The Renaissance is a period in the human history that is, first of all, famous by its art that had a profound impact on the development of the global culture. That period of time was characterized by a great number of painters, sculptures, architects and other specialists who were connected with art. Paoletti and Radke argued, “Art mattered in the Renaissance. People expected painting, sculpture, architecture, and other forms of visual arts to have a meaningful effect on their lives, delighting and enticing them into holding or maintaining certain beliefs and engaging in specific behaviors”. Current paper is devoted to cover the main aspects of the Renaissance art meaning and show how the art of that period managed to have a tangible impact on the development of many areas of social, political, economic and philosophic development.
The Renaissance art and Humanism
The primary difference between the Renaissance and the previous historic period of the Middle Ages is the Renaissance’s focus on the meaning and nature of the human existence. In contrast to the medieval understanding of the life as a constant service to the God, the Renaissance returned the ancient ideas about the human as the most precious God’s creature. The Renaissance was still a period when the church had enormous powers, but the perspective of the social development significantly differed from the one of the Middle Ages. The Renaissance humanism was a very complex system, but its primary purpose was to facilitate the transition of the humanity from the ignorance to the realization of its own value and importance. The art of that period tried to highlight the human strength and beauty in all possible ways. The theme was wide-spread both in painting, sculpture and other forms of art.
The statue of David created by Michelangelo in approximately 1501 is a perfect illustration of the new meanings that the Renaissance art was able to disseminate among the Italian society. Although the primary aim of the statue was different. When it was placed in a central Florentine square, it became a symbol of the humanistic movement and the defense of important civil liberties that were considered one of the major cornerstones in Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. The statue interweaved artistic and political spheres into one magnificent piece of art. It functioned as a symbol of Florentine independence, the strength of its special spirit that the government of the city wanted to defend from the enemies and rivals, like, for example, Rome. The statue of David, as it was placed in the square, was looking in the direction of Rome showing that attacking Florence could be a dangerous task. Such important political meaning was intensified by the image of David as an almost perfectly-built man. Crum and Paoletti call the statue “a most dramatic sign of republic’s self-representation”. The parallels between David and Florence were one of Michelangelo’s primary goals when making the statue, so he exerted every effort to make David as strong, victorious and beautiful as possible. David reflects the belief of the Renaissance into the power of the humanity. For the sculpture “the main theme was the human body seen in a heroic light, full of internal activity and external imminence”. The statue inspired people to believe that they had enough strength and power to defend themselves and their city, and, what is more important, find the qualities of David in their own characters. Recovering from the pressure of the dark Middle Ages was one of the major tasks of the Renaissance artists and philosophers.
The impact of art objects similar in meaning to Michelangelo’s David was very significant. It made the humanistic ideas understandable not only for a limited group of intellectuals and nobles, but served as a medium of communicating such messages to the general masses. It was a certain way to interpret the theories and make them an integral part of the everyday life. The fact that the Republic of Florence through the wish of its rulers wanted to identify itself with such figure as David, a prominent Biblical hero, proves a significant elevation of the public opinion about the city and the humanity as a whole.
The Interconnection of Art and Religion
Despite the focus on the humanism as the prevailing philosophic ideology, the Renaissance did not intend to break the connections of the church and the society. Catholicism was a dominant religion and the church was the most influential institute in Europe. Monasteries and convents also needed to strengthen their power and find proper patrons among the nobles to fund their activities. As a result, they paid much attention to the decorative elements of their buildings that could signal the public that a specific religious building belonged to the most influential church in the world and to be associated with such institute might be a privilege for anyone. Religious paintings and sculptures were used not only in churches, but also in different civic places, like Italian piazzas or the villas of the rulers. Therefore, the religion among all the Renaissance art themes and topics obviously occupied the leading place.
Surprisingly, the paintings on the religious themes were the leverage that made a significant impact on the changes in the perception of human body and beauty in general. Despite the fact that they depicted the saints, the artists enjoyed much more freedom than before and chose new methods of approaching such portraits. They incorporated certain ancient ideas about the perfect body into their paintings and, thus, made the saints portrayed there more realistic and close to the real people”. The paintings that dealt with the “civic” themes, such as portraying the nobles and wealthy people, were usually exhibited in private houses and not in public places like churches where everyone could see them. Therefore, they did not have such huge impact on the public perception of beauty, human body and sexuality.
A good illustration to the above-mentioned thesis could be a tempera painting of Sandro Botticelli called “The Madonna of the Book” created at the end of the fifteenth century. The painting portrays a traditional religious scene of the Virgin holding a baby Christ on her lap. Although Botticelli’s work adds a new meaning to the scene, making it correspond to the main principles of humanism. Mary and Christ are not represented as divine beings that are impossible to understand and access for a human. Mary is reading a book and Christ is trying to catch his mother’s attention. The scene is very “human” and understandable for anyone. Thus, religious institutions gained much from such new approach to artistic depiction of the religious scenes. They managed to retain the influence over the society that due to the impact of the Renaissance principles did not want to live according to the medieval rules. Despite the fact that “The Madonna of the Book” is by all mean does not violate any canonic norms of depicting Christ or Mary, it is a new approach of painting saints that was positively assessed by the Renaissance society. Moreover, although the literacy rates during the Renaissance were slightly higher than in the medieval times, “most of Europe was illiterate and the Church considered images the best means of reaching this large uneducated audience”. Therefore, art became a really powerful tool of influencing the public consciousness and opinion.
Art as a Symbol of Political Power
Another important aspect of the Renaissance art is its close connection with the political and economic spheres. The society believed that paintings, sculptures and magnificent buildings were an apt form of manifesting political principles or showing how much power is focused in the person’s hands. Such idea gave a significant boost to the institute of patronage that existed in times of ancient Greece and Rome, but reached a new level of development during the Renaissance. Patronage in Italy of that period was not a simple purchase of a painting or a sculpture. Kent, Simons and Eade write, “Patronage is a relationship in which a patron provides more than simple protection. He provides brokerage, mediation, favors and access to networks of friends”. The cooperation between artists and the people who enjoyed power and wealth, like, for example, the nobles or high rank priests, created a special atmosphere of mutual profit. Art allowed the nobles to improve their public image, the popes to show the power of Catholicism and the artists received significant rewards. The painters and sculptors who had powerful and influential patrons enjoyed more orders and higher social status than those working independently.
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the brightest examples of such effective cooperation and the meaning that the art could add to the political power of the nobles. “The Last Supper” is, of course, first of all, a prominent work of art and the components that constitute its essence are “the observer’s distance to the perspective plane, the aperture of his or her visual field, and the limits of the perspective plane” that are very important in case of “The Last Supper”. However, if analyzed exclusively from the artistic perspective, the mural painting would lose much. It is necessary to take into account the political aspect of the artwork. It is located in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the ancient Italian city of Milan. Da Vinci was asked to create the painting by his influential patron Ludovico Sforza who was the duke of the city at that time. . The political situation in the city was rather difficult at the end of the fifteenth century as some strong lobbies believed that Ludovico Sforza was not a proper ruler of the city. He seized the power from the hands of his little nephew and his mother who was the regent of the city at that period. Therefore, some of the nobles still believed that the right to rule the city passed to the wrong leader. It was a primary task for Ludovico Sforza to change the public opinion and add more legitimacy to his ruling. He exerted every effort to decorate the churches, convents, monasteries and squares of Milan with beautiful works of art that would highlight the glory of his family and tell any citizen that he is active in taking care of the city. Special attention was paid to the newly built Santa Maria delle Grazie that became the place where the members of Sforza family were buried even before its final completion. Such fact added as much grandeur to the place as possible and had to tell Sforza’s rival that he was the most influential person in the city and had the right to occupy the throne of the Milanese Duke. Da Vinci’s painting attracted the attention of the public from the very beginning and made a significant contribution to improvement of the Sforza’s public image. It must be also mentioned that Sforza’s approach was common for many other rulers and cities. As Smith and Steinhoff write, “As the government sought to consolidate its authority and efficacy it also faced the task of providing a unifying civic identity for citizens”.
Elevation of the Artist’s Public Image
To have a broader understanding of the Renaissance art meaning, it is necessary to take into account the prerequisites that made such significant influence of the art on all spheres of life possible. As the role of art in the Renaissance period differs in many ways from the situation with the medieval art, it would be right to assume that some very significant shifts in the human psychology took place. It was, first of all, the attitude of the society towards the external manifestation of the wealth and riches. As Leonardo Bruni, a prominent humanist of the Renaissance Florence once wrote, “Magnificence is an attribute of expenditures of the kind which we call honorable… [the art works] are proper object of public-spirited ambition… A magnificent man will also furnish his house suitably to his wealth (for even a house is a sort of public ornament)”. Such ideas resulted in the increasing interest to the art objects as an effective manifestation of the social and economic status.
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Moreover, the role of the artists in the society significantly changed, as well. In the medieval period they were mere artisans and the results of their work were not considered something belonging to high art. However, as Woods points out, the process of “making” art became much more complicated in technical aspects and it led to the situation when a much smaller group of people could do such work properly, so the market value of their products (in this case paintings or sculptures) increased greatly. . It became very prestigious to order paintings or sculptures to decorate private or public places.
In summation, the Renaissance art had a significant impact on all aspects of life, including economics, politics and behavioral patterns. Europe reached a new level of historical development and it can be, to a certain extent, attributed not only to the important political or military events, but also to the peculiarities of the artistic processes of that period. The artists communicating with the audiences via their paintings, sculptures and architecture strengthened the ideas of humanism and facilitated its further development, influenced the spheres of religion and politics and significantly improved the attitude of the society to art objects in general. Without such changes occurred during the Renaissance, the modern art and society would not be the same as they are now.
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