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Realism & the Renaissance

The most praiseworthy form of painting is the one that most resembles what it imitates.
-- Leonardo da Vinci

During the European Middle Ages, painting largely focused on Christian themes.

However, as the Renaissance emerged more interest was shown in Ancient Greek and Roman classical art. The gradual shift to more secular subjects and more secular funding led to many changes in both the technical aspects of painting as well as the subject matter.

da Vinci's use of perspective

Lines drawn over "The Annunciation" focus the viewer's attention on da Vinci's use of perspective.

Based on experiments by the famous Renaissance architect Brunelleschi, new techniques in Renaissance perspective were adopted by painters who began to enhance the realism of their work and for the first time rendering the world in three dimensions. They also began incorporating stylistic innovations that more realistically contrasted the play between natural light and shadow.

In addition to linear perspective, which used a vanishing point to guide the artist, there were other techniques that were adopted to create the illusion of depth. These included atmospheric perspective which incorporated hazy details as the painting regressed into the background. Color perspective was also first used during the Renaissance, which held that the further away a landscape was viewed the bluer in tone it became.

Besides cool-headed geometry and science that brought paintings to life like never before, the Renaissance proved to be a hotbed of rebellion against the established order. Gone were the days of a medieval reliance on Mother Church and the strict rules of propriety that constrained artistic expression.

The availability of funding from nobles and rich merchants opened an era of individualist spirit that was championed by the likes of painter/sculptor Michelangelo - who famously signed his Pieta so that onlookers would know it was he who created it. Hardly the self effacing humility of the church based artists!

Van Eyck's Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife
Detail from Van Eyck's Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife.

Art was finally asserting itself. Artists began depicting themes from ancient mythology in addition to Christian subject matter.

This genre of art is often referred to as Renaissance classicism, and (in addition to Michelangelo) had its other chief proponents in Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.

Another equally important but less well-known figure of the Renaissance was Flemish painter Jan van Eyck who is often attributed with "bringing the Renaissance North" with near photo-realistic depictions of people and everyday household objects as seen in Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife.

also see -> Old Master Paintings | Michelangelo's Florence

Da Vinci Code Clues & Symbols

More about Renaissance perspective and realism around the Web:



Web Exhibits: The Rise of Renaissance Perspective - Go deep into the subject with an extensive discussion on the origins of perspective and how it developed with examples and color illustrations.

Renaissance for Real - Now go even deeper into why Renaissance art signaled a revolution in painting with surveys on subject matter, color, light, and perspective.

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