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  • gerard van weyenbergh

Renaissance, a basic description

The Renaissance concept is stated in the XVIth century by Giorgio Vasari. This Florentine author, inventor of art history, published the famous collection Lives of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects (1568). In the collection, he names "Rinascienta," the artistic current which appeared in Italy two centuries earlier, characterized by imitation of the Antiques and whose fulfillment would be embodied through Michelangelo and Raphael.

The Renaissance also corresponds to the moment when Europeans begin to explore the world, the appearance of a humanist thought and the dissemination of knowledge, in particular through printing. In this regard, Leonardo da Vinci appears as an emblematic figure of this spirit turned towards the human and towards the understanding of the world.

History of movement

In Italy from the XIVth century, appeared this aesthetic and intellectual revolution that is called Renaissance, especially in Florence (even if early homes existed in several other Italian cities). The great novelty is the rediscovery of Greco-Roman Antiquity and the distance from the medieval model. This dynamism concerns the world of arts and letters.

The chronology of the Renaissance is debatable, but it is generally agreed to be from the middle of the XIVth century (Trecento) and the middle of the XVIth century (Cinquecento). The XIVth century (Quattrocento) is the centerpiece of the Italian Renaissance period. The big names of this flagship period are Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli , Raphaël, Donatello, to name a few.

Stimulated by the interest in classical antiquity, humanism dominated the Italian Renaissance and inspired artists. Appearing with Petrarch, this philosophical concept places the human at the center of the universe, without neglecting Christian thought. It is the revival of Neoplatonic thought, which is expressed through it. Teaching and pedagogy are taking a new place in society. Great patrons like Laurent de Médicis, known as the Magnificent, are brought up in this tradition.

The Renaissance represents an important stage in the evolution of the artist's status in society. Between the XVth and XVIth century, fine arts take the status of crafts in the liberal arts. The artists, linked to the corporations, are still attached to manual practices, but in 1563, thanks to the efforts of Vasari and the support of Michelangelo, Florence saw the opening of the first Academy of drawing (Accademia del Disegno). For the first time in Europe, we teach anatomy, geometry, philosophy…

In terms of the arts , the Renaissance was associated with the invention of perspective in 1409 around Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Donatello. The artists, based on the study of mathematics and geometry, seek to give the illusion of the third dimension in their works. The Renaissance is also the time for a new realism and the search for truth in anatomical work. Leon Battista Alberti tackled these different aspects in his treatise De Pictura(1435). According to him, mathematics, the circle, the measurement ratios (in particular the divine proportion or golden ratio) are the foundation of beauty. The movements of the body must reflect the movements of the soul, the visible must translate the invisible. Alberti advocates a balance between the real and the ideal, which defines the concept of Man in the Italian Quattrocento.

The characters have a new presence , carry the weight of their body and their soul. In the painting, the figures are no longer staged against the background of the altarpieces but inhabit the space represented in its three-dimensionality. The artists build their composition according to vanishing lines, represent the architectures of the city. The divine is no longer expressed in the same way: exit the golden backgrounds and the halos, from now on, it is the human who embodies it.


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