The Renaissance in Pictures
The Renaissance in Pictures By Carol Schwyzer, © MoneyMuseum
The humanistic ideal of the Renaissance has radically changed the world. It became the driving force
behind the Enlightenment and modern times. Without the wish for individuality, freedom and selfdetermination there would have been no Reformation, no religious wars, no revolution in France and no
Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the USA.
There is no doubt about it: the world has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 500 years. We
are living in an age of supersonic aircraft, of global markets and mass media. We communicate by
Internet and satellite telephone. But deep down in our hearts we are still Renaissance men.
1 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Birth of Venus (detail), by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1482-‐86, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence The Renaissance saw a revival of the ancient world. Artists turned from Biblical figures such as the
Virgin Mary to the heroes and gods of Greece and Rome. Venus was seen as a symbol of fruitfulness
and as emblem of the renewal of art and beauty.
The rebirth of Venus in the Renaissance represented the improved status of women only to a limited
extent, however. The education and upbringing of women were a major concern of the Humanists, but
the vital, educated, individual personality of the Renaissance woman remained limited to court circles.
2 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Venus and Mars, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1483, National Gallery, London Mars, the god of war, is overcome by Venus, the goddess of love. He sleeps naked while she, dressed in
the courtly fashion of the time, watches over him. She represents peace.
Cities, trade and culture in northern Italy flourished. Florence, for instance, experienced a sparkling
intellectual life under the rule of the Medici in the 15th century. Sandro Botticelli (*1445, †1510) was a
member of the Florentine Academy, an association of artists dedicated to the ideas of the Greek
philosopher Plato. In the Platonic sense, love had overcome the horror of war in Botticelli's picture.
3 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Triumph of Death (detail), by Peter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1560-‐62, Museo del Prado, Madrid Trade, science, art and a love for life were central to the Renaissance. Yet the era also had its dark side –
wars, religious upheavals, moral decay, alleged witchcraft and horrible plagues. From the middle of the
14th century to the end of the 17th, epidemics extinguished nearly half of the population. Bruegel's
dance of death documented the omnipresence of the Grim Reaper, who spares nobody, not even the
king in his ermine robe.
The Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder (* c. 1525/30, †1569) is regarded as the greatest landscape
painter of the 16th century. In his world, man is no longer lord of creation, as in the Italian Renaissance,
but merely a part of the entire cosmos.
4 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Allegory of April – Triumph of Venus (detail), by Francesco del Cossa, c. 1469-‐70, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara The Italian Renaissance signified the rebirth and renewal of culture and art of the ancient world. Some
buildings had survived from ancient times – the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine. To
study them architects made pilgrimages to Rome; painters took ancient statues as models.
The group of the three Graces, surviving in Siena, inspired Francesco del Cossa (* c. 1435, † c. 1477) to
paint its Allegory of April – Triumph of Venus. Del Cossa adopted the three women's poses in his
painting, yet added contemporary hairstyles and background. So the artists of the Renaissance did not
simply imitate ancient models but revived them in the spirit of their own times.
5 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Self-‐Portrait, by Albrecht Dürer, 1500, Alte Pinakothek, Munich The Renaissance inspired a new consciousness of individual personality. The artist no longer saw
himself simply as a craftsman, but as a person with great creative powers. Albrecht Dürer (*1471,
†1528) of Nuremberg painted the very first self-portrait of Western art.
6 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Diptych of Frederico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza (detail), by Piero della Francesca, c. 1472-‐74, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence From 1444 to 1482, Frederico da Montefeltro ruled the small state of Urbino, a dependency of the
Vatican in the northern Appenines. Being a famous general da Montefeltro made so much money in
mercenary wars that his subjects paid no taxes. As patron he supported scholars and artists like Piero
della Francesca (* c. 1420, † 1492). Furthermore, over 14 years he employed 30 scribes at his court to
copy Greek and Latin manuscripts. His library and palace were regarded as wonders of the world. As
benevolent prince, warrior, scholar, builder, courtier and patron of the arts, the duke of Montefeltro was
the ideal Renaissance prince.
7 von 21 www.sunflower.ch The Creation of Adam, fresco by Michelangelo Buonarrotti, c. 1508-‐
12, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Pope Julius II (1503-1513) commissioned Michelangelo (*1545, †1564) to paint the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel where new popes were elected and took office. After the years of exile in Avignon and
the Schism of the Catholic Church, the authority of papacy was reinvigorated. Julius II was more
interested in art, culture and the restoration of papal power than in spiritual matters.
The creation of Adam shows the moment in which God the Father infuses Adam with the vital energy
which enables him to move, think and feel.
8 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Riva degli Schiavoni with Doges' Palace (Detail), by Luca Carlevarijs, c. 1690-‐1720, Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Corsini, Rom Venice was one of the richest and politically most stable states of Renaissance Europe. Before Vasco da
Gama found the sea route to India in 1501, Venice dominated almost the entire trade between east and
west. Protected by the Venetian navy, the city’s merchant ships voyaged across the Black Sea to the
reloading points of the Silk Road, to Syria to meet the oriental caravan routes, to Alexandria, terminus
of the Pepper Road, to France, Spain and North Africa. Payments in Venetian ducats were accepted
from the Atlantic to China. Accountancy, cartography and printing were among the specialties of the
9 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Heads of an old man and a youth, study by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1480-‐1500, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence The empirical study of man, nature and the world were among the main aims of the Renaissance.
Leonardo da Vinci (*1452, †1519) was the first post-Classical artist to research human physiognomy
and anatomy. He was fascinated by the human face, its expression of beauty and love, but also its
ugliness, deformity and hateful grimaces. In this drawing he contrasts the fair youth with his classical
features and the bald old man marked by life.
10 von 21 www.sunflower.ch David (detail), by Michelangelo Buonarotti, 1501-‐04, Galleria dell' Accademia, Florence Michelangelo's David was put up on the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the City Hall of Florence, and
in time became the symbol of that small but powerful republic. The statue represents David before his
battle with Goliath, heroic and fully concentrated. Michelangelo sculpted the hands realistically yet
oversized. David incorporated the humanistic display of man as master of his own fate.
Freestanding sculpture was an innovation of the Renaissance. Previously, in the Middle Ages, sculpture
always occupied a niche.
11 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Doni Tondo (detail), by Michelangelo Buonarotti, c. 1506-‐08, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence Apart from the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, the Doni Tondo is Michelangelo's only completed
painting. Since the separation of Rome from Byzantium in 395 AD, an intellectualization in the
Byzantine style had taken place in art. The Renaissance artist Michelangelo reintroduced the plasticity
of the figures of the ancient world. The effect of the Holy Family in the picture shown here is powerful
and physically tangible.
12 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), by Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-‐05, Musée National du Louvre, Paris Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, technician and naturalist. With his versatility he
was a perfect representative of the humanistic ideal figure of the uomo universale. The Mona Lisa is his
best-known painting. The mysterious smile of the wife of Francesco del Giocondo is world-famous. In
this picture Leonardo used the technique known as sfumato, the blurring of the outlines, which makes
everything look rather vague and mysterious. This means that the viewer has to use his own imagination
when looking at the picture. This is a classic of Renaissance portraiture.
13 von 21 www.sunflower.ch The Palazzo Pitti, probably by Filippo Brunelleschi, c. 1458, Florence The architecture of the Renaissance was based on the buildings of the ancient world. Its main features
were symmetry and natural proportions as for instance the Palazzo Pitti illustrates. The weight of its
material was emphasized by the coarse, untrimmed building blocks. The building of the palace started
in 1458 by order of the Florentine businessman Luca Pitti (* c. 1395, † c. 1473), because Renaissance
man desired a memorial to himself, whereas buildings of the Gothic age (churches) were above all
intended to glorify God.
The Medici purchasing the Palazzo Pitti in 1559 were the rulers of Florence. They ran an international
bank, a trading company active in countries extending from Russia to Spain and from Scotland to Syria.
They also manufactured woollen and silken textiles. The most famous Medici princes were Cosimo the
Elder (*1389, †1464) and Lorenzo the Magnificent (*1449, †1492).
14 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Villa Barbaro or Villa di Maser, by Andrea Palladio, 1549-‐58, Maser, Veneto region Townspeople always longed for peaceful country life. The development of city-states like Florence or
Venice eventually led to the construction of country villas by rich citizens. Andrea Palladio (*1508,
†1580), an architect of Padua, was the most renowned builder of these country houses. In the design of
the Villa di Maser for the Barbaro family he took into account the ideal of the greatest harmony of
house and grounds. Palladio's ideas had an enormous influence on European architecture through the
work I quattro libri dell'architettura from 1570.
15 von 21 www.sunflower.ch The School of Athens, by Raffaello Santi, c. 1509-‐1511, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican The 26-year-old Raffaello Santi (*1483, †1520), better known as Raphael, painted the three Vatican
chambers (stanzi) as Michelangelo was creating the Sistine Chapel frescoes; it was truly a glorious
moment in the prime of Renaissance Rome.
The power of the figures, the colors, the symmetry and harmony of this oainting have attracted
admiration for five centuries. In the center of the School of Athens stands Plato with his work on the
origin of the earth; to his right is his pupil Aristotle with his work on ethics. The picture unites the great
thinkers of the ancient world with the artists of the Renaissance – Plato for instance has the features of
Leonardo. So culture and knowledge bridge a span of 2000 years.
16 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Reconstruction of the Santa María, the flagship of Christopher Columbus The Italian Christopher Columbus (* c. 1450, † 1506) voyaged to the New World four times. Together
with his crew from the ship Santa María he discovered America in 1492 and explored the islands of the
West Indies. From those voyage he brought back gold and tropical fruits such as pineapples, but also the
first hammocks on Western ships.
The Renaissance was an age of discovery. In 1497/98 the Portuguese Vasco da Gama found the sea
route to India. Amerigo Vespucci explored the New World on three voyages, made accurate maps and
gave his name to America. The discoverers sailed in small wooden ships known as caravels.
17 von 21 www.sunflower.ch The Battle of Lepanto, by Yogesh Brahmbhatt, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich At Lepanto on the western coast of Greece, the Christian allies Spain, Venice and the Papal States
defeated the Ottoman fleet in 1571. Ever since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks had striven
to obtain the power within the entire Mediterranean. The victory at the Battle of Lepanto gave the Holy
League temporary control over the Mediterranean, and prevented the Ottomans from advancing into
Europe. The naval battle was a crucial turning point in the conflict between the Middle East and Europe,
which has not yet completely been resolved.
18 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Portrait of Charles V seated (detail), probable by Lambert Sustris, 1548, Alte Pinakothek, Munich Charles V, Holy Roman emperor, king of Spain and archduke of Austria said, "The sun never sets on
my empire." Indeed, Charles’ realm extended over the whole of Europe, from Spain and the
Netherlands to Austria and Naples and across the ocean to South America. Being a deeply religious
man, Charles defended his ideal of "one God, one Faith, one Empire" in wars against France, the
German Protestant princes, the Pope and the Turks. After the Peace of Augsburg, Charles abdicated in
1556 and retired to a monastery. The Hapsburg empire was divided, his son Philip II taking over power
in Spain and the Netherlands, his brother Ferdinand in Bohemia, Austria and Hungary. The fateful
partition of Europe had begun ...
19 von 21 www.sunflower.ch The Arnolfini Portrait, by Jan van Eyck, 1434, National Gallery, London This painting illustrates the marriage of an Italian merchant in Flanders with almost photographic
realism. It is painted by Jan van Eyck (* c. 1390, †1441), an important representative of the Dutch
The Italians had maintained lively trading links with the towns of the Netherlands (Bruges, Ghent,
Antwerp) from early medieval time. It was their favorable maritime location, their flourishing industries
like textile manufacture and shipbuilding, their free trade and their high level of security and good order
that made the Netherlands a desirable place for trade and gave rise to a northward shifting of the center
of trade from the 15th century.
20 von 21 www.sunflower.ch Queen Elizabeth I, from the studio of Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1599 Elizabeth I (1558-1603) of the house of Tudor had enjoyed a humanistic education and was one of the
most learned women of her time. She was clever, courageous and loved splendor and regal display.
Courted by many, she remained the Virgin Queen throughout her life, married quasi to her kingdom.
Her reign represented the Golden Age of the English Renaissance. Music and poetry bloomed. Under
Elizabeth's rule the Anglican Church finally separated from the Pope, and in 1588 the English fleet
overcame the Spanish Armada, opening up the seas of the world to the British. This was the origin of
the British Empire.
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