Lecture notes on Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque art and architecture


Atmospheric perspective:  use colors to create an illusion of depth by subtly diminishing the tones as the distance between the eye and object increased; at the horizon line, the colors become grayish and the objects blurry in appearance.


Late Gothic:  p. 275, late Gothic Church, p. 276, English perpendicular, p. 277, Italian Gothic:  More or less ornate?  Compare p. 251, 271.  (Page numbers are from Roy T. Matthews and F. DeWitt Platt, “The Western Humanities,” 5th ed.)


Brunelleschi (see text, pp. 308, 309):  Architect; also discovered linear perspective, using principles of optics and architecture and did experiments in 1425 in order to find mathematical basis for achieving the illusion of depth on 2-D surface.  Solution to problem of putting 3-D on 2-D surface was to create a centering point or vanishing point.  Created grid for placing objects in precise relationships with each other and computed ratios for objects of a given actual size having to be drawn as smaller as are portrayed as being farther away.  Means viewer should see composition from one single position.


Key architectural achievement was the cathedral dome of Florence, still stands and dominates the city’s skyline.  Had a domical base of 140 feet to span, old techniques wouldn’t work, couldn’t rebuild to reinforce walls from outside.  Used a Gothic technique actually, used diagonal ribs based on a pointed arch.  The dome had a double shell of 2 walls held up by 24 ribs, only 8 of them visible.  Added a lantern on top to lock the ribs into place (after 1446).




Masaccio (1401-28), Mah-Zaht-Cho:  Lived only a short time, yet had a major influence through application of linear perspective.  See p. 314, The Holy Trinity (fresco painted in 1425), and p. 315, The Tribute Money. Used chiascuro (kee-are-uh-skyoor-oh) also, in latter work.  In The Holy Trinity, the size alone adds to its visual impact (over 21 feet by over 10 feet).  Also used atmospheric perspective.  Shows light coming from a single source, first time done.  In The Tribute Money, portrays tax collector twice, notice contrapposto stance, implies swagger of self-confidence.  Used perspective amazingly well, and chiaroscuro, which is modeling with light and shade.    May be a political propaganda piece, using NT situation to justify a new heavy Florentine tax.


Compare to pp. 197, 198, 249, 256, 269 for “flat” pictures, no shadows since light evenly distributed from no particular source.


Donatello:  Compare pp. 310’s portrayal of David  (revived free-standing male nude) with Verrocchio’s, p. 311.  Implied emphasis on male power, emphasis of Renaissance artists often.  Had fame in own lifetime, like Giotto.  Similarly, compare rider on horse, Gattamelata, p. 313 (revived equestrian sculpture, first successful one in over 1200 years), with Verrocchio, pp. 221  (Art Through Ages), overhead.  This artist affected by classical ideals, but obsessed with realism, observe nature closely and vigorously, doesn’t just refine past.  Did study ancient art on trip with Brunelleschi to Rome; used linear perspective as early as 1425 in relief “The Feast of Herod,” p. 310.  Note details of Herodias (textbook too vague, p. 311, “guest”), who instigated the unjust execution, leaning towards Herod while rest pull back when head presented.   No neat and pleasing pattern, but produces effect by chaos portrayed. Note the use of the classical arches; vanishing point in middle set of arches.  “V” caused by guests leaning in different directions not only express emotional turmoil, but cause them to fall away from viewer’s line of sight.  In horse sculpture of Gattamelata, pays respect to mature male power when in David, it is still developing, about adolescent male beauty instead.  Gattamelata goes against Classical ideas in the name of realism, since the man portrayed isn’t especially handsome:  “Cult of the ugly,” aesthetic attitude that claimed moral strength could be found in coarse features.  Rider has firm jawline, bushy eyebrows, widely set eyes, and close-cropped hair.  Donatello didn’t know how man portrayed actually did look since done after man had died.  The horse seems an extension of the soldier’s forceful personality, has flaring nostrils, open mouth, and lifted foreleg.  Cf. St. George, p. 172 of Art Through the Ages, eyebrows show breaks with past, new observation of real features of human body, contrast with saints in Gothic churches, p. 142, same book.  Started like others to use real models when drawing, painting, sculpting.


Alberti (architecture, p. 306):  Theorist, in treatise published in 1435, set forth the artistic values of the Renaissance.  Was an aristocrat, new well and was deeply committed to values of Classicism.  Compared artists’ creativity of God, rather presumptuous arguably.  Said paintings should appeal to mind, not just please the eye, by having optical and mathematical accuracy.  Artistic works should present a noble subject, have a small no. of figures, have carefully observed and varied ideals, graceful poses, a harmonious relationship among all these elements, and use color judiciously.  Emphasizes reason, not emotion, in art.  In architecture, believed it should embody the humanistic values of dignity, balance, control, harmony; a building’s ultimate beauty rest on the mathematical harmony of its separate parts.


Ghiberti:  Still influenced by Gothic style (use of quatrefoil surrounding early panel, archway where Virgin stands), yet towards end of life, panels to Baptistery in Florence plainly strongly more Classical and Renaissance in style.  Used rectangles now around panels, graceful contrapposto for the standing figures, had proportional relationships, applied linear perspective in “The Story of Cain and Abel” (p. 313) by having vanishing point in middle of tree trucks in center of panel, varied details by adding the sheep, oxen, altar.



Van Eyck:  Text, pp. 287 (Ghent Altar piece), 289 (Arnolfini Wedding);

Flemish art:  tries to represent reality by a build up of precise and often symbolic details, but Italian art focused on psychological truth, perspective, clear outlines more.

Arnolfini Wedding:  lighted candle, the shows, the fruit, the dog, refers to a wedding custom or belief by symbol; records event, not imaginary scene.


Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy, p. 296.  Various symbols, such as grapevine and stigmata, referring to Christ’s sacrifice; donkey to Jesus’ triumphal entry.  Man to live in harmony with natural world.  Various zones to depth of painting, landscape going into distance.


Botticelli:  Mastered perspective both linear and atmospheric, but less important in his work than depicting languid beauty and poetical truth.  The Birth of Venus, p. 305, problem of harmonized whole yet naturalistic.  Neo-platonic aspect/background:  Maybe Venus is an image of beauty and love as it is born and grows in the human mind; Birth could be said to corresponds to the baptism of Jesus, since baptism refers to a spiritual rebirth.   Primavera, p. 318.  Figures more flattened, background more decorative than real (more like Gothic art ironically), shallowness by the entangled backdrop of trees and shrubs.


Leonardo da Vinci:  p. 319, The Virgin of the Rocks.  Uses chiaroscuro expertly, better than any previous artist, makes figures stand out from gloom.  Colors the atmosphere, the edges of surfaces with a fine haze called sfumato.  Looks more like a vision than a realistic scene as a result.  Uses pyramid to organize figures, which influences later artists who admired it, doesn’t follow Brunelleschian perspective interestingly enough.


Did scientific work so could paint more effectively, cut up cadavers in secret since the church opposed this practice.  Didn’t follow classical conventions of early Renaissance slavishly since wanted to rely on empirical truth of what he himself observed.


Last Supper, p. 332:  flawed technique used for paint, flaked even in Leonardo’s lifetime; 7 restoration jobs.  Jesus in center, gesture of resignation, vanishing point behind His head; dramatic moment when says someone will betray him, disciples react.  Balanced effect from putting six apostles on each side, in groups of three each, with two older men, one younger, interact within each set of three;  Judas not put on one side of table alone, as often done in medieval past.  Notice how Judas’ face darkened, given symbolic bag of silver.  Figures put on wall above where monks/friars ate, seem to hover above, mirror image effect of room put in, where same thing done.  Made him famous in his lifetime.


Mona Lisa, p. 333:  half length format copied by later artists, then photographers, so influential.  Curious smile, demure/laid-back personality implied of subject, awkward gesture in how right hand’s fingers caress left arm, careful work on sleeves’ folds, separation of background from figure isolates figure before it in space and time, curious 3-D effect comes from sfumato being applied to corner of eyes, mouth’s smile, smoky background, uses oil medium to do this.


Michaelangelo:  p. 344, David; pp. 342, 345, two versions of Pieta Dome of St. Peters, p. 347.


p. 334, Sistine Chapel:  About 70 feet high, worked on back on scaffolding for 4 years; area covered 5,800 square feet, curved sides add to perspective problems.  Used Biblical narrative, neo-Platonic philosophy, and classical allusions.  Nine main scenes from altar to back of chapel on creation of the world.  Hebrew prophets and pagan sibyls alternate as pre-Christian seers.  4 scenes in corners from OT have death, violence that foreshadow Jesus’ first coming.


p. 337, Adam made:  Most famous single scene, Adam not quite yet fully alive, reaches towards God, doesn’t follow Genesis tightly since not clearly made from dust.


p. 338, Last Judgment:  Obliquely represents crisis in church due to Protestant Reformation/Revolt.  Implies his own sinfulness, not just God’s judgment of humanity generally.  Chaotic situation portrayed, demons on bottom reaching up, Jesus portrayed as divine judge; bodies made longer and reduces size of heads, facial expressions very emotional, not calm and serene;  Clearly Mannerist, simplicity replaced by exuberant abundance, and order replaced by rich diversity, anti-Classical.  Nude draperies added during Counter-Reformation.


p. 524, Dying Slave (gentle s-curve, perfectly proportioned figure, calm facial expression all High Renaissance, but overall sleekness, exaggerated arm movements, portents of early Mannerism).


Artist works with hands issue, wanted respectability as a writer would have, not treated as an artisan in societal respect.  Always wanted to be seen as sculptor first, did 4 year Sistine chapel project reluctantly, at Pope’s request (Julius II).  Much more religious than Leonardo, would suffer from bouts of spiritual anxiety.  Heroic nude males:  Later in life, after the Reformation began and became less healthy, his nudes had distorted proportions and high expressive facial expressions.


Raphael:  gracefulness, balanced composition his strength, known for his Madonnas.  Artistic ideal:  well-ordered space, human beauty & spatial harmony given equal treatment.  Blended sacred and secular well.


p. 339:  The School of Athens, portrays ancient philosophers; put Michangelo himself in front.  Has expressions, gestures fit philosophy or personality of philosopher in question; Plato and Aristotle in middle, former gestures up, Aristotle down, balance scene; Diogenes, the cynic, sprawled on stairs separate from rest.  Poets on Apollo’s side, Plato’s side; scientists on Athena’s side, Aristotle’s side.  High Renaissance work, adheres to Classical ideals.


p. 340:  Sistine Madona, (Great Paintings, p. 225) Pyramid organization, Madonna the apex of it.  Pope Julius II to left (patron, celebrates his death), St. Barbara, the patron saint of Death to right; Two mischievous angels/putti put below, relieves somber mood of piece.


Story of Art, Galatea, p. 242.


Giorgione, The Tempest, p. 340:  Atmospheric effects, implies storm coming by how painted.  The buildings highlighted, earth painted in somber tones, encouraged landscape painting, esp. in northern Europe, and that of female nudes also.  Figures overshadowed by storm coming, unlike Bellini’s St. Francis, no clear story-telling elements.


Titian:  Presentation of Virgin, p. 341; symbolism in bust, eggseller as Classical, Judaism being pushed aside.  Many other symbols, such as Mary in light, pyramid implies Mary’s high spiritual status, like Pharaohs;  Like to use color or other element to balance pictures.  Used color to produce symmetry, a “colorist,” not so focused on form.


Drurer:  Realism, introspection in self-portrait, p. 352, implied resemblance to Christ;  printed engravings unusually important, p. 359.  Became a Lutheran towards the end of his life, last paintings indicate this change of faith.


Grunwald’s realism:  Realism vs. beauty, p. 360.  Compare to Gibson’s film.  Much of it in late Gothic style, crowds figures together, Christ made larger than other figures.  Emotionalism in figures, although John the Baptist’s pointing still has calmness.  Low horizon line shows knew perspective of Italians.


Bosch’s strange surrealistic triptych, The Garden of Delights, unique style, unlike other artists of time.  Curiously combines late Gothic and early Mannerist.  Has precise details, like sweeping landscapes like Flemish artists; But cynical or ambiguous morally.  Left panel, creation; middle panel, this world, various sins depicted; right panel, judgment day & hell portrayed.


Bruegel the Elder, p. 362, Wedding Dance:  Portrays exuberant peasant life; typical of his style, high horizon and a high point of view, so look down on them; crude faces also imply these are types, not specific individuals.  More secular painter in subjects chosen, normally did landscapes, country life scenes, folk narratives.



Parmigianino, p. 342, The Madonna with the Long Neck:  Not realistic, good example of Mannerism;  Delights in ambiguity, deliberate distortion, dissonance, and loves eccentric composition; Notice how child about to fall out of Mary’s lap, seems to be half dead, in allusion to a Pieta, combines religious piety yet a covert sexuality; Mary’s sloping shoulders and long arms like Botticelli, still can see Mary’s shape beneath clothes.


El Greco, p. 371, The Burial of Count Orgaz:  Spirit of Counter-Reformation;  Clarity vs. complexity trade-off, attacks early Mannerism.  Combines spiritual world with conventional earthly one in paintings:  Painted saints, martyrs, other religious figures that showed Spanish emotionalism and religious zeal;  In this painting, an illusionist device involved as paint one event inside another, like Mannerists in being skeptical about conventional reality.  Regular clothes on people on earth, ethereal manner used for the heavenly scene.  The Opening of the Fifth Seal, p. 287, The Story of Art.


Palladio, p. 348, Villa Rotonda:  Looks Classical, but really Mannerist, since no Classical building had four porches on all four sides; building sticks out in environment, doesn’t blend in like High Renaissance buildings, but sticks out vs. gardens around it, elongation used in four long stairways, surprise represent in having 4 identical porches, novelty involed, not initially expected; commonly copied by English aristocrats, Southern plantation owners.  Wouldn’t be a building one would like to live in (implied lack of privacy issue).  Textbook had major influence on architects in English-speaking world.


Tintoretto, p. 375, The Last Supper:  Think of differences from p. 332, Leonardo’s version:  Dark background, ethereal gathering, eerie light, swooping angels, spiritual world on right, physical world of servants on left, good Late Mannerist painting.  has emotional; hasty, impetuous style in painting, unlike Titian’s disciplined approach.  Like Titian in using color, theatrical lighting.  Wanted drama emphasized, not pleasing pictures.



Caravaggio, p. 393, The Conversion of St. Paul;  Rejects antinaturalism of Mannerism for a harsh realism, refused to idealize subjects, would recruit subjects/models from streets, placed light and placed figures in unusual or striking situations, banished landscape from paintings by using chiaroscuro; Background in this painting indistinct, light comes from right, St. Paul’s head thrown towards viewer.  See also Doubting Thomas, Story of Art, p. 306.


Velazquez, p. 395, Las Meninas.  Mirror and lighting tricks; Puts soft light over the various figures.  Paints himself, standing, looking at canvas, looking at viewer, king and queen just entering in, indicated by mirror on back, light coming through open door, window right throws light onto princess.  Grave beauty.


Rubens, p. 396;  Senuous, lush sensuality; uses explosive forms, chiaroscuro, like gorgeous color like Titian; produced many works for kings, royalty, rich patrons.


Rembrandt, p. 399, restrained Baroque, p. 420 (dissection).  Forceful expressiveness, could portray moods, emotions well, used ordinary people as models.  Energy found in The Night Watch.  Energy, theatrical work, company marches toward viewer, dramatic gestures, not a conventional group portrait.  Painted self repeatedly over years; outlived wife, mistress, even children.  Went bankrupt even.