Renaissance is translated from Latin as rebirth or rediscovery, in fact, the period was marked with the revitalization of Antiquity in social sciences and art. Renaissance painting, on the one hand, originated from medieval depiction of religious themes and stories as well as from Ancient Greek and Roman patterns of human beauty, freedom and value, clearly demonstrated by the Renaissance artists (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2006). As Sandra Willard writes on the differences between Medieval and Renaissance paintings, “Medieval art was hierarchic. Figures were often ranked in size on a scale of ascending importance. The figure’s importance was fixed by religious tradition. In such a scheme it was necessary that the most significant figure in the painting be the largest […]” (Willard, 2003). On the contrary, Renaissance paintings to certain degree express protest against the hierarchy, dictated by religious dogmas, so in such pieces of art “the picture plan should be treated as though it were of transparent glass through which the visual rays pass” (ibid), in addition, the artist was actually a person, who decided on the hierarchy of objects, so that the importance of characters becomes subjective, as opposed to strict medieval canon. The paper utilizes several sources, but focuses on Willard’s perspective of Renaissance art.
As for the social ambience in the Renaissance era, due to the rapid popularization of humanism among the so-called bohemia circles, the view on human nature substantially altered: human-beings were no longer viewed as basically sinful, moreover, human body was regarded not merely as ‘flesh’(Willard, 2003), physical substance, but rather as an embodiment of beauty and harmony. The proportions of human body were also reviewed: for instance, El-Greco depicted extremely tall and ‘mighty’ persons, whereas Rubens increased the width of human body, implying the permissiveness of hedonist lifestyle. With regard to the weakening of religious influence over secular community and the decline of the reputation of Catholic Church, the Renaissance society awakened: the development of science, technology and fine arts was considerably accelerated: Da Vinci, for instance, managed to realize himself in several areas including mathematics and painting, certain painters also succeeded in philosophy and political life: these aspect of the Renaissance society are clearly visible: Da Vinci, depicting the Last Supper, touches religious, moral and philosophical themes (at http://www.wga.hu/tours/spain/p_16.html, 2002).
Another prominent artist, Hieronymus Bosch, known as the ‘court painter’, hired to portray the most noble and outstanding celebrities, depicted not actually a person, but rather a personality trait: greed, enviousness, cruelty – the interpretation of these ‘diagnoses’ is still ongoing. Importantly, in the period of European Rebirth, an artist was regarded as a creator, a person who brings into being indisputable masterpieces, so that the value of visual art was extremely high – whereas in medieval period painters were normally employed by church, the Renaissance artists moved beyond religious themes and the so-called panel art.
As one can conclude, social ambience in the period of Renaissance was dynamically developing in two main directions: natural sciences and knowledge of human personality, or psychology, so the artists of this epoch depicted unique human-beings with mysterious emotional worlds just like ‘Mona Lisa’ by Da Vinci or ‘The Wayfarer’ by Bosch. As Sandra Willard writes, “Each picture was a proof that the formula of lines converging a centric point gave a true picture of the optical experience of nature. Thus paintings became an affirmation of the truth of human experience and perception” (Willard, 2003). This means, mathematical preciseness is skillfully interwoven with the preciseness of human perception in such works of art.
Another important aspect of the Renaissance is the belief in social rather than clerical progress: in this sense, the painters began to use perspective and treat the painting as a window into space – this technique is especially apparent in Brunelleschi’s and Alberti’s paintings (at http://www.wga.hu/tours/spain/p_16.html, 2002). Another important element of the Renaissance art is the depiction of nude characters – such as those from ancient myths: Venus, Mars, Proserpine and so forth. The appearance of naked body no longer seemed shocking, as the artist skillfully manifested its harmony as well as the balance between ‘flesh’ and ‘soul’ (Willard, 2003).
As for me, I agree with Willard’s account of Renaissance paintings, as the scholar examines the issues from multiple standpoints: philosophical, social and psychological, moreover, from the position of arts and humanities in general. Due to the fact that I am familiar with the ideas of humanism and their impact on the Renaissance society, it is easy to extrapolate this doctrine onto the development of contemporary art and paintings in particular: humanism in fact conditioned the emergence and progress of numerous areas of knowledge (precise sciences as well as humanities), so that the new philosophical and mathematical knowledge was applied in art and determined the production of ‘conceptual’ paintings like those glorifying the beauty and perfect proportions of human body, inner light, youth and personal freedom. The concept of social ambience in the context of Renaissance art is particularly important, as it allows us to understand the connection between the contemporary social dynamics and the emergence of new themes in art (e.g., mythology) as well as to explain the further development of art (in later epochs like the Enlightenment) with regard to new philosophical and scientific trends.
To sum up, the period of Renaissance opens a rich panorama of styles and themes, but the most prevalent humanistic motif in fact determined the creative heritage of contemporary artists (Willard, 2003). The mobilization and secularization of social ambience led to the increase of the artist’s freedom of imagination and bred the painters’ interest in human psychology, so that each human character of the painting was depicted as emotional or sensual person, as opposed to medieval ascetics.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Renaissance, 2006. Retrieved February 5, 2007, from: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9063161/Renaissance.
Willard, S. The Illusion of the Renaissance, 2003. Retrieved February 5, 2007, from: http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1986/3/86.03.08.x.html
Renaissance Painting, 2002. retrieved February 5, 2007, from: http://www.wga.hu/tours/spain/p_16.html