The rebirth of classical ideal, its artists using naturalism and linear perspective to achieve new heights of realism
The full flowering of the Italian Renaissance is when the Titans of Art—Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Rapheel, and Titian—threw off the remaining vestiges of decorative painting and stylised or imperfect perspetive and naturalism to create exquisite forms in realistic (if geometrically idealized) spaces
Notable Itaiian High Renaissance artists
- Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). A true “Renaissance Man,” dabbling his genius in a bit of everything from art to philosophy to science (on paper, he even designed machine guns and rudimentary helicopters). Little of his remarkable painting survives, however, as he often experimented with new pigment mixes that proved to lack the staying power of traditional materials. Leonardo invented such painterly effects as the fine haze of sfumato, “a moisture-laden atmosphere that delicately veils . . . forms.” Unfortunately, the best example of this effect, his fresco of The Last Supper in Milan (1495-97), is sadly deteriorated, and even the ongoing multidecade restoration is saving but a shadow of the fresco’s glory. See his early Annunciation (1481) in Florence’s Uffizi Galleries for a better-preserved example.
- Raphael (1483-1520). Rightfully considered one of Western art’s greatest draftsman, Raphael produced a body of work in his 37 short years that ignited European painters for generations to come. You'll find passels of Madonnas and Papish portraits in Florence's Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace and Rome's Museo Nazionale d'Arte Antica, and his ethereal Transfiguration (1520) in the Vatican Museums (which he had almost finished when he died), but perhaps his greatest work are a series of frescoed rooms (1508-20) in the Vatican, including the School of Athens, at once a celebration of Renaissance artistic precepts, the Classcial philosophers whose rediscovery spurred on the Renaissance, and Raphael's contemporaries (the various "philosophers" are actually portraits of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bramante, and Raphael himself).
- Michelangelo (1475-1564). The heavyweight contender for world’s greatest artist ever was a genius in sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry. He marked the apogee of the Renaissance. A complex and difficult man—intensely jealous, probably manic-depressive, and certainly homosexual—Michelangelo enjoyed great fame in a life plagued by a series of never-ending projects commissioned by Pope Julius II—the Sistine Chapel frescoes (ceiling 1508-12; Last Judgement 1535-41) and the Julius Tomb, of which he only finished the powerful Moses in Rome's San Pietro in Vincoli and the Slaves (1530) in Florence's Accademia—and the Medici, including the family tombs in Florence's Cappella dei Principi that incorporate Dawn, Dusk, Day and Night (1531-33). Michelangelo worshiped the male nude as the ultimate form and twisted the bodies of his figures (torsion) in different, often contradictory directions (contraposto) to bring out their musculature. When forced against his will to paint the Sistine Chapel, he broke almost all the rules and sent painting headlong in an entirely new direction—the mannerist movement—marked by nonprimary colors, Impressionistic shapes of light, and twisting muscular figures. Of his painting, Italy has only the Sacra Famiglia (1504) in the Uffizi. Of his beloved sculpture, his hometown also preserves the famous David (1502-04) in the Accademia and several early pieces in the Bargello and the Casa Buonarotti. He sculpted three Pietàs over his long lifeˆthe first, in Rome's St. Peter's, carved at age 25 (1500); the second in Florence's Museo dell'Opera dell Duomo at age 75 (1550-53); and he was still working on Milan's oddly modern, elongated Pietà when he died at age 89 (1564).
- Titian (1485-1576). The father of the Venetian High Renaissance, who imparted to the school his love of color and tonality and exploration of the effects of light on darkened scenes. In Venice, you'll find his works everywhere, from canvases in the Accademia collections to altarpieces decorating church such as the Frari to his early and famous Battle scene (1513) in the Palazzo Ducale's Sala del Maggior Consiglio. He also has some fine works in Florence, including the Uffizi's luminous Flora (1520) and the Venus of Urbino (1538), much copied and of great influence on European art (Manet's groundbreaking Olympia and Goya's Naked Maja were both referencing this work), and the Pitti Palace's famed Mary Magdalene (1548) and The Concert (1510).
Where to find High Renaissance art art in Italy
Milan's sprawling 15C castle is home to several excellent museums, of tapestries, archaeological artifacts, paintings by Bellini and Mantegna, and sculptures from medieval to neoclassical—including Michelangelo's final sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà