Life in Europe during the last half of the Middle Ages and the Early
Renaissance was a difficult, life-altering experience for most of the European
populous. While the nobles of the Middle Ages lived in the country offering
protection for their king, the peasants, in return for protection from the
nobles and a small plot of land, toiled from sunrise to sunset in the fields
owned by the land gentries.
Other than the small parcel of land given to them by the nobles for whom they
worked, there was little in the way of personal possessions and luxuries for the
hard-working peasants. The small group of European middle-class people, whom by
comparison to the peasants: were much better off, even led a lifestyle that was
much easier than the rural aristocrats!
The individuals of the middle-class society were blessed with the freedom to
choose and pursue any field of endeavor they desired. As the threat of attacks
by barbarians began to diminish many people left the country to head into the
cities and towns where they would be able to pursue a more lucrative avenue to
However, many of these highly-spirited and energetic Europeans would never have
the opportunity to taste sweet success and all of her riches, as over half of
the European population would be decimated by the ravaging "Black Death" that
fell upon the heavily occupied cities and towns.
Those of wealth, who were fortunate enough to escape the clutches of the bubonic
plague quickly packed bag and baggage and bee -lined for the surrounding the
country sides where there were far less people and the risk of exposure to the
plague was significantly decreased.
The destruction left in the wake of the plague, however, had so brutally
destroyed the financial standing that Europe found itself in a debilitating
economic depression. By the late 15th Century, as the report of plague
infections began to decrease, the cities and towns once again sprang to life as
people began to return from the safety of the countryside to once again follow
their rainbows to the pot of riches.
Along with those who had desperately fled only months before, a new group of
middle-class people also headed to the cities to explore their options and to
find a path to wealth and security.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages and before the rise of the Modern World, the
European art communities had experienced a "rebirth" of the Classical
Greco-Roman principles and techniques. This Early Renaissance, mainly an Italian
movement, was actually a bridge spanning the gap between the Middle Ages and the
High Renaissance that became popular around fifteen hundred.
During the opening years of the 15th Century many of the European people had
truly believed that they were living life in a new age. Considering the
devastation left in the wake of the "Black Death" it is not at all surprising
that these people felt as if they were actually experiencing the rebirth from
the Dark Age.
In Italy, mainly Florence, the Renaissance was stimulated by the revival of the
antiquated Classical Greek and Roman learning and values. Great works of
literature, once thought lost to the West forever had been rediscovered and with
this finding; a newer, humanistic outlook positioned man and human achievements
at the center of all worldly issues.
Inspired by the ancient Greek and Roman classical ideas and principles, the
Renaissance Artists devoted themselves to creating both paintings and sculptures
that represented their personal observations of the natural world by gaining a
more thorough understanding of physical anatomy and linear perspective.
The Renaissance Artists were convinced that through the study of the
intellectual and artistic artifacts of the Greco-Roman period, they would be
able to achieve artistic greatness, a higher degree of wisdom and total
enlightenment. By gaining a better understanding of the use of mathematical
principles, these artists held the conviction that they would be able to
illustrate the New World in a more accurate and precise detail.
One major development born out of this rediscovery pertained to how the artist
portrayed their subject matter. Prior to the study of the Greco-Roman
principles, most artists depicted their subject matter as they had seen them
through their own eyes. During the Renaissance, however, these humanists focused
on the human perspective where the viewer assumed an active role; as they became
the points of reference.
This change in technique created a more realistic illusion of space as well as
creating an over-all feeling of depth through the use of one-point perspective.
These newly founded studied and practiced principles radically changed the art
By the early 1500's Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
and Titian (1485-1576) along with many of their peers had been instrumental in
establishing Florence as the Capital of Renaissance Art.
The Renaissance artists, armed with their newfound techniques utilized
harmonious proportions, realistic expressions and rational postures in their
subject matter. Spiritual paintings began to reflect the borrowed themes, which
included both Roman history and Mythology and their Christian oriented themes
took on a more classical, humanized premise.
While painters Masaccio (1401-1428) and Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) enlighten the
world with their renderings, Italian writers Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) and
Giovanni Boccacio (1313-1375), French author Francois Rabelais (1490-1553) and
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) in England produced literary works that
emphasized the particulars of the human character.
Architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) resurrected the Classical
Architecture and employed his engineering mastermind to design the mammoth dome
manufactured for the Cathedral of Florence in addition to inventing the
one-point perspective; a technique where all of the lines converge to a single
point in the distance. (AKA the vanishing point).
Donatello (1386-1466), who often traveled with Brunelleschi, had undertaken the
challenge of carving some of the first large-scale, freestanding statues; the
first since those that had been created by the earlier, Classical Greco-Roman
As we have seen, the Early Renaissance period was a highly charged, creative
time when Italian artisans had successfully revived the antiquated, Classical
Greek-Roman styles and principles. Many other artists had taken this opportunity
to break away from the rigid restrictions imposed by the Byzantine Movement.
During this same time of revival and development, Germany was experiencing the
advancement of the Gothic Art movement while the artists of the Netherlands were
engaged in the Northern Renaissance.
Art movements are very similar to the children that we raise. Following the
birth, or in this case a rebirth, we proud parents nurture our babies with love
and unconditional support. We instill positive values and ethics, eliminate
ideas and principles that may be outdated or inappropriate for our cause.
We guide our children into new, constructive directions and give them a little
nudge every now and again in order for our creations to go as far as possible.
Then at just the right time we let loose of our child's hand and watch with
pride as they soar onto better worlds.
By the year 1500, the Early Renaissance was at full growth. Every artisan who
had become involved in the rearing of the Early Renaissance had made many
critical sacrifices while giving all that they had until there was nothing else
to be received by the movement. The Early Renaissance had reached maturity and
in doing so was responsible for the birth of a newer movement affectionately
named the High Renaissance.
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