Historical Background of chosen Topic
Below is the essay I had done for the dissertation research in the first semester.
For my dissertation, I am interested in researching on the hidden meanings in Renaissance paintings and sculptures, mainly in the Italian Renaissance since the work, Artists and Sculptors were mainly located in Italy. In this essay, I will mention what came before and what caused the Renaissance to influence the art world for such a long period of time. I will also mention a brief explanation as to why the Renaissance at first was being discarded and also why the Artists decided to put in some hidden meanings in their work.
The Gothic era came after the Romanesque period which means from the 12th century up to the mid-15th century. It was mainly focused in the Centre and West of Europe. The Gothic era is divided into three periods; Early Gothic (1150-1250), High Gothic (1250-1375) and International Gothic (1375-1450). Unlike the Renaissance, the Gothic era mainly focused on architecture. The Gothic period started in France when Cathedrals like the Notre-Dame (1163-1345) and Sainte Chapelle (1241-1248) were built. They made use of high arches and large windows with stained glass which depicted translucent Christian scenes from the Bible. They made high stained glass windows so when it is the day time, the sun “Light of God” would brighten up the whole Cathedral. Gothic Art in general consisted of high arched cathedrals, panel painting, sculpture, frescos, stained glass and illuminated manuscripts.
Gothic art and architecture was mainly based on religious art which was one of the factors that led to the Proto-Renaissance. The term Gothic was created by an Italian writer of the Renaissance, Giorgio Vasari. “Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic.” – Giorgio Vasari. He was the first to give this art period that term since he was addressing the Nordic tribes that took over the Roman Empire in the 6th century. Vasari considered the Gothic architecture to be of a low standard compared to the Renaissance.
The Renaissance was the time when artists, writers and sculptors, started looking at the Classical Art from Ancient Greece and Rome with a lot of admiration and inspiration. Since the fall of the Roman Empire it led Europe into a time of great decline which is why it’s known as the “Dark Ages”. In the beginning of the 15th century the Italians wanted to bring about the greatness of the Roman Empire once again therefore they felt that it was time for a re-birth in Italy, which is why it’s called “Rinascimento”. The Renaissance can also be divided into another three periods; Proto-Renaissance (1300-1400), Early Renaissance (1400-1490) and finally the High Renaissance (1490-1530). The Proto-Renaissance gave a very strong kick start to the beginning of the Renaissance in general. This period was introduced and established by Giotto Di Bondone when he produced the fresco in the Cappella Scrovegni in Padua which introduced the humanism of the Renaissance. It also challenged the iconic works of the Medieval Art.
The Renaissance although revolutionary, was not welcomed with open arms by everyone especially Girolamo Savonarola. The Medici were the ones that commissioned the Artists and Sculptors of the Renaissance but when Lorenzo the Magnificent died in 1492, Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican Friar, became a moral dictator in Florence in 1494, which led to the Medici being exiled and other artists like Michelangelo fled for safety from Rome, where the family had ruled for 50 years.
Savonarola had criticized what Italy had become and how it was representing religious art. Girolamo Savonarola once criticized how the women married off their girls and put them on show like nymphs. He had criticized the Artists for the way they painted the religious figures like Mary, he said, “Voi fate parere la Vergine Maria vestita come meretrice.” (You make the Virgin Mary appear dressed like a whore.) (The Controversy of Renaissance Art, Page 14, 2016). He also said that they would be better off covering the paintings in white to cover the nudity and shame but everything changed on the 23rd of May 1498 when Girolamo Savonarola and two other friars, Fra Silvestro and Fra Domenico were sentenced to death by Pope Alexander VI. Together with Savonarola’s body, his ideology of the Renaissance being repulsive was burnt and buried with him because in 1512 the Medici returned to Florence and with the help of Pope Clement VII (Giulio de Medici) and the Holy Roman Emperor’s army they helped in restoring the Medici’s power over Florence.
Cosimo de Medici was a very successful successor after his grandfather Lorenzo de Medici. The Medici’s were the ones to commission well-known artists and sculptors some of which are, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Donatello amongst many others. Although the Renaissance was somewhat more “free” in the aspect of humanism and nudity, the church still ruled over the Artist and Sculptor, since the Medici family was the most powerful family in Florence and it also had power over Rome since the Pope’s came all from the same family, the Medici’s.
The Artists and Sculptors could not express themselves as much as they wanted, therefore they still produced what they were asked for but they decided to still have their hidden message passed through the artwork. An example is Donatello’s David in bronze, where a lock of Goliath’s hair is in between David’s toe which suggest that he was homosexual.
To conclude this essay, the main reason I want to follow this subject for my dissertation is because during my studies, I feel that not enough knowledge is given to what the painting or sculpture means. Reason being is that we study and give attention to the techniques and aesthetics more than to what the painting has to tell us therefore I feel that we should not discard the idea of having hidden messages in our work or having no meaning. We should create enigma in our work which in the future will result in masterpieces just like the Renaissance art.
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