A Renaissance Art Comparison
Art in the Renaissance period was majorly influenced by social, political, and cultural aspects of this time period. Art in Italy during the fifteenth century greatly influenced art throughout northern Europe. Though there are distinct differences between the Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance, Italy did inspire a movement that eventually spread throughout the rest of Europe. Two particular art pieces from each area that will be examined are Fra Angelico’s Annunciation from Florence, Italy, and Robert Campin’s Merode Altarpiece from Northern Europe. Not only are the elements of composition important in these two works of art, but also the style, overall meaning, and factors that lead to the production of these great paintings. In Italy during the fifteenth century, they experienced a cultural rebirth as well as an increased interest in humanism, which reflects in the art we see from the Italian Renaissance (Kleiner). This rise of humanism eventually spread throughout Europe, which affected the art during the Northern Renaissance as well, though gothic art and architecture still remained in the north during the fifteenth century. One separation between the Northern Renaissance and the Italian Renaissance was politics. Italy was dominated by independent city-states, while the Northern Renaissance in the fifteenth century struggled with separation and the Roman Catholic Church (Kleiner). While Italy was focused on social changes, the north was focused on religious reform. Fra Angelico’s Annunciation is located in the Monastery of San Marco in Florence, Italy, and was created from 1438-1447. Angelico as an artist was not focused primarily on humanism unlike other artists during the Italian Renaissance, but rather he was dedicated to the Roman Catholic Church. Angelico was asked to create this fresco painting for the Dominican monks of San Marco in order to inspire the monks to immerse themselves in their religion (Kleiner). In this painting we see the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel on the stairs leading to the friar’s cells. We can see the classical elements shown in this painting through the arches and columns that the convent consisted of. Angelico shows great linear perspective in Annunciation, as well as pristine clarity and simplicity. The colors are a bit plainer, with hues of pinks, but give off an intimate feel that complimented the convent nicely. Mary and Gabriel look serene and accepting of their encounter- at peace with their exchange. Angelico’s interpretation of this famous scene was mostly affected by the convent he was part of. His religious views influenced the simple, quiet, yet remarkable painting in San Marco. Robert Campin’s Merode Altarpiece from the Northern Renaissance is a triptych, which consists of three oak panels connected by hinges (Harris). The first panel is the donors that commissioned the painting by Campin, the second panel is the same Annunciation scene of Mary and Gabriel but depicted quite differently, and the third panel is Saint Joseph. This painting pays close attention to clarity and detail, with varying colors and realism. The painting is in oil, and has a style that reflects the Northern Renaissance period. For example, the angel and Mary do not have halos, and it lacks linear perspective. The lack of halos, as well as Mary’s face (which doesn’t seem too happy about the fact that she is about to conceive Christ’s child) could relate to the religious separation that Northern Europe was experiencing during the Renaissance. Northern Renaissance art is very well known for its symbolism, and in this painting nearly every object is symbolic of spiritual ideas (Harris). For example, lilies represent Mary’s virginity, Joseph’s tools represent the Passion of the Christ, and the extinguished candle represents God taking human form. The ways in which these two painting are depicted differ greatly. Angelico’s painting is more simplistic in composition, has clarity and linear perspective, and gives off a serene and calm mood. Mary is accepting her conception of Christ’s child and at peace. Everything seems quiet and intimate. In Campin’s three panel depiction of the same Annunciation scene, there is no linear perspective, a less peaceful mood, absence of halos, and lots of symbolism through objects. The color is beautiful in Campin’s painting, and the clarity is pristine as well. The two paintings show a very different approach to the same subject. The Italian Renaissance’s idea of realism was more focused on math and science, whereas Northern Renaissance focused more on a close observation of the world. Through examining these two works of art with similar subject matter but varying depiction, we can see how Northern Europe Italy differed in social, cultural, and religious aspects.
Harris, Beth, and Steven Zucker. "Campin's Merode Altarpiece." Campin. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.
Kleiner, Fred S., and Helen Gardner. Gardner's Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2013. Print.