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The Italian Renaissance was the rebirth of learning that occurred beginning in the 14th century, leading to revolutions in literature, art and science, lasting until the 16th century and marking the definitive end of the medieval period. Some of the most famous artists of the Italian Renaissance include:
- Aldus Manutius
- Giovanni Boccaccio
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Claudio Monteverdi
Beginning of Italian Renaissance
It was during the 14th century that many Italians began to rediscover lost works of Classical Greece and Athens. Northern Italian city-states such as Venice and Florence began expanding their trade networks, bringing back Greek writings that had been preserved by Islamic scholars. Renaissance literature is said to begin with Petrarch and his friends Boccaccio, who wrote the Decameron. Writers such as Dante even began writing in the vernacular of the day, Italian, rather than Latin, making literature available to the masses. Scientists such as Galileo also sought to expand human knowledge.
However, it is the field of art that the Italian Renaissance reached its heights. Beginning with Giotto, Italian painters sought more realism in their work, seeking to emulate the great sculpture of antiquity. These new techniques were applied to painting as well, represented by the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Botticelli. Many of the great artists of the period were sponsored by the wealthy Medici family, while others, especially Raphael and Michelangelo, were commissioned by the Papacy in Rome, with its large fortunes.
Italian Renaissance Painting
Renaissance painters typically were humanists in that they focused on reproducing the classical forms of the Greek and Roman traditions. Raphael's “The Small Cowper Madonna” is no exception. The body postures resemble those found in traditional Greek sculpture. The Madonna’s head is slightly titled and the contours of her neck and shoulders are perfectly formed. The child’s body is not fully in the “contrapposto” position, but the slightly turned position of his front leg and his head help to create movement. The details in the Madonna’s face, such as her eyes, her small, pointed nose and the fabric in her dress, also suggest a focus on re-creation of the classical style. Raphael’s painting is not stylized; instead, he forms perfectly the specific details of the human figure as well as of the landscape.
The painting is well-balanced, unified and graceful. The Madonna’s head tilts to the left, while her child’s tilts to the right. His head is slightly lower than hers and his right arm is draped across her neck. These elements create a natural sense of direction and unity. If there had been less space between the two, or their heads were tilting in the same direction, the composition would be less dramatic and less emotional. The Madonna’s left arm is underneath her child’s bottom, holding him up and his left foot is on her right hand. The way the two figures are positioned (seemingly in opposite directions) make the painting feel fluid, realistic and balanced. Finally, the figures are slightly offset from the center and the landscape is lower on the side of the Madonna, rising as it passes to the right side of the child. This creates movement and a gentle, graceful undulation in the painting. The landscape also provides variety to the scene and defines the background.
Paper Masters chose this painting because it is both simple and complex and the artist creates mood. At first glance, it appears simple because it so well composed and balanced. But as you look closer, the complexity becomes clear. The use of atmospheric perspective is difficult and there are many details in the background, like the trees reflecting in the water that make this painting complex. This painting is soothing because the colors are soft and blended well. The mood is tranquil and almost sad. Both the Madonna and child have pensive looks on their faces. These subdued looks match the tone of the landscape which feels restful and peaceful. The mother and child are harmonious and their similar expressions suggest continuity and tranquility. Paper Masters' art critics love this painting because the expressions of the Madonna and child as well as their positioning immediately draw me in. In addition, the mood of the painting draws you into it; You can imagine sitting in the fields on a beautiful day, or strolling along the river with the majestic mountains in the background. The Renaissance Society of America strives to maintain the importance of studying the subject.