Renaissance: The High Renaissance (1470-1530)

The year 1500 marks a subtle shift in artistic style and objectives. The new phase, which is popularly known as the High Renaissance, is usually associated with the careers of the Italian giants, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, and Titian. To Vasari, writing in 1550, the key to the new style was "gracia", meaning a refined grace and ease of manner. Even the most contrived details were made to appear effortless and unforced. This period is blessed by the blossom of an universal genius: Leonardo da Vinci, a son of extra martial affair of a peasant girl and a Florentine attorney. Leonardo as well as his contemporaries: Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Boticelli are almost without any doubt among the greatest names in history of art. Leonardo (1452 -1519) was brought up in the house of his father in semi- aristocratic comfort without maternal love. When he was turning fifteen his father took him to Verrocchio studio in Florence. All the educated world knows the story of how Leonardo painted the angel at the left in Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ, and how the master was overwhelmed by the beauty of the figure that he gave up painting and devoted himself to sculpture. Leonardo was interested in everything. All postures and actions of human body, all expressions of the face in young and old, all the organs and movements of animal and plants, all the currents and eddies of water and wind-all seemed endlessly wonderful to him. He was much more interested in study of an object than in finishing his work. When the monks of San Scopeto asked him to paint a picture for their chapel, he made so many sketches for so many features and forms of it that he lost himself in the details, and never finished The Adoration of the Magi. Nevertheless it is one of his greatest paintings. The number of Leonardo's paintings left to the posterity are astoundingly few, but each of them is an invaluable gem. Sandro Boticelli (1444-1510) was apprenticed by the goldsmith Boticelli whose name he received. At sixteen the lad came to Fra Filippo Lippi, who felt a sympathy to the restless and impetuous youth. At twenty one in 1465 Boticelli set up his own studio and soon received commissions from Medici. His finest portraits are of Guliano Medici, Lorenzo's brother, and Guliano's beloved Simonetta Vespucci. Under the influence of Lorenzo's circle, he turned more and more to pagan subjects, usually from classical mythology, and favouring the nude. It was apparently for Guliano and Lorenzo that he painted The birth of Venus. Finally in his Primavera Boticelli expressed the mood of Lorenzo's hymn to Bacchus. Michelangelo ( 1475-1564) already as a lad of 13th in year 1488 he was taken under the wing of Lorenzo Medici, who sponsored talented young artists. In 1501 he sculptured in Rome the Pieta which is one of the glories of the St. Peters Basilica in Vatican; returning to Florence he sculptured his David, the most famous statue in the world. He was paid for it about 70,000 USD- a rather small sum for thirty month of work. Michelangelo chose rather to portray an individual- imaginary in conception, realistic in detail. He did not imitate antique, except in costumes; his work was characteristically his own, no renaissance, but a unique creation. In 1505 he was invited to Rome by Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt his funeral monument which came to an end only 1545. He must have seen at once that he would be miserable with Julius, they were so much alike. Both had temper and temperament. Both were Titans in spirit and aim, acknowledging no superior, admitting no compromise, passing from one grandiose project to another. Julius wanted him to paint the ceiling of the chapel of Sixtus IV. He hesitated to face the problems of perspective and foreshortening in painting a ceiling sixty eight feet (ca 21 m) above the floor. He protested again that he was a sculptor, not a painter, he recommended Raphael as a better man for the work, but in vain. For over four years he worked on Sistine ceiling. He had helpers to grind the colours, prepare the plaster, but his style of conception, design and colouring was so different from theirs, that he did almost everything himself. To the technical difficulties Julius added himself by his impatience to have the great work completed and displayed. "No one of his pictures in the Sistine Chapel equal Raphael's School of Athens's in conception, drawing, colour, and technique; but taken all together, they constitute the greatest achievement of any man in the history of painting" W.Durant. The theme and object of his art was the human body. Like the Greeks, he cared less for the face and its expression than for the whole physical frame. On the Cistine ceiling are half hundred male, and few female nudes- he preferred the male body as more expressive, not so much beautiful as athletic and strong. There is no sexual suggestion in them, only the persistent display of the human body as the highest embodiment of energy, vitality, and life. The Pope Julius made no recorded objection to this way of artistic expression, he was a man as broad as his hatreds, and he recognised great art when he saw it. One who has seen his Moses could take for granted that Moses has really seen God: "I can not contemplate the nature with such great and open eyes", says Goethe. In 1524 Michelangelo has finished the "Medici Chapel" commissioned by the Pope Clement VII, the tombs show the dead men in prime of life, with no attempt to reproduce their real forms or features. When some incautious observer remarked this lack of realism, Michelangelo answered with words that revealed his sublime confidence in his artistic immorality: "Who will care, a thousand years later, whether these are their features or not". These tombs are the apogee of Renaissance sculpture, as the Sistine Chapel is the summit of Renaissance painting, and Saint Peter's dome is the architectural pinnacle of the Renaissance. Titian (1477-1576) was apprenticed by several artists and finally by Giovanni Bellini where he worked side by side with Giorgione. "He was so deeply influenced by Giorgione that some of his early pictures have been ascribed to Giorgione and vice versa. Titian developed leisurely, like any organism dowered with a century of life. Having learned that female beauty, adorned or natural, would always find customers. Titian pursued the theme joyously. He painted an arresting portrait of Duke Alfonso, the picture that stirred even Michelangelo to prise. It is characteristic that Titian could pass from Bacchus to Christ, from Venus to Mary, and back again, with no apparent loss of his peace of mind", says W. Durant. In 1530 Titian was introduced to the most powerful monarch in Christendom - Charles V. During the next sixteen years Titian painted a dazzling sequence of Imperial portraits. It is a credit to the painter and King that these portraits make no attempt to idealise their subject, except in costume. Called " the best painter now living" by Federigo of Mantua, he made one of the art's most perfect nudes, the Venus of Urbino for the successor of Federigo. In 1535 he made a portrait of Pope Paul III. This and Raphael's Julius II contest the distinction of being the finest, deepest portrait of the Italian Renaissance. Titian is interested in nature as well in women, and paints on several of canvases splendid landscapes that are sometimes as lovely as the goddess herself. However the portraits reveal in Titian an ability to seize and convey human character with a force of art unequalled by the combined portraits of any other hand. Raphael (1483-1520) is the chosen one by fate. He is the best loved artist in history; as a young painter thirty one years old Raphael was named after Bramente's dead by Pope Leo X to succeed him as architectural director of the work at the new St.Peter's. Son of an artist he started his artistic carrier in Urbino and Perugia where he painted for the Church a Coronation of the Virgin, now in Vatican. Late in 1504 he set out for Florence, perhaps he met Leonardo, certainly the acquaintance with Leonardo's Adoration of the Magi, Mona Lisa, The Virgin, Child, and Anna proved to him that the paintings of Ferrara, Bologna , Siena, Urbino were vastly inferior the Leonardo' works. In a portrait of Maddalena Doni (now in Pitti palace) Raphael obviously imitated the Mona Lisa. Already in his Florentine period (1504-1505, 1506-1507) he was painting pictures now famous throughout Christendom and beyond. His morals were not quite up to his manners. He could not have painted women so attractively had he not been powerfully attracted by their charm. He had a concatenation of mistresses, but everybody including the Pope, seemed to think that so great an artist had a right to such amusements. When asked where he found the models for the beautiful women whom he painted, he replied that he created them in his imagination out of the diverse elements of beauty present in different women; hence he needed a large variety of samples. He died 1520 , all the artists of Rome followed him to his grave, the Pope Leo mourned the loss of his beloved painter. In the opinion of his contemporaries he was the greatest painter of his age. Comparing him with Michelangelo W.Durant says: "He produced nothing equally sublime as the Sistine ceiling, but Michelangelo produced nothing equal in beauty to the fifty Madonnas of Raphael. His work was the product of finished skill, not of profound feeling or conviction". He remained always the guileless youth cheerfully oscillating between Madonnas and mistresses; this was his blithe way of reconciling paganism and Christianity. There were no obstacles which restricted his freedom of imagination, he was above any conventionality. His sense of measure and beauty was extraordinary, combining moderation, inspiration, taste, and poetry.

See also:
» The Renaissance

» Early Renaissance     1400-1455
» Mannerism 1520-1580

High Renaissance:
Painting: Ghirlandaio, Boticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Micheangelo, Titian, Giorgione, Corredgio
Sculpture: Michelangelo
Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Bramante
Literature: F.Rableis
Poetry: Ronsard

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