The Study of Human Anatomy
Picking up where the ancient Greeks and Romans left off
As we can see from Donatello's sculpture of David, the study of human anatomy was enormously important for Renaissance artists. In this, they continued where the ancient Greeks and Romans had left off. Once again, as in classical antiquity (ancient Greece and Rome) the human figure was considered beautiful.
Donatello, David, bronze, late 1420s to the 1460s, Likey the 1440s (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence)
Remember that in the Middle Ages, there was very little interest in the human body, which was seen as only a temporary vessel for the soul. The body was therefore not important at all. If anything, the body was seen as sinful, the cause of temptation. In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve, after they eat the apple from the tree of knowledge, realize that they are naked and cover themselves. So nakedness, and the body generally in the Middle Ages, is associated in Christianity with temptation and sin and the fall of man. The best way to learn human anatomy is not just to look at the outside of the body of course, but to study anatomy. Dissections of the human body were performed in the Renaissance, although they were rare because of church prohibitions. Renaissance artists were anxious to learn about the body and gain the knowledge which would allow them to show the body in many different positions.
Scientific Naturalism and the Changing Status of the Artist
The artists of the Early Renaissance use scientific tools (like linear pespective and the study of anatomy as well as geometry) to make their art more naturalistic. When artists use science to make their art more naturalistic, we can use the term scientific naturalism. Scientific naturalism allows artists in the Early Renaissance to begin to demand that society think of them as more than just skilled manual laborers. They argued that heir work—because it is based on science and math—happens with their intellect just as much as with their hands, and they therefore argued that they should be considered the same status as intellectuals and philosophers. Remember that during the Middle Ages, artists were only considered as skilled craftsman (for instance, painters were in the same guild as pharmacists, because both grind and mix things), and so they are demanding quite a change.