Italian Art: From The Middle Ages
To The Renaissance
Italian art in the Middle Ages was subject to a number of internal and external influences.
Unfortunately, because of the dazzling achievements of the Renaissance, the artistic legacy of medieval
Europe has generally been considered inferior by art historians and scholars. It's only in the past 150 years
or so that the true value of its paintings, sculptures and other artistic creations have been recognized and
given their rightful place in the history of Western art.
Medieval Art - 476AD-1300AD
Medieval art in Italy was an amalgamation of Roman art (508BC to 476AD), early Christian art (100AD to 500AD), and
the 'barbarian' artistic influences of the Northern Europeans, in particular the Germanic Ostrogoths and Visigoths
who invaded Northern Italy after the fall of Rome. The eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire), headquartered in
Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), endured for another 1,000 years after the sack of Rome, and during this
period Byzantine artistic styles found their way into medieval Italian art. Examples of Byzantine art can be found
throughout the country, particularly in Ravenna, Venice, Rome and Sicily.
A derivative of Byzantine art, the Romanesque style, was utilized in the creation of precious metal objects such as
bronze doors, crucifixes, candlesticks and other religious ornamentation. in France, Romanesque art gave birth to
Gothic art, but it was less influential in Italy than in other European countries. Nevertheless, Italy still
produced some of the best artists in that era. According to Wikipedia, out of 68 significant Gothic artists, over
75% of them were Italian.
[For a list of Italian Gothic artists, click here.]
Sadly, most of the artworks created by medieval Italian artists, in particular paintings on canvas, wall paintings
and tapestries, have not survived. What remains are more durable works such as illuminated manuscripts (preserved
by monasteries), metalwork, mosaics, sculpture and stained glass. The medieval basilicas of Rome contain some
excellent examples of 4th century AD mosaics and fresco art, but, as in Roman times, the artists generally didn't
sign their work, so there is no illustrious list of names to match that of the Renaissance. The only exceptions are
the Gothic painters and sculptors from the late Middle Ages.
Renaissance Art - 14th-17th Century
The Renaissance is an almost legendary period in the history of Europe that saw the reemergence of classical
influences in every area of artistic endeavor - from art and architecture to music and literature. In terms of
European art, it is the age of giants, with names like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael and Botticelli
dominating the period.
Some historians date the Renaissance from the late 13th century, the period when Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) gave
birth to Italian literature. The art of Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) can be seen as a bridge between medieval art
and the masterpieces of the High Renaissance. His work predates the period known as the Early Renaissance
(1400-1475), which was followed by the High Renaissance (1475-1525). Other significant influences on the
development of Renaissance art were the Florentine architects Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Leon Battista
Notable Early Renaissance artists include Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), Simone Martini (1280-1344), Ambrogio
Lorenzetti (1290-1348) and Taddeo di Bartolo (1362-1422), all from Siena, and Florentine artists Bernardo Daddi
(1290-1348), Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (c.1386–1466), Fra Angelico (1395-1455) and Paolo Uccello
The legends of the High Renaissance include Alessandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519),
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), Raphael Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520), Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531), and the
Venetians Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco) (1477-1510) and Titian (Tiziano Vecelli) (1477-1576).
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