Themes of Italian Renaissance Art

As the fourteenth century ushered out the Middle

Ages in Italy, a new period of cultural flowering began,
known as the Renaissance. This period in history was
famous for its revival of classical themes and the merging
of these themes with the Catholic Church. These themes of
humanism, naturalism, individualism, classicism, and
learning and reason appeared in every aspect of the Italian

Renaissance, most particularly in its art.

Humanism can be defined as the idea that human
beings are the primary measure of all things (Fleming,

29). Renaissance art showed a renewed interest in man who
was depicted in Renaissance art as the center of the
world. Pico della Mirandola said that, there is nothing
to be seen more wonderful than man. (Fleming, 284) This
could almost be taken as a motto for Renaissance art.

Michelangelo\'s David clearly supports Mirandola\'s statement.

Since Renaissance art focused on representing
tangible, human figures, rather than depicting scenes from
the Bible in order to praise God, the artists had to think
in more natural, scientific terms. Artists became familiar
with mathematics and the concept of space, as well as
anatomy. Lorenzo Ghiberti studied the anatomical
proportions of the body, Filippo Brunelleschi was
interested in mathematics in architecture, Leone Battista

Alberti, who was skilled in painting, sculpture and
architecture, stressed the study of mathematics as the
underlying principle of the arts (Fleming, 285). Leonardo
also looked at the geometric proportions of the human body
(Calder, 197). In painting, but especially in sculpture,
artists were inspired to express the structural forms of
the body beneath its external appearance. Their anatomical
studies opened the way to the modeling and the movements of
the human body. In painting, naturalism meant a more
realistic representation of everyday objects. In Fra

Angelico\'s Annunciation, he shows an exact reproduction of

Tuscan botany (Wallace, 237). Also, the concept of space
was important. In painting, figures were placed in a more
normal relationship to the space they occupied.

Human figures tended to become more personal and
individual. Three clear examples of that are Donatello\'s

David, and Leonardo\'s Mona Lisa and Last Supper, in which
the twelve different expressions of the apostles were
shown. Every statue, every portrait was an individual
person who made a profound impression. Mary and the angel

Gabriel became very human in Fra Angelico\'s Madonna
(Wallace, 45). Even when placed in a group, every
individual figure stood out separately, as in Boticelli\'s

Adoration of the Magi. One form of art representing the
individual was the portrait. Wealthy families and
individuals commissioned artists to create statues and
paintings. High regard for individual personality is
demonstrated in the number and quality of portraits painted
at this time (Flemming, 286).

Italian Renaissance humanism were motivated by a
rediscovery of the values of Greco-Roman civilization. An
example of architectural revival is Bramante\'s Tempietto, a
small temple built where St. Peter is said to have been
crucified. Bramante later got a chance to build on a much
greater scale: St. Peter\'s Basilica. Clearly using
classical civilizations as his model Bramante said of St.

Peter\'s, I shall place the Pantheon on top of the Basilica
of Constantine. (Flemming, 309-310) Other architects went
back to the central-type churches modeled on the Pantheon,
rather than the rectangular basilica that had evolved over
the centuries. They revived classical orders and
blueprints. Decorative motifs were derived directly form
ancient sacophagi, reliefs, and carved gems. Sculptors
revisited the possibilities of the nude. Painters,
however, didn\'t have the classical references that
sculptors had, so they used mythological subjects.

With all of the studying and learning of art in the

Renaissance, it would be of little wonder that the subject
of some of the art was learning itself. The most famous
example of this is Raphael\'s School of Athens. Raphael,
along with Michelangelo, was placed in the painting among
the ranks of artist-scholars. As members of a
philosophical circle intent on reconciling the views of

Plato and Aristotle, Raphael and his friends reasoned that

Plato and Aristotle were saying the same thing in different
words. The two philosophers were placed on either side of
the central. On Plato\'s side, there was a statue of

Apollo, the god of poetry. On Aristotle\'s side there was
one of Athena, goddess of reason. Spreading outward on
either side were groups corresponding to the separate
schools of thought within the two major divisions (Barrett,


No matter what theme of the Italian Renaissance is
named, there is always some example of a corresponding art
manifestation of it. For humanism it was David, for
naturalism it was Annunciation, for individualism, it was

The Last Supper, for classicism, it was St. Peter\'s

Basilica, and for learning and reason, it was The School of

Athens. It was these themes, which dominated every other
aspect of the Renaissance, that dominated the artistic

Works Cited