From the medieval art period to the ages of Impressionism, Surrealism, and Postmodernism, the world of art has seen its fair share of influential movements. One of the most influential major art movements is the Renaissance period.
If you have an interest in studying art history, you'll enjoy plenty of opportunities to learn about the Renaissance period and its ongoing impact on art as we know it today. We’ll get you started with a basic understanding of what the Renaissance period is, the effects of Renaissance art on modern art, and some of the most influential Renaissance artists to position to make the most of your art history education.
What Is the Renaissance Art Period?
Before we dive into the specifics of the revolutionary Renaissance art period, it's essential to understand that this was one of the most impactful art movements in history. In fact, some might even argue that the Renaissance period had the most profound and far-reaching influence of any art movement to date.
Of course, not everyone agrees on this assessment, but one fact remains: The Renaissance art movement was a period of incredible creativity in Europe that truly celebrated individualism and humanism, contributing to the rise of such acclaimed artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Likewise, you can't cover classical learning without an in-depth understanding of the Renaissance period in art history.
History of the Renaissance Art Period
Prior to the Renaissance period in Europe, art was mostly a reflection of religious beliefs. This was especially true during the Early Middle Ages, which lasted from approximately 500 to1000 CE. In the 1300s, however, Italian artists first began to abandon this religion-based approach to art and focus more on humanism and realism. This increase in secular art was due to the rise of a “middle class” of art patrons who could afford to commission art to decorate their homes and show off their wealth and success. Previously, the Catholic Church was essentially the sole entity with the funds available to pay for massive artworks.
Eventually, this new artistic perspective birthed the Italian Renaissance, which spanned the 14th through the 17th centuries and eventually expanded outside of Italy and throughout Europe.
So, what were some of the characteristics of Renaissance art? As artists shifted away from religious forms in their depictions, we began to see more of a focus on both realism and naturalism with more secular themes than previously seen. During this time, there was an increase in the use of perspective to create a sense of realism and depth of space.
When you think of Renaissance art, the first masterpiece that may come to mind is the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. This painting perfectly represents many characteristics of Renaissance art, including realistic shadowing and an aerial perspective. Another unique style of art borne out of the Renaissance movement was the fresco technique, made by applying paint onto wet plaster to achieve vibrant, rich color.
Some other popular types of art during the Renaissance period included:
- Decorative arts
- Oil paintings (still life paintings, portraits, and humanistic paintings)
- Music such as German Lied, Italian Frottola, French chanson, Italian Madrigal and the Spanish Villancico
Importance of the Renaissance Period on Art
The Renaissance period of art was (and still is) significant for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the Renaissance period marked a time of rebirth that sparked a newfound awareness of humanity, nature, and even our interactions with others. After all, the term “renaissance” originates from a French word meaning “rebirth,” which aptly describes this era of European civilization that revived classical learning and wisdom.
For the first time during the Renaissance period, artists focused on human behavior and emotions, depicting people interacting with each other in their natural states. Although this may not sound groundbreaking today, it certainly was at the time.
Effects of Renaissance Art in Modern Art
Those curious about art history may wonder, "How does Renaissance art affect us today?"
It's hard to believe an art movement that occurred hundreds of years ago can still influence the way we think and even create in the modern world, yet it absolutely does. From teachings in school to the artwork and techniques we see used in modern art, the Renaissance period brought about a lot of change that continues to affect our worldview.
Teaching and History
If you study art history or any type of world history, you would be hard-pressed to find a course that doesn't cover the Renaissance period. This may not only include the Renaissance art period, but also the entire Renaissance movement. As one of many historical art movements, the Renaissance period was among the most influential and is thus covered extensively as part of any art history course. Today, college professors and instructors keep the innovations of this period alive with presentations, lectures, and discussions of realism, humanism, and other ideas championed by this movement.
The Mona Lisa remains one of the most universally recognized artworks worldwide. You don't need to know much (if anything) about art or art history to recognize this famous work and Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance artist behind it.
In fact, you can even find some interesting recreations of Renaissance art in today's popular culture. Consider, for example, the album covers for Beyoncé's Renaissance album that depicts the music star sitting on top of a silver horse. This album art is a direct reference to Adam van Noort's 1586 work, Lady Godiva, which depicts a noblewoman atop a horse in the 11th century. Similarly, in Ariana Grande's "God is a Woman" music video, we see direct and obvious references to Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam.
These are only a couple examples of the effects of Renaissance art on modern culture.
Art Style and Techniques
Many of the art styles and techniques that emerged during the Renaissance period are still in heavy use among current artists. From oil and tempera paintings to sculptures and still life portraits, these art styles have been used so much since the Renaissance period that they are often considered the norm in today’s age.
Influential Artists From the Renaissance Period
While there are dozens of Renaissance-era artists who deserve recognition, we will focus on a handful of the most notable and influential.
Leonardo da Vinci
One simply cannot speak about Renaissance art history without discussing Leonardo da Vinci. One of the most interesting things about Leonardo is that he wasn't just an artist, but a scientist as well. He was especially interested in the workings of the human body and it is said that he helped medical professionals perform autopsies during his lifetime.
Because he was unafraid to understand the inner workings of the human body, he was also able to apply what he learned to his art through the creation of very realistic paintings and sculptures. Thanks to Leonardo da Vinci's work, other artists began to see how the human body could be represented and celebrated in art—which, in turn, influenced and inspired many other Renaissance-era artists.
Another noteworthy Renaissance-era artist is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simon. He lived from 1475 to 1564 and was one of many artists interested in the human body after being inspired by Leonardo’s groundbreaking studies of human anatomy.
Michelangelo was perhaps best known for his work in sculpting, having created many marble masterpieces that are still on display today. However, he is also famous for his frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in addition to paintings like The Last Judgment.
El Greco was another influential artist of the Renaissance era. He was known as a painter, sculptor, and architect during the Renaissance period in Spain. His art is acclaimed for its rich colors and dynamic compositions that had not been seen previously, with some of his most notable works including The Disrobing of Christ and View of Toledo.
Andrea del Verrocchio
Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de'Cioni, Verrocchio went on to become a notable Renaissance-era sculptor, painter, and goldsmith in Florence, Italy. Some of his most notable works include the Baptism of Christ painting and the Christ and St. Thomas sculpture. He also opened his own workshop that provided training to young and aspiring painters, influencing a new generation of Renaissance artists.
Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael)
Raffaello Sanzio (more commonly referred to as simply Raphael) lived during the early Renaissance movement from 1482 to 1520. In addition to being a renowned artist and architect, he was also known as a Master of Composition. Most of the work that we remember him by is in the form of paintings, including his famous Wedding of the Virgin and School of Athens. Unfortunately, Raphael died at just 37 years old—but he left behind a legacy that art-lovers still celebrate and appreciate today.
Discover Renaissance Art History and More at Lindenwood University
The Renaissance period of art birthed various distinctive styles of artwork that we still appreciate today. Thanks to the innovations of Renaissance artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, we can continue to appreciate this movement and its impact on art today.
If you're interested in furthering your art history studies and even making a career out of your knowledge, Lindenwood University has programs to suit your needs. We are proud to offer a master's program in art history and visual culture as part of our 100 percent online curriculum. With this type of degree, you can build upon your knowledge and understanding of art history while developing your appreciation for the impact of artistic expression.
Looking to start your formal education in art history? Explore our bachelor's in art history and visual culture. In this fully online program, you'll learn the basics of various art periods and their impact on today's culture, politics, society, and more.
Learn more about Lindenwood University's undergraduate and graduate art programs by requesting more information today. If you're ready to dive in, you can also start your application online!