top of page

Renaissance Art: About The Great Art Movement Called Rebirth

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

Renaissance art, Feast of the Rosary by Albrecht Dürer, 1506
Feast of the Rosary by German painter Albrecht Dürer, 1506 | Source: Google Arts And Culture

Think about it, my dear friends, if you could time travel to a different era or century and visit the past with your own eyes, where would you go? Well, if you are an art keeper and lover, you would stop over in the time when Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo composed the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, or Raphael was working on legendary and famous Madonnas. Though the time frames of all the events are different, the period they all belonged to is the same, i,e Renaissance. It was the time of the 14th and 16th centuries in Europe that belonged to some of the finest and greatest styles in painting, sculpture and architecture. Hence, it is never enough to read and research about them. Renaissance is an enormous period, and so is its art. Therefore, you will have to sit longer and comfortably set your back for this epic read. I promise we will go slow so that you understand all the concepts of Renaissance art, and I will even try to give you the glossary of a few confusing words from the art dictionary. Get ready for the super ride to time travel with the internet!

What Is The Renaissance Period?

Often called the 'rebirth', Renaissance derives from the French and Italian words Renaissance and Rinascità. I will give you a rough idea of the history of the particular period before we move ahead. The period coincided with the emergence of commercial activities in the cities and the transformation of feudal societies into market economies. In brief, it was a changing period for people, the economy, art, and architecture. However, in the mid-century, this trend became slower as the dark period of Europe or the devastating Black Death approached, which formed a new urban aristocracy where the merchants and banking power were tied to the princes and popes of the era. Perhaps you are wondering why we are talking about it, but it is because the event dominated politics and culture during the 15th and 16th centuries. Additionally, one more component that affected the Renaissance was philosophy focused on human values and individual abilities.

You can also think of it as a way of getting back to the man influencing visual art. There was a certain kind of self-confidence and individualism in the period that further made it a great age of exploration. With traces from the past in hand, let me briefly conclude that Renaissance was a period of revival for literature, rhetoric, art, sculpture, and architecture.

Let us move on further to know it completely.

History Of Renaissance Art.

The history of any period is crucial to understand the motive and effects, and this is the sole reason; why I cover it every time I write an article. In the previous section, I told you about the societal and industrial changes in the cities that caused further alteration in the structure of society. And everyone knows that the economy of any place shapes the craftsmanship and fashion of the same. But indeed, you must raise the question of the beginning. How does it start? We are discussing the arrival of Renaissance art in this section. So, let us dive into the sea of information.

According to historians, Renaissance art did not come out of nowhere in a miraculous rebirth of ideas and talent. Still, many of its elements were experimented with starting in the 14th century CE. If we look back to the book, The Arts Reborn by Giorgio Vasari, a great biographer of Renaissance artists, he praised an artist, Giotto Di Bondone, an early 14th-century Florentine painter. The artist painted extraordinary compositions instead of using the out worldly manner of the Byzantine style, and surprisingly everybody knew that it was a revolutionary style. Now you might think about the Byzantine style. Let me tell it briefly. It was composed of flat, compartmentalized figures with bright colours derived from close observation of the real world.

Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey | Source: Dianelos Georgoudis / Wikimedia Commons

The lamentation over the dead Christ by artist Meister von Nerezi
The lamentation over the dead Christ by artist Meister von Nerezi | Source: Meister von Nerezi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, other artists used their observatory skills and began to study the human body so that they could form similar figures in their artworks. They started infusing human figures in religious backgrounds, landscapes, and known places. In contrast to traditional formations of images based on the naked eye, this was a time of close calculations and observations. It further formed the greatest invention of all time, the one-point perspective. The artists tried to give an illusion of depth in their artwork though they knew nothing about the mathematical parts of small objects kept at a distance. It was only in 1435 that Leon Battista Alberti formed a painting, giving the linear perspective, which is one of the crucial components of the Renaissance period.

Title page of the first edition of of Giacomo Leoni’s translation of Alberti’s De Re Aedificatoria, 1452
Title page of the first edition of of Giacomo Leoni’s translation of Alberti’s De Re Aedificatoria, 1452 | Source: Leon Battista Alberti; Giacomo Leoni, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua
Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua | Source: Anna Zacchi, CC BY 2.5 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Further, Alberti's theory contributed eminently to the development of realism in Renaissance art. Well, there is a whole lesson which we can not learn without a book. In reference to The Art Bulletin by Edward Zurko, I would like to give you a brief overview. There is no way we are skipping anything.

Self-portrait by Leon Batista Alberti
Self-portrait by Leon Batista Alberti | Source: I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The principle of Alberti's theory of form and function is that architecture should be,

"of the greatest convenience to Mankind in all respects." ,

It added,

"Beauty is a harmony of all parts... fitted together with such proportion and connection that nothing could be added, altered or diminished, but for the worst."

Since you are more knowledgeable about Renaissance history than anyone in your group, unless you are with art historians, let us move on to our following two sections, which are ideas and concepts used during the Renaissance.


Do not let yourself confuse it with anything since it simply means to depict humans in an emotional way to showcase that civilization is devoted to the honour and dignity of a man. According to Humanism, man is the centre of the universe. In its view, man has the inherent capacity to be creative.

Now it is crucial to learn about the effects of its use in the Renaissance. Briefly, its pillars were,

  • Instead of using a symbolic figure, there is the emergence of an individual figure.

  • There was consequent attention to detail as it developed the linear perspective. There was increasing realism to human faces and bodies.

Let us learn about another crucial thought from the Renaissance period.

Classical Antiquity.

The Revival Of Classical Antiquity is not an adaption of some motif or style but an implementation of new thought and ideas.

Initially, Petrarch, a fourteenth-century poet, and scholar, began to read classic older manuscripts from Latin. Similarly, many artists fled to read more from manuscripts, which rediscovered the works of Vitruvius.

Sculptors learned about the systematic study of Greek and Roman art, inspiring them to form rigid and well-proportionate figures, whereas the imagination of painters rose increasingly.

Congratulations Legend! We have completed the first section of the article, which was dominant and crucial. Moving forward, we will learn briefly about the prime periods of Renaissance art.

Decode The Chronology Of The Renaissance Art Period.

To understand Renaissance in detail, we have to ladder through centuries, learning the different styles of composition. I assure you will find a fun and compelling read along with intellect and correct information as I have read books for you, which I will attach below for further reading.

Before we finally proceed to the different Renaissance periods, there is one more crucial aspect you can not miss. The 1300s were called the Trecento period, derived from the Italian word 300. Similarly, the 1400s is Quattrocento, 1500s is Cinquencento. Each Renaissance art phase had many artists, but few of these pioneered the century with a particular art medium and technique, leaving their golden names in its history. If you feel too much about the periods, you can learn about the famous artist from each time for a good amount of knowledge.

Let us get going!

The Proto-Renaissance Period (1300-1400).

What is the Proto-Renaissance Period?

Michelangelo, Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel Ceiling fresco, 1508–12
Michelangelo, Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel Ceiling fresco, 1508–12 | Source: Jörg Bittner Unna

The entire timeframe of 1200-1400 includes the Italo-Byzantine period, centred on artistic developments majorly in Italy. When we speak about the Proto-Renaissance, it refers to the precursor or the foundation of the leading Renaissance period. There were activities of masterminds like Giotto (1267-1337), who formed figurative realism, which further developed thoroughly in Renaissance art. However, this period still remarks the Christian Byzantine art or Gothic art, which influenced the murals of Romanesque painting.

Characteristic of Art.

It included fresco mural painting, tempera panel painting, book illuminations, relief sculpture, and goldsmithing.

Fresco is a predominant technique of painting used to decorate the walls and ceilings of public properties, churches and museums. The wall or ceiling is coated firstly with a layer of coarse lime plaster, and after drying, artists directly drew paintings through red earth pigment. You can see the work from the following artwork.

Proto Renaissance Art, The Arrest of Christ fresco painting by artist Giotto, from the Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy
Proto Renaissance Art, The Arrest of Christ fresco painting by artist Giotto, from the Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy | Source: Unknown Author

In Panel paintings, first, several coats of a seasonal plank with a size (glue made from animal skin) are done. Then, a piece of linen soaked in size was laid on the panel to protect against surface flaws. Furthermore, coats of gesso (Gypsum) were directly applied, and the drawings or paintings were finally drawn. You can see this work in the below pictures.

Madonna and Child painting by Italian Renaissance artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1290–1300
Madonna and Child painting by Italian Renaissance artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1290–1300 | Met Museum

Madonna and Child painting by Italian painter Paolo di Giovanni Fei, 1370s
Madonna and Child painting by Italian painter Paolo di Giovanni Fei, 1370s | Met Museum

Famous artists from the Proto-Renaissance Period.

1. Cimabeau.

Cimabeau, a Florentine illustrator, is one of the first artists who moved away from the Italy-Byzantine style with a sense of naturalism through his Madonna Enthroned with Angels and Prophets. Though it had many similarities with the Byzantine style of art, he developed a new sense of three-dimensional bodies sitting in a naturalistic way. He introduced the early attempts to create depth and perspective. The Santa Croxe Crucifixion depicts a lifelike and realistic Christ figure with a cross.

Cimabue's artwork The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, 1280
Cimabue's artwork The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, 1280 | Source: Cimabue, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Duccio di Buoninsegna.

Duccio di Buoninsegna developed naturalism during the Proto-Renaissance period while working in the state of Siena. One of his works that marks the beginning of the technique is Virgin and Child Enthroned With Siants, a central panel of his Maestà Altarpiece. He used careful modelling of human bodies which protruded beneath their garments. He further created a real sense of architecture and traditional postures of figures instead of graceful individual poses.

The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel painting by Protorenaissance artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308 to 1311
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel painting by Protorenaissance artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308 to 1311 | Source:

3. Giotto di Bondone.

He is called the father of the Renaissance who painted in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi. He pioneered the illusionistic technique, which was a crucial innovation for Renaissance art. He used to fill a pictorial space with realistic human bodies with rounded forms compared to the flat figures of Byzantine art. Some of his crucial works include Ognissanti Madonna (c. 1300 to 1306) and The Betrayal of Christ (Kiss of Judas) (1305).

The Betrayal of Christ (Kiss of Judas) artwork by artist Giotto
The Betrayal of Christ (Kiss of Judas) artwork by artist Giotto | Source: Unknown Author

The Early Renaissance Period (1400-1490).

What is the Early Renaissance Period?

Masaccio Expulsion, Early Renaissance art from the Garden of Eden in the Brancacci Chapel
Masaccio Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the Brancacci Chapel, 1424 | Source: Masaccio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Early Renaissance period denotes the arrival of realism while depicting human form and space and rejecting old styles of Byzantine painting. Previously, we studied the efforts of Cimabue and Giotto in the earlier period. Following their work, during this era, there was a greater extent to portray realism in art, which can be seen in a few compositions of artists such as Andrea Mantegna and Paolo Uccello.

What made them distinct? They created one point perspective and developed the subject matter in their art styles. Furthermore, religion was crucially involved in their paintings, where the subject belonged to mythological series. There were scenes from Greek and Roman stories, Biblical series, etc.

Humanism and Early Renaissance Art .

Humanism was the primary theme at the time of the Renaissance. Hence, it becomes crucial to understand the intellectual movement. You do not have to bury deep instead, you can keep little things in your mind. Firstly, it developed in response to the medieval scholastic movements and initiated by writers, scholars and civic leaders. About medieval scholarly movements, you must know that they emphasized practical and scientific studies alone.

An Italian scholar and poet, Francesco Petrarca, founded the movement. You can think of it this way it often centred the human potential.

Moreover, it affected the artistic community, and patronage of arts became a crucial activity. It was the reason why the early Renaissance art and the later depictions displayed humanism theory.

Famous artists of The Early Renaissance.

1. Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Heading back to the Florence baptistery in 1403, a competition gave the earliest recognization to the Renaissance sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti. His famous work consisted of bronze doors with 28 panels, showing the life of Christ, the four evangelists, and the Church Fathers Saints Ambrose, Jeromy, Gregory and Augustine.

Saint Stephen by Italian Sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1427–28
Saint Stephen by Italian Sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti | Source: MM at Italian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Donatello.

Donatello is an influential sculptor from Florence, best known for his significant 15th-century sculptural developments in perspective illusion. He first received artistic training in a goldsmith workshop and then in Ghiberti studio. Further, he moved to Rome, where he learnt about the excavations of Roman architecture and sculpture. He was best known for his work in bas, low or shallow relief. His famous work includes David for Cosimo’s court in the Palazzo Medici. It

Saint Mark Statue by Florentine Sculptor Donatello, Renaissance Period
Saint Mark Statue by Florentine Sculptor Donatello, 1411-13 | Source:

3. Masaccio (1377 – 1446).

Masaccio (1401–1428), the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance, is widely credited with pioneering these techniques in 15th-century Florence. His full name sounds like Tommaso di Ser Viovanni di Mone Cassai. He is best known for his frescoes in Brancacci Chapel, deeply influenced by Giotto innovations in form and naturalism and Brunelleschi's use of perspective. To create even more convincingly lifelike paintings than his predecessor, Masaccio used linear and atmospheric perspective as well as directional light and chiaroscuro (the use of contrast between light and dark to convey depth in a two-dimensional form).

The Tribute Money by Italian Early Renaissance painter Masaccio
The Tribute Money by Italian Early Renaissance painter Masaccio, 1425 | Source: Steven Zucker / Flickr

Legends, you just smashed one more section of the read on Rennaisance art. I hope you are enjoying it. Though I do my best not to fire tons of indigestible information bullets at you, if you feel it anywhere, please do not stop. Read instead!

The High Renaissance Period (1490-1530).

What is the High Renaissance Period?

Centred in Rome, it lasted from about 1527 precisely. When I discuss the painters during the period, I must say that they were influenced by classical art, and their works were harmonious. Unlike early Renaissance artists who were biased towards perspective, High Renaissance artists sacrificed technical aspects for a beautiful painting. Another noteworthy point was that they used oil paints to fill the softness and manipulate the beauty instead of frescos.

The Creation Of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Italian High Renaissance Sculptor Michelangelo
The Creation Of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Italian Sculptor Michelangelo | Source: Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Famous artists of The High Renaissance.

In the world of art, the High Renaissance artists are famous. There is no more to remember but no less to study. Let us get started.

1. Leonardo da Vinci.

If you are familiar with my articles, you might know the Vitruvian Man Analysis, but if you did not, you could still read it here. Leonardo Da Vinci was the legendary polymath, painter, sculptor, designer, engineer, sketcher, scientist,