Medieval versus Renaissance Art

What is the real difference between the art of the medieval era and the Italian Renaissance? In the 200 years of the Renaissance, artist turned away from the spiritual concerns of the medieval era. They focused, instead, on living life to the fullest and learning and creating anything that they could imagine. Basically, people didn't think so much about heaven, hell, and the afterlife. Instead, the Renaissance artists look back upon the tree of genius of the aging Greeks and Romans for inspiration.

Medieval art mostly have religious themes. The paintings, sculptures, and architecture of the Middle Ages illustrated the glory, power, and importance of the Roman Catholic Church in daily life. Medieval art did not show how life was really lived. Little is known about many of the medieval masters who created the massive stone cathedrals, the statues, or canvases. On the other hand, we know a great deal about the great artists of the Renaissance because they were individualists, and they took credit for their work in order to find patrons to pay them to create more art. They worked hard for their payments, but they also wanted glory and fame.

Medieval art
Medieval art reflected the social and religious order of the time. If you look at your school system, you have the superintendent at the top, principals at the schools, followed by the teachers who run the classrooms, and finally, the students at the bottom of the scale. The church had a similar order; the pope is at the head, cardinals underneath, then the archbishops, parish priests, and so forth. If we examine medieval paintings we find a similar order; the largest figures in a painting were considered the most important. As we move from the central point of the painting, we notice that figures of less importance become smaller and smaller, depending on how they relate to the subject.

Since the emphasis was on religious themes, natural surroundings and realistic backgrounds were not important. Paintings were done in a two-dimensional fashion, almost flat and shallow in appearance, with the absence of depth. This highlighted the main theme, usually the glory of the subject shown in the painting, which was considered the most important part of the artwork. The religious event was often presented so that was the main focus and could tell God's story in one single frame. If ordinary people were in the painting, they were often small because they were not as important. The message was to have faith in God, heaven, the final judgment, and the Roman Catholic Church is the way to eternal salvation. Gold leaf was applied to many pictures as sign of faith, and as a symbol of power and wealth of the church. 

The Renaissance
One of the most important achievements of the Renaissance artists was the ability to apply the illusion of depth to the canvas, making it appear more three-dimensional. This approach is credited to Masaccio (1402-1428) and used in Pietro Perugino’s painting Christ Delivering the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter. According to the Florentine architect and artist Leon Battista Alberti, while describing his painting called Dell Pittura, the canvas should be treated as if it were a window, as they could see through it. This idea of the “open window” and showing people behind it, it natural sizes, represented a major change in art. The Renaissance artists were able to achieve this illusion by using single point perspective.

Religious themes were still important. We can see this in Michelangelo's work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Last Judgment, Rafael's Madonnas, and Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. After all, the great popes of the period were patrons of the arts, and art was an excellent way to enhance the glory of the church and spread the faith. Many of the religious themes were set in scenes of everyday life and with ordinary people.

But the great artists also took pleasure in portraying the human figure, and they made paintings and sculptures that should the male and female bodies in exact detail.  The influence of the creative genius of the ancient Greeks and Romans, who carved nude figures in marble, is apparent in Michelangelo's David.

The people of the Italian Renaissance wanted to celebrate life and to live it to the fullest. The great artists were very careful about their creations in used measurements in the calculations to show figures in the proper sizes. The art that was created during the Renaissance showed what life was really like at that time. The artists also enjoyed celebrating the world they lived in art and their lives.





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