Throughout history artists have been drawn to epicenters of art for numerous reasons. In these gatherings art movements have been formed. The three main centers and movements focused on here are the Venice-Florence-Venice triangle, which brought us the Renaissance and High Renaissance period. Paris, which attracted artists who began the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism movement and New York where Abstract Expressionism emerged.
The artists of the high Renaissance were centered around the cities of Florence, Milan, Venice, Padua, Madua and Rome, giving rise to an area known as the Rome-Florence-Venice triangle. The Renaissance period followed the Middle Ages. It was a period when many of the great masterpieces in painting, sculpture and architecture were created. It reflected a renewed interest in classical art of ancient Rome and Greece. Many new discoveries were made during this time such as scientific discoveries, new technologies and exploration of new worlds. Art and science became connected and perspective came into play with the use of three-dimensional art being achieved on 2 dimensional paintings. Notably Leonardo de Vinci and Raphael used this often in their work. Renaissance art was a new expression of old style classical Greek traditions, yet it was able to explore deeper and show the individuality and the beauty of our natural world.
The earliest beginnings of the Renaissance period can be said to have started with Cimabue (1240-1302) who set out to break with the tradition of two-dimensional, heroic dignitaries and present more lifelike appearances and deeper emotion to his work . He was the first artist to be recognized as moving towards naturalism and began painting his subject matter with more lifelike proportions and shapes. Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337), one of Cimabue’s students, was known as one of the greatest artists in Florence. He brought to life paintings with dimension before science was really discovered a century later. His paintings draw more accurately from life and he depicted a more natural and realistic reflection of his subjects. His painting of Ognissanti Madonna 1306-10 shows Madonna as the central figure. Her figure is evident through her clothing, giving it a more lifelike look. Christ again as a baby is shown looking like a small baby and not a miniature adult. The angels knelt in the front are shown as small continuing the significance perspective many artist prior had done. A later painting again by Giotto, the Madonna and Child 1320-30 shows the mother gazing off into the distance, somewhere else; maybe into the future with the foreknowledge of the child’s fate. Renaissance art focused on portraying the natural form with human figures having dimension and weight. Whereas in contrast Byzantine art can be described as stylized and not duplicating that we see in real life. Giotto had redefined the way in which the viewer looks at the pictures and relate to them. His work drew more accurately from life and broke away from the Byzantine style.
In Florence in the early Renaissance the use of tempera and fresco’s were very popular especially in churches. Sculpture and painter Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) spent most of his life in Rome and Florence, spending his final years in Rome. He was commissioned by royalty and Popes from the wealthy cities of Florence and Rome and so these areas brought the greatest artists as funding played a huge role. One of his earliest commissions that gained him notoriety, was his Pietas 1501 which is now showcased in St.Peters Basilica in Rome. After this he was commissioned by the Florence government to sculpt his famous David. After this he then spent much of his time in Rome. Michelangelo was not only a great sculpture, but also great painter. From the years 1508-1512 he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome by Pope Julius II. He completed the ceiling in fresco where the plaster was stained with color. It depicts the story of the Old Testament yet Christ is implied throughout, for example where God touches the angle with finger and thumb in the story of creation. It looks at first as through God is surrounded by angels, yet he symbolically touches if not indicating to the child as though he is Christ. Also in the story of creation scene, Michelangelo succeeds in creating anticipation of the moment, just like in his statue of David; the anticipation right before he fling to stone at Goliath. Michelangelo paints very masculine yet graceful bodies even in the female form, very much based on the ancient Greek sculptures which were being discovered at that time.
Leonardo de Vinci is known as the father of the High Renaissance and also the as the Renaissance man. He was accomplished in many things such as architecture, sculpture, painting and poetry. He believed that art and science were one. He completed many works of art during his life but perhaps his most famous was the Mona Lisa c.1503. Her face is painted with softness about it uninterrupted with eyebrows, reflecting a very individualized archaic Greek style. He also painted her figure showing three quarters from the head down, which an innovative style for that time.
Raphael Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520) only lived a short life, however in this time he accomplished a great deal. He studied the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo in Florence. Raphael’s fresco School of Athens was painted for the then pope Julius II between 1509-11. This painting is considered to be a high point of humanism. There are so many elements of humanism in this fresco. When you first look at the picture you are drawn to the center of the picture. This was achieved by the use of perspective that Raphael created, firstly in the architecture, with Roman arches and barrel vaulted ceilings, drawing your eyes to the two central figures. Secondly by the size of the two central figures being bigger than the others. What is interesting here is the two figures are Plato and Aristotle both Greek philosophers, yet Raphael uses Roman architecture. Whilst Plato points up to the sky as a symbol of a world which transcends our everyday world. Aristotle holds his hand down as a symbol of his philosophies of the tangible world. His clothes are represented in blue and brown indicative of water and land, earth bound. Whereas Plato is painted wearing the grey/white of the sky and red of blood. The painting shows a balance between the two schools of thought. With all the earth bound thinkers on the left and the higher thinkers on the right; the painting is divided between thinkers.
Some of the other figures in the painting include Heraclitus, who believed that the universe is ever changing. He is sat alone in the front on the steps writing, which reflects his apparently solitary life. He is shown as a large figure, whilst the other characters as much smaller in stature. At the time that Raphael was painting this fresco Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel and he was used as the model for Heraclitus. On the left of the picture we can see Pythagoras, the great associated harmony and numbers and science. He is shown teaching a group of scholars as the gather around him, highly engaged. The painting has a whimsical feel of the way the characters are interacting with one another in their small groupings. It is an amazing tribute to the celebrated Greek philosophers.
During the High Renaissance humanism reached its peak, where sculptures were created with amazing likenesses and portrait so perfectly replicated real people. The whole era captured a world of beauty and optimism. It also revealed a lot of symbolism, an interest in philosophy and the sciences, moving away from the socuer becoming more realistic. It was an era where art was transformed from the darker depictions of life reflected by the art of the middle ages, yet showed a continuation of style somewhat from the ancient Greece and Rome the beauty of the human form.
Paris and Impressionism
The Impressionist period developed mainly in France and in particular in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century. The term Impressionist was first coined in 1874 by Louis Leroy in a description of Claude Monet’s landscape painting impressions: Soleil Levant. Paris was seen as the art capital of the 19th century attracting architects, sculptures and painters to its art schools, museums and exhibitions. Artists such as Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and postimpressionists Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin all exhibited their work there. These artists offered contemporary scenes from Paris and of the surrounding countryside. Art took a new direction away from the traditional paintings depicting religion and royalty. Painting became about reflecting real life scenes and the insurgent movement painted for themselves through their eyes. The French Academie Royale founded in 1648 in Paris would hold an exhibition every year (except for during the French Revolution) in which the jury of the academy would decide which works of art were to be shown. However in 1863 a proportionately large number of pieces were rejected including Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass 1863. It reflected Italian renaissance ideals with a naked female body and the way the man on the right is reclined. Yet it was in a modern setting with modern figures. The brush stokes on the panting were broad and very evident. This rejection gave rise to the rejected artists holding their own exhibition called Sal de Rafuses. Many of the artists exhibiting here were influenced by Manet’s work and emulated and took it to the next level. Edouard Manet was not on classed as an impressionist painter but many painters borrowed and improved on his style.
Impressionism art was about light and the way it reflected and was absorbed in the painting. The artists were totally focused on painstakingly trying to recreate light with paint. For example Monet’s Haystacks 1891 showed a series of paintings of haystacks in a field painted at different times of the day and year; such as a sunset at the end of the summer. The light is very different at each time and changes the color. The focus is not really on the haystacks but about the shapes and colors altered by the different light. Color was also a very important part of impressionist paintings, with the new understanding of primary and secondary colors and the color spectrum. Color was used in small patches; dabs of color. The dark tomes of the shadows were frequently painted with purples and blues as opposed to the traditional black. The color palette of this period began to replicate nature more accurately, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party 1923. He used soft hues of colors to embrace the softness of the summer’s days by the river Seine. It is brimming with color, with soft yellows and golden tones and many of the females have pink cheeks reflecting their merriment or sunburn.
Technique was another important factor, which made impressionism so radical at the time. Before artists had painstakingly ensured that their paintings did not show any brushstrokes. During the Impressionism era the art became about the brushstrokes and creating the piece of art. Van Gough’s used very expressive and pronounced brush strokes. One of his most famous painting which shows this is his painting Starry Night 1889. There is a dynamic contrast of the tall straight tree against the swirling flowing sky of clouds and stars. He painted with a sense of vigor and action as though you can imagine him applying them with great emotion and speed.
New York (Abstract Expressionism)
Over the centuries art has been abstract in the way an idea is put into form or how images are made to appear three-dimension, as we saw in the Renaissance and Impressionist periods. However, it was not until the early 20th century that abstract art was established as an actual type of art. When form was created for forms sake and subject matter took more of a back seat. It is thought that Impressionism opened the doors to abstract art, with its use of color, play on light and evident brush strokes. Artist Hans Hoffman (1886-1966) played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism. He was originally from Germany and spent quite a lot of time in Paris studying art. He brought his knowledge of European art to America where in 1936 he opened an art school in New York. It attracted students from all over the country. He was a major influence on many of these artists and in the early 1940’s a radical new direction in art was created. These artists broke away from accepted conventions of subject and technique. Importance was placed heavily on the process of creating paintings and sculptures. Jackson Pollock created art with no subject matter and without even putting a brush stroke on the canvas. He created his work by dripping, dropping, spilling and splattering paint on huge canvasses. He would walk around the canvas and use his body, bending and reaching with much less control than if he were painted on an upright stretch canvas. The many layers of color created a web-like effect reflecting dense color. Pollock’s Lavender Mist 1950 was created in this manner. The color effect of the lavender was created by the layers of different colors used, even though no lavender was actually used in the painting. Also what was very different from his paintings is that there is no focal point. Pollock was known as an “action” painter.
Another abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), who’s style was very different from that of Jackson Pollocks. Kooning’s work is more chaotic and full of urban energy. His painting Women 1 c.1950. It was an abstract piece made up of abstract colors and forms yet the central female figure is evident as pulls out from the background. She has painted with large eyes and breasts discerning her as female. The colors are not complementary and many gray tones are used throughout except for a little yellow reflecting her clothing. It is a very exaggerated piece looking almost like graffiti. The style principle of Pollock and Kooning had the same underlying principle underlying Hans Hoffman’s later works. He noted that space and form can actually create reality and that abstract art can be just as real.
Cities of culture throughout the centuries drew artists for many reasons. During the Renaissance artist live in Rome and Florence as they were commission and were given very prestigious and earned many accolades for their work on the Vatican etc. The Impression artists were drawn to Paris as it was very cultural and they wanted to learn from the schools and exhibitions. Each style runs its course as styles change and evolve. New techniques are discovered and people’s tastes change. A new generation of up and coming artists want to emulate yet bring their own unique and new ideas and creativity to life and so art is ever evolving and changing.