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by  on 18 January, 2012 Be the first to comment!

The Passage from the Renaissance to the Neo-classicism was an important Transition in the History of Humakind

Art is not just the creation of the artist, but rather of who and what the artist is. The artist in turn is shaped by the political, cultural, social, and economic forces of the time and place. The creation of the artist is therefore determined to a large extent by these forces, and these forces are reflected in the artists work. The period of time from the early Renaissance to the Neo-classicism was an important transition in the history of humankind encompassing religion, science, humanities, and the arts. One would expect that events and developments in this interval would have shaped the artists and subsequently shaped the art that they created.

In order to appreciate what is taking place in an interval of time one must look at the events that occurred prior to this period. The Trecento period has been defined as the time that encompassed the 1300’s. Usually the time prior to this is described as the middle ages and parts of that as the “Dark Ages”. This later description has created an image in ones mind of times of hardship, suffering, and an absence of scientific, cultural and artistic endevour. This is far from the case. When the Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD this is merely a point at which a historian decided it ended. It is the year a German soldier, Flavius Odoacer became King of Italy. There had been a great deal of turmoil before this event and there was certainly a great deal of turmoil after this event. Effectively by this time however, the Western Roman Empire had to all intents and purposes lost control of the Western Roman Empire. People moved in search of new resources and new feudal states came into being , and states rose often with cultures a composite of that which had gone before and the cultural heritage that the people carried with them. Christianity had also been widely disseminated and was displacing the older non Christian religions. Survival, while always of paramount concern, out of necessity displaced many of the activities associated with “higher” civilization. To some degree because of the separation of the Western Roman and the Byzantine Empires much of the knowledge of the east was not maintained in the west and what knowledge there was, was often maintained in relatively isolated monasteries with an emphasis placed on religious works of course. Trade continued, skills and knowledge were transferred, and as always religion, science, humanities, and the arts continued to evolve, sometimes slowly, and sometimes more rapidly. Two major plagues have also played very significant roles in western civilization. The first was the plague of Justinian in the 6th and 7th centuries.  “Modern estimates suggest half of Europe's population was wiped out before the plague disappeared in the 700s.” 

The Trecento Period

Art from the period before the 14th century, and much of it during the 14th century  has often been described as of a religious nature and theme and frequently was used to transmit Christian messages and values. The art was frequently paid for either directly by the church or monastery or a patron or patrons would support it’s creation, again often for use within a church or monastery. Important religious figures were often shown in an abstract manner and as larger than others around them and figures appeared stiff with little or no sense of movement. Perspective was absent or not of signifigance in the painting. The faces were usually serious and did not display emotion and were usually fully clothed. Backgrounds were often one colour and the picture itself was flat and two dimensional.

Many states prospered during this period. The medival cities of  Siena, Florence and Padua were prosperous places and as had been the case in the past, often times the residents of the areas displayed that prosperity through buildings and works of art. The wealth in this area allowed for artists to prosper and the artist Giotto di Bondone was one such artist and a prominent one at that. He was born in 1266 and died in 1337. Giovanni Villani, a banker and a contemporary of Giotto wrote of Giotto that he was “the most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature. And he was given a salary by the Commune of Florence in virtue of his talent and excellence."  Giotto is also reputed to have been responsible for the bringing back of the use western figurative arts in combination with many of the ideals of ancient Greece. Most notable were the technics he used to show concept of space. This was a skill known to the ancient Greeks and Romans but a skill that had been absent through the middle ages. 

Figure 1, “The Lamentation of Christ” demonstrates these revolutionary, for the times, changes. The strong religious them is present as is the strong influence of the Church. But now the painting has been brought to life. While one does not see a perfect use of perspective there is the presence of three dimensions. Gone is the flat two dimensionality of medieval painting. The figures are no longer elongated but are now proportional, the background is no longer a single colour, and the faces bear expressions and emotion. It is most probable that the economic success of the region in which Giotto lived encouraged the arts and allowed for both the time and resources to be dedicated to support the artists which in turn allowed for the rediscovery of the old Greek and Roman techniques.

 The Renaissance

The start of the Renaissance period had been preceded by times of great strife and crisis. Just as Giotto had passed, at the time of his passing the second great plague hit Europe. This was the Black Plague and it has been estimated that it killed between thirty and sixty percent of the European population. The city states continued to gain wealth through trade and it can be argued that with less people around there was the same wealth to be shared amongst fewer people and those opportunities that had not existed for many had now been created. Trade continued to grow, wealth continued to grow, and the need to display it through artistic display grew as well. Wars had been ongoing and there had been great strife within the Catholic Church but Church wealth continued to climb with the merchant classes. With all of this trade and commerce as well as soldiers returning home ideas and skills moved around more than they ever had. With the increasing needs for governance even at the city state level new skills were required hence the growth in humanists to support all of these activities. All of these factors resulted in people seeking a new beginning. This new beginning that humanity sought for is the period of time that is referred to as the Renaissance, which literally means rebirth.

Figure 2 displays Raphael’s painting entitled “The Deposition”. Once again the influence of religion plays a predominant role in this painting but the painting reflects development in the techniques the artist used. The use of perspective is greatly enhanced from that used by Giotto and the background is much more elaborate emphasizing nature. The figures look very life like reflecting a greater knowledge of anatomy. The faces painted are very lifelike and expressive and the painting is well balanced and symmetrical. The skills of the painter are extraordinary indicating the great changes that had taken place in the nearly two hundred years since Giotto’s work. There is also a greater sense of having captured movement in the characters. One can see the use of a haze in the far mountains that create the illusion of distance.



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