1400-1500 Renaissance in Italy and the North
A video from the Utah System of Higher Education (with special thanks to Dr. Nancy Ross)
Originally a French term (renaissance, ‘rebirth’) pertaining to cultural history, it is now employed to describe the arts in Italy from the early 14th to the mid-16th centuries. By extension it is also more loosely applied to other European countries of that era.
It was first sanctioned as descriptive of a particular period and all that happened in it by the French historian Jules Michelet in a section entitled La Renaissance (1855) of his history of France. The Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt specifically associated the term with Italy in his Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy (1864), in which he stressed, albeit in a somewhat discursive manner, the difference of the ‘Renaissance’ from what went before (the so-called ‘Dark Ages’) and after. For cultural historians such as Burckhardt the term is all-embracing and covers the arts and sciences and politics.
Art historians have based their perception of the Renaissance on the rinascita (reborth or revival) in the arts proposed by the artist and writer Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists (1550). According to this tradition, Renaissance art was based on renewed study of the art of antiquity and of nature. Vasari saw himself as living in a ‘New Age.’ Its ‘Infancy’ had been marked by Giotto and Cimabue in painting, Arnolfo di Cambio in architecture, and the Pisani in sculpture. ‘Adolescence’ had been reached through the art of Masaccio, Donatello, and Brunelleschi, and ‘Maturity’ had begun with Leonardo da Vinci and culminated with the model of the uomo universale, Michelangelo.
Although the validity of the term ‘Renaissance’ has been frequently challenged (earlier ‘rebirths’ of interest in classical art and learning have been labelled ‘renascences’) it remains enormously useful, for all its imperfections. It is irrevocably associated in popular understanding with masterpieces such as Michelangelo's sculpture of David (Accademia, Florence), Leonardo's painting of the Mona Lisa (Louvre, Paris), and Bramante's building of the Tempietto of S. Pietro in Montorio, Rome.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, Michael Clarke, Deborah Clarke. © 2012 Oxford University Press. Available at Oxford Art Online
Image: Cover of Vasari's Lives of the Artists
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