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The Renaissance

The Renaissance period is represented by a style of art which was developed by certain Italian artists in the 15th century. The Renaissance period began in the early 1400s. The artists in Florence at that time looked back to classical art to rediscover natural forms, which had been lost in art during medieval times.

The Renaissance artists researched their work by referring to nature. This involved accurate observations of their subjects.

Statue of David by Verrocchio

Statue of David by Verrocchio (1476)

Donatello was one of the first to refer to nude subjects and the anatomical detail of corpses. Leonardo da Vinci took this type of precise observation one step further by practising dissection. Their emphasis was on form and line which led to more realistic interpretations. Both painters and sculptors worked for the equilibrium of their subject or subjects. Suddenly works of art became more alive, more easy to believe and fuller of the potential energy of movement.

The evolution of Renaissance art during the 14th and 15th centuries can be seen by studying four different sculptures of the same subject, the biblical character David. In 1408 Donatello sculpted David in marble and in 1450 in bronze. In both works he shows David, after the slaying of Goliath. In 1476, Verrocchio also sculpted David in bronze. All three of these Davids show a physically weak hero who has used his intelligence to triumph over the brute strength of his enemy. When Michelangelo sculpted his David in 1501, we can see that the emphasis has shifted. His study is of a very muscular David whose size towers above those who go to see him in the National Museum in Florence. The boy is shown as ready for action with a sling in his hand. Much later, in 1623, Bernini likens David to an athlete in true classical style. These last two Davids give the observer the impression that he is was physically worthy opponent for the giant.


Statue of David by Donatello

Statue of David by Donatello(1450)

Another Renaissance feature, first used by Donatello, was that of sculpting only part of the marble block and leaving the subject as an integral part of the medium, seemingly fighting to free itself from the inanimate material. Donatello called this non finito or unfinished sculpture. His apprentice, Michelangelo, used this technique very effectively in his dying slaves sculptures. They were originally commissioned for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Today these sculptures can be seen at the Louvre in Paris. The style of these sculptures is often interpreted as the soul chained to the body and is shown powerfully as the captive slave who is fused into the unsculpted marble. Towards the end of his life, Michelangelo left more and more of his sculptures "unfinished" in this way and he developed a more abstract style.


Statue of David by Michelangelo

Statue of David by Michelangelo (1501)

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© Shirley Burchill, Nigel Hughes, Richard Gale, Peter Price and Keith Woodall 2016

Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.