The fertile period known as the Renaissance embraced several major movements and new directions. Among them were the advancement of humanistic and scientific knowledge, an amazing outburst of productivity in the arts, the rise of the Reformation, the discovery of new worlds through navigation, and the growth of cities and national states.
The invention of movable type and Gutenberg's printing press made books more available and aided the spread of knowledge. Humanist scholars saw the Renaissance as an intellectual awakening after a long medieval winter. They were inspired by classical models and the rediscovery of the joys and beauty of the natural world for its own sake. Philosophers like Pico della Mirandola reaffirmed the ancient belief that "nothing is more wonderful than man," and emphasized the individual as "the interpreter of nature by the sharpness of his senses, by the curiosity of his reason and by the light of his intelligence. . . ." More broadly, humanism reinforced the role of individuals in all spheres. Sculptors and painters studied geometry, optics, and anatomy so as to represent the world in three dimensions as the eye beholds it and to render images of the human body more naturalistically. Single-point perspective was utilized for this purpose (see Melone’s Madonna and Child, for example).
In northern Europe, Renaissance humanism expressed itself less in terms of the revival of antiquity than in scientific observation and careful study of natural phenomena. In the arts this new spirit meant a shift away from medieval symbolism and heavenly visions toward a more careful description and more accurate representation of forms as seen in the natural world (as in the careful rendering of the background detail in the two Hercules panels). In science this led, among other developments, the speculations of Copernicus, who turned the world inside out by theorizing that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. Galileo and other astronomers used telescopes to scan the skies and gather proof of the Copernican theory.
The position of the Catholic Church as a powerful political force and as an institution increasingly concerned with worldly affairs came under close scrutiny. Abuses among the clergy in amassing land and money laid the basis for the Reformation, instigated by Martin Luther. The reformers held that individuals could interpret the word of God for themselves by reading the Scriptures and arrive at truths independent of the mediation of the priesthood. The reformers were also iconoclastic in that they viewed liturgical art as an impediment to truth (see the Ascending Christ).
The term Mannerism is used to describe a kind of art that arose in the early sixteenth century, first in Florence and later in Venice and elsewhere. Mannerism can be seen as a reaction against the harmonious classicism of the Renaissance style. In the wake of the apparent
MAA 06/2012 Docent Manual Volume 2 Renaissance and Mannerism 1 RENAISSANCE AND MANNERISM technical perfections which had been achieved by Renaissance masters, younger artists felt caught in a bind between merely repeating the old paths or striking out in new directions. The latter option, chosen by many, implied taking technical achievements such as perspective and foreshortening for granted and then deliberately breaking the rules, leading to bold, dramatic departures from precedent. Paris Bordone's Thetis and Hephaestus offers an example of a Mannerist style.
(Adapted from William Fleming, Arts and Ideas, New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1980.) (MAA 12/95)
MAA 06/2012 Docent Manual Volume 2 Renaissance and Mannerism 2 RENAISSANCE AND MANNERISM
General Characteristics of High Renaissance Art in Italy • Artists completely mastered the illusionistic techniques developed during the Early Renaissance • Continued interest in naturalism, classicism, humanism, idealism, etc. • New interest in portraying figures moving and interacting with one another in coherent groups • New interest in depicting psychological states through gesture, movement and facial expressions
General Characteristics of Late Renaissance Art, Venetian Art and International Mannerism • Heightened sense of spirituality and drama • Increased interest in dynamic compositions, diagonals, spirals • Increased interest in showing figures in a variety of poses, sometimes including bizarre, contorted poses • Increased interests in swirling and flying figures hovering in the air • Increased interest in dramatic light effects • Increased interest in images that encourage viewer participation • Influence of the Reformation/Counter Reformation. Council of Trent (1563) demands the following o That art remain in the churches in order to teach and inspire the faithful o That religious art communicate its message clearly o That artists avoid images that might confuse the faithful o That artists avoid images that might inspire lust in viewers • Venetian artists are especially interested in rich color, landscape, light and atmospheric effects. Venetians particularly exploit the luminous qualities of oil paint on canvas
General Characteristics of Mannerism (c. 1525-1595) Now that artists have a command of naturalism, anatomy, and classicism, some begin to create intentional distortions to achieve desired aesthetic effects.
• Poses are often unnatural, distorted and dance-like • Color and anatomy is exaggerated • Action often takes place on a single frontal plane, creating a frieze-like effect • Often influenced by the more mannered qualities of Michelangelo • New interest in compositions built around diagonals, S-curves, and swirling motion (These compositions foreshadow the Baroque)
MAA 06/2012 Docent Manual Volume 2 Renaissance and Mannerism 3 RENAISSANCE AND MANNERISM
Akker, Paul van den. Looking for Lines: Theories on the Essence of Art and the Problem of Mannerism. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010.
Campbell, Stephen J. and Michael W. Cole. Italian Renaissance Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012.
Hartt, Frederick. History of Italian Renaissance Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987.
Rogers, Mary, ed. Fashioning Identities in Renaissance Art. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 2000.
MAA 06/2012 Docent Manual Volume 2 Renaissance and Mannerism 4