Renaissance Art: A Brief Insight
Geraldine A. Johnson
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2010 Illustrated Edition of 2005 Book
Botticelli, Holbein, da Vinci, Dürer, Michelangelo: these Renaissance masters are still revered today. But who were these artists, why did they produce such memorable works, and how were they viewed in their own time? Using vivid and engaging examples, Geraldine A. Johnson focuses on both canonical and lesser-known artists from the Northern and Southern Renaissance. Additionally, she provides a fascinating overview of the period and its culture, while highlighting the variety of approaches that can help us understand these magnificent artistic creations.
Merchant in London, oil on panel, 1532. FIVE Portraiture and the Rise of “Renaissance Man” • Images of Individuals According to the influential mid-19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, whom we encountered briefly in the first chapter, the Renaissance was the moment when the modern notion of “ individuality,” indeed, the very concept of the self as an autonomous entity, first fully manifested itself, eventually giving rise to an ideal, multitalented “Renaissance man” or
technique that had originally been developed by Islamic artisans, but had then been adopted by Spanish ceramicists in the 15th century and, after 1500, was used in Italy as well. We know that this particular example dates from the second half of the 15th century since it includes the coat of arms of either Piero de’ Medici (d. 1469) or his son Lorenzo (known as “The Magnificent,” d. 1492) on one side. On the other side, seen in the present reproduction, additional Medici family emblems are
posterity except accidentally in contracts and similar workaday documents and had almost never appeared on individual works of art, by the 15th century some artists had begun trying to distinguish themselves from their artisan and craftmen brethren by signing some of their works, as seen, for instance, in Jan van Eyck’s boldly scrawled name on the back wall of the Arnolfini Portrait (above and see page 84). This trend becomes even more apparent in the 16th century, when signatures began to appear
he may have been right: the cult of artistic genius and of the artistic masterpiece has continued to grow ever since Vasari’s day. The often vicious polemics generated by the recent restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos suggest that the myth of the Renaissance artist, first and most fully embodied by this artist and so evocatively described by Vasari, is alive and well and still influencing how we assess the artworks produced in this paradigmatic period in the history of art. The
restoration), 1538–41. If one keeps in mind how unrepresentative such photographs are of the experience of actually seeing the cleaned frescos in situ, then we can perhaps better understand just how shocking they must have seemed to those who suddenly saw long-familiar images like the Creation of Adam change so radically and so rapidly before their eyes. But whatever one’s view may be of the Sistine Chapel restoration, the very fact that it caused such controversy and widespread public debate