Renaissance: The early Renaissance (1400-1455)

In the fourteenth century Italy painting dominated sculpture, in the fifteenth century sculpture dominating painting, in the sixteenth century painting again took the head. "However the painter spoke a language more easily understood by the people, in colours that seized the eye, in scenes or narratives that told beloved tales; the Church found that painting moved the people more quickly; touched their hearts more intimately, than any carving of cold marble or casting of sombre bronze", observes W. Durant. So that painting varying its forms, improving its skills, became the supreme and characteristic art, the very face and soul of the Renaissance. In this period it was still groping and immature. Paolo Ucello studied perspective until nothing else interested him. Fra Angelico was the perfection, in life and art, of the medieval ideal. Only Masaccio felt the new spirit, and would soon triumph in Boticelli, Leonardo and Raphael. Masolino and Masaccio made their own studies in perspective; Masolino was one of the first Italians to paint nudes. Besides, there was a growing interest in landscape expressed by the depiction of natural scenery in painting. Painters filled their backgrounds with a charming variety of narrative details. Instead of the costly gold grounds that were so common in altarpieces, Italian patrons, began to specify "landscapes and skies" in their commissions. Masaccio (1401-1429) was the first to apply the new principles of perspective with a success that opened the eyes of his generation, and began a new era in pictorial art. The epochal masterpiece that made him the teacher of three generations was his continuation of Masolino's Branacci Chapel frescoes on the life of St. Peter (1423). But even so incomplete those Branacci frescoes were recognised at once as an immense step forward in painting. Every ambitious painter within reach of Florence came to study the series: Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, Verrocchio, Chirlandaio, Boticelli, Perugino, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and others. Masaccio died young just reaching 27. Filippo Lippi (1406-1469) as W. Durant describes: "despite his sexual irregularities or perhaps because of his amiable sensitivity to the loveliness of woman made his finest pictures of the Virgin. They missed the ethereal spirituality of Fra Angelico's Madonna's, but they conveyed a deep sense of soft physical beauty and infinite tenderness. In Filippo Lippi the Holy family became an Italian family, surrounded with homely incidents, and the Virgin took on a sensuous loveliness heralding the pagan Renaissance". The imitation of classic forms was more thorough in sculpture than in architecture. But it was in relief that sculpture won its first and most famous triumph in Florence in Cosimo's time, when a competition was opened to submit designs to cast in bronze a sample panel showing the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham for the north side door of the Baptistery. Lorenzo Ghilberti (1378-1455) a youth of 25 years won the competition and began the first pair of his famous bronze doors. When finished and about 22,000 florins spent (ca 2,5 Millions USD) Ghilberti was engaged to make a corresponding double door for the east side of the Baptistery. As the first pair of doors illustrated the New Testament, so now in ten panels Ghilberti presented Old Testament scenes. In this second undertaking covering 27 years, he had as assistants men already renowned or soon to be: Brunellesco, Ucello, Pollaiuolo. Here the Middle Ages and the Renaissance met in perfect harmony: Eve emerging from Adam's flesh rivalled the Hellenistic relief of Aphrodite rising from the sea. Men were astonished to find, in the background of the actions, landscapes almost as precise in perspective, and as reach in detail, as in the best painting of the time. The second double door was by common consent even finer than the first; Michelangelo considered it "so fine that it would grace the entrance of paradise". Donatello's (1386-1466) genius did not develop as rapidly as Ghilberti's but it reached greater scope and heights. At twenty seven he surpassed Ghilberti by carving a St.Mark so strong and simple and sincere that "it would have been impossible to reject the Gospel preached by such a straightforward man as this" said Michelangelo. His finest work is the bronze David ordered by Cosimo. He was an intimate friend of Cosimo Medici and Cosimo took such care of the sculptor that Donatello rarely thought about money. Verrocchio (1432-1488) - "True Eye" produced two of the greatest sculptures of his time. His boyish David standing in calm pride over the severed head of Goliath is placed at the head of the main stairway in Palazzo Vecchio. So obvious was Verocchio's superiority in bronze that the Venetian Senate invited him to come to Venice and cast a statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, the condottiere.

See also:
» The Renaissance     1400-1530
» High Renaissance     1470-1530
» Mannerism 1520-1580

Early Renaissance: Painting: Masaccio, Van Eyck, Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, Ucello
Sculpture: Ghiberti, Donatello, Verrocchio, Ucello

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