the doors of the Florence Cathedral which he embellished with bronze relief. Innovating from earlier artists, Donatello attempted to combine the perspective techniques established by Giotto and Brunelleschi and the genre of Ghiberti which was sculpture. So, Donatello achieved new heights in his sculptures by imbuing these with drama using perspective techniques. The David sculpture is one of Donatello’s more famous works where he combines perspective techniques and sculpture. Judging from the trend among these artists, the early renaissance established the basics for a more progressive movement in renaissance art as the mid-renaissance began.
In the mid-renaissance Masaccio is known for remaining faithful to the techniques first pioneered by Brunelleschi and Donatello and so is remembered for contributing to the features of art that typify the Italian renaissance. Like a cycle that began again in this stage of the renaissance, Masaccio built on techniques of perspective and improved on earlier techniques pioneered by both Brunelleschi and Donatello. While Masaccio could still be considered influenced by the earlier artists of the renaissance, a change in theme and iconography was to take place with the work of Botticelli. “Botticelli’s pictures were painting using tempera – a method in which color-pigments are combined with an emulsion of water and egg yolks or whole eggs (sometimes glue or milk)” (Encyclopedia of Irish Art) and featured “mythological topics including the Birth of Venus and Mars ; Venus, the Roman gods which reflected the return of Renaissance thought to its classical roots.” (Thinkquest) So, while there was nothing new with the technique used by Botticelli, his themes spoke of the origins of the renaissance and signaled a return to the classic subjects by earlier artists. This meant that Botticelli, apart from having his own creative sensitivities, studied the lore of Italian renaissance and portrayed these in his art. In keeping with an interesting theme preference, Leonardo Da Vinci also portrayed religious scenes such as the Last Supper and other scenes from the Bible. Da Vinci was known for his precision and detail in his artwork and was a scientist at the same time. He studied actual cadavers which led him to make technical sketches and drawings of the human body as well as of certain machines and gizmos that he conceptualized in his work. Of course, Da Vinci’s most famous contribution is the Monalisa which also features a more progressive form of color blending where the gradiations or the shifts from one shade to another are less pronounced giving the viewer the illusion that there is no distinct barrier between the subject of the artwork, the background and the foreground. This technique made the perspective illusion even more convincing. “He quickly developed his own artistic style…devising his own special formula of paint. His style was characterized by diffuse shadows and subtle hues and marked the beginning of the High Renaissance period.” (Berkeley) In effect, Da Vinci’s contributions, unlike the other artists before him, was not limited to art alone but expanded to include other fields such as philosophy, the earth sciences, architecture, and even mathematics. With Da Vinci’s attention to blending and shading as well as the dispersal of colors to blur the distinctions between borders, Bellini also used a similar technique but was more particular with lighting and foreshortening. (Thinkquest) Like Da Vinci, Bellini also influenced other artists of his time especially those from Venice. If Da Vinci developed his own pain mixtures, Bellini innovated on the use of paint and color. (Thinkquest) With previous artists also influencing the themes in the works of later artists, Bellini also had the propensity towards painting religious themes. Bellini, however, is less prolific when compared to Michelangelo who was born a handful of years after his predecessor. Among other things, Michelangelo is known for his work on the Sistine chapel. Like other artists of earlier periods, Michelangelo is also known for being an expert in both painting and sculpture as he also created two of art history’s most famous sculptures, his version of David and ‘Pieta’. “Toward the end of his life, Michelangelo became more involved in architecture and poetry. In 1546 he was made chief architect of the partly finished St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where the Pieta is now kept.” (Chew) “Raphael’s style was by no means uninfluenced by Michelangelo’s painting.” (Toman) In fact, this young artist of the renaissance even incorporated the faces of earlier masters into his paintings showing how heavily these artists have influenced his artwork. Raphael left his mark in the world in his work with the papal apartments where, again, the most dominant feature of which is the return to the classical themes of the Italian renaissance. Raphael’s innovations were no longer on the techniques and mediums as these were already heavily developed through time; his paintings reflected an artistic expression that began a unique kind of portraiture as seen in his piece, “Julius II”. Artists of the period referred to Raphael’s radical expression as ‘cartoon-like’ making a drastic shift from the mimetic art forms of the period. (Thinkquest) The most recent of the artists of the mid-renaissance is Titian, who, when compared to previous artists, is known only for his execution using “thick, dramatic brush strokes” (Thinkquest) which gave his paintings more texture. So, when compared to the early renaissance artists, the artists of the mid-renaissance had basically little to contribute to the field in terms of technique and medium, hence, their expansion to other fields like Da Vinci and the invention of more radical and more extreme forms of expression such as that of Raphael and Titian.
The late renaissance included two famous artists, Tintoretto and Caravaggio, whose contributions, as expected, were not as notable as the ones who had come before them; perhaps because so much has been done in the past two centuries that it was already difficult to find anything new. Tintoretto was known for his portrayal of emotion and the adventurousness of his themes. Caravaggio, on the other hand, used techniques earlier used by Da Vinci but on a more explicit level enabling him to portray even more dramatic emotions in his work. What his work did was instead of conveying an emotion in the paintings; they drew out powerful emotions from the viewers. His work inspired many other painters in Northern Europe such as those done by Rembrandt. (Thinkquest) Towards the end of the renaissance more artists emerged who were known as artists of the Italian post-renaissance, but when the three main periods of the Italian renaissance are compared, the contributions of later artists are dwarfed by that of their forebears.
The early renaissance had the most contribution to art in terms of the development of technique and medium; in contrast, the mid-renaissance artists began to experiment on theme and other, more advanced media; and finally, the late renaissance artists simply had to make do with whatever was available in terms of technique and theme because most of the work had been done by those who came earlier. However, putting all these three major period together, history is blessed to have a period in history called the Italian renaissance because without this great golden age of art, the world would have to grapple with a life which lacks beauty and sensitivity.
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