The Renaissance was the first period in human history where people were really aware of their existence in relationship to the past. The people of the medieval era viewed everything in terms of the Bible. They felt that history was created in heaven. The people of the Renaissance were much more enlightened, they divided the past according to human achievement rather than the divine plan of salvation. This enlightenment came from an idea called Humanism. Humanism is an idea that puts importance on human life and experience while on earth rather than putting emphasis on the afterlife. With these newfound ideas the people of the Renaissance were able to look at the ancient cultures of the Greeks and Romans as a time when culture was thriving and civilization was at its peak. Likewise, they saw the Middle Ages as a time when civilization had fallen of the charts and nothing worthwhile was being accomplished. The Renaissance people studied the intellectual and artistic undertakings of the Greeks and Romans and hoped to surpass them.
One of the first things to note about the artists of the Renaissance was their elevated social status. During the Dark Ages artists had very little respect and were seen merely as craftsmen who dealt in mechanical arts. With the forthcoming of the Renaissance artists were suddenly seen as scholars. During the Renaissance people made the realization that art required creative thought and insight on top of the ability to perform the mechanical arts. This awareness allowed artists to be revered at the same level as scholars, poets, and philosophers.
There was a renewed interest in the human form during the Renaissance as well. Again, this stems from the interest in ancient Greek and Roman art as well as the development of humanism. Sculptures of the human form from the Greek Hellenistic period of art focused on realism, expressiveness, pose, and drapery. Renaissance artists took it a step further and sought to portray the human figure in even more detail. Both Michelangelo’s and Donatello’s versions of the David are perfect examples of this desire for sculpture’s to be anatomically correct. In fact, several artists, including Da Vinci and Michelangelo, dissected human bodies in order to further their understanding of the human body. These sculptors also reintroduced a technique known as contrapposto. Contrapposto is a term most commonly used in the visual arts to describe a human figure standing so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs. The use of this technique allows the artist to make the sculpture appear relaxed and less stiff. Contrapposto was an extremely important development in art, because it is the first time in Western art that the human body is used to show psychological disposition.
Another important development during the Renaissance was the increased use of the patronage system. The patronage system allowed art to flourish because a client with a large amount of money would hire an artist to paint or sculpt something for him. One of the most important people to play a role in the patronage system was Lorenzo de Medici. Medici lived in Florence during the Renaissance and turned it into a cultural hub of ideas and art. Medici was also a prime supporter of Michelangelo.
One of the most important artistic techniques to come out of the Renaissance was linear perspective. Filippo Brunelleschi is credited with creating linear perspective. Linear perspective is a mathematical way of applying space and dimensionality to a two-dimension plane. He gave both artists and architects a precise formula for creating the illusion of space. A prime example of linear perspective is Raphael’s School of Athens.
One final thought that spawned from the Renaissance is the idea of the Renaissance man. A Renaissance man is someone is seen as being skilled in many different areas from art to science to math. Two perfect examples of this idea are Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Both of these men were not only geniuses in the artistic sense, but in many other areas too. They were architects, scientists, mathematicians, and artists. Da Vinci was so far ahead of his time that he came up with the plans for the first helicopter. When it come down to it, the Renaissance was an eye opening period for all aspects of life and truly helped the advancement of art.