Art during the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries changed and evolved into ideals and characteristics that are still used today. Many different art movements changed hands throughout what is considered early modern Europe. In my paper, I am going to discuss the themes, iconography, and characteristics of art and several artists in these different movements. The early half, around the fifteenth to seventh centuries, of modern Europe, was dominated by Renaissance art, which spread to all corners of the continent, though it centered in the country of Italy.
The second half was followed by Baroque and Rococo art of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many iconic and well-known artists also arose during this large epoch of time. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, and Peter Paul Rubens will be a few that are discussed in this paper.
The Renaissance was the revival in the fourteenth century of the desire for the arts and education in a more secular realm.
All mediums were involved in this uprooting of old values. It was a time used to reestablish old Western world views, much like those of Ancient Greece. Italian artists and philosophers wound up wrapped in the themes and forms of old Greece and Rome. This was consummately tuned in to their willingness to make an all-inclusive, even royal, type of art that could express the new and bold mindset of the epoch. Drawing, sculpture, painting, architecture, and even science, writing, and literature changed due to these new ideas of form and aesthetics.
This newfound interest in the arts came after years of what historians call the “Dark Ages.” Along with the new prosperity of the countries in which they lived, some people had more time to focus on their enrichment by getting involved with the arts. This movement brought about an abrupt end to medieval values. Artists during the Renaissance era displayed a certain set of characteristics that can be seen in various works by various artists. The proper use of proportions was a heavily used technique that helped Renaissance artists more toward a style of painting and sculpting that was more realistic. Other skills learned that are highlighted in the movement was that of foreshortening figures, meaning lines were shortened for artists to show depth and perspective on a two-dimensional plane, which became common practice. A technique invented by artist Leonardo da Vinci was called sfumato, which is the careful blending and buffing of paints to create a smooth, seamless finish, also developed into a standard for Renaissance painting. Sfumato was commonly used during the Renaissance artists who were skilled in oil-based pigments. Chiaroscuro is also a frequent approach used as it allowed artists of the era to paint the illusion of three-dimensional space onto a flat board or canvas by painting dark and light colors near one another to form shading. The Chiaroscuro technique was also used during the following era of Baroque painting.
Some of the other characteristics of art in the Renaissance era call for Humanism. In artworks of the period, this meant seeing figures emerge as individuals, and not exclusively as symbolic or religious figures. Humanism reduced to importance of religious and secular dogma and in turn made people focus on themselves and their worthiness. The extent how which artists used realism and their attention to detail give viewers a snapshot of what life may have looked like in the early centuries of European life. Humanism allowed not only painters, but sculptures to use linear methods to proportion their figures with those seen in real life. On a more social level of Renaissance society, Humanism created a new sense of virtuous action. This was the revelation that man controlled human destiny, which is why paintings of historical events and ideas became increasingly popular. Capturing this idea in paint and pigment served to move the notion of uplifting and virtuous behavior forward. This is not to suggest that artworks of the time were not created exploration of vice and evil.
Some famous works of art from the Renaissance era are perfect examples of the characteristics and techniques used in the era. The oil painting Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci displays both Renaissance characteristics of sfumato and chiaroscuro. Sfumato was used for the smoothing effect on the skin of the figure, as well as used for painting the veil she wears over her hair. Leo used chiaroscuro for the face of the figure, showing it rounds. As well as in the mythical, illusionist landscape that is the background for the figure. The seventeen-foot high marble sculpture David by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni displays the characteristics of the era by using linear form and proportions for recreating the human form. The tempera painting The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli is also an example of the uses of sfumato, chiaroscuro, and linear methods. The Birth of Venus has examples of depth by the receding tree line to the right of the painting. The shell the center figure stands upon is shown with a shadow suggesting dimension and depth.
The next influential art movement following the Renaissance, of early modern Europe was the Baroque period. Baroque art was a reaction to cultural and political changes sweeping across early modern Europe, especially in Germany. The art from this era can be characterized by the highly stylized impression of grandeur and invoking emotions, whether awe or melancholy. The great, ornate style of paintings from this movement was painted so dramatically to bring audiences into the emotional realm of the painting. Another characteristic is the intense use of realism and naturalism. Baroque artists also continued to use the techniques of Renaissance art such as foreshortening and chiaroscuro. Along with the new explorations taking place, Baroque paintings frequently displayed newly discovered landscapes in high detail. Baroque had many advocates during this time. The Kings from countries like Great Britain, Spain, France, and Austria chose to use art in a way that suggested personal freedom and determination as well as national support. Meanwhile, Catholic Church used Baroque art as a way to push Christ’s message and also to show wealth to their congregations while doubling as decorative works of art. Baroque brought on the common practice of mural paintings, specifically those that were very large, extremely detailed, and of busy subject matter to be viewed as an illusion of more depth and space as if the walls or ceiling were nonexistent.
There are a multitude of different artists during this that painted using the Baroque themes and styles. In Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s oil painting The Musicians, the Baroque themes of emotion come into play as the scene painted is a highly detailed, intensely pigmented intimate concert. In The Musicians, Caravaggio uses chiaroscuro when painting the figures to create a sense that they are three-dimensionally solid and that there is no division between where the reality ends and the painting begins. The oil painting by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Prodigal Son in the Tavern, while is a self portrait of Rembrandt and his new wife, Saskia. The action of the scene is highlighted by the painted shadows and positions of the figure’s limbs. Another artist who painted during the Baroque period was Sir Peter Paul Rubens. In his painting, The Honeysuckle Bower, Rebuns shows in requested ornate detail a portrait of himself and his wife, Isabella. The close attention to the detailing of the clothing their wearing and their surroundings foliage is a fundamental Baroque theme.
Lastly, the later evolvement coming from the Baroque art movement was the Rococo style. Rococo was a more intense, more elaborate conclusion to Baroque. It focuses highly on the use of light in a style that was ornamentally theatrical.