Art Timeline
  1 c. 15000 - 5000 BC Prehistoric Art
  2 5000 BC - 5ОО BC The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms of Egypt - Aegean Art
  3-4 5ОО вс - 12th century The Art of the Greeks
  5-6 5ОО вс - 12th century Italic Art
  7-8-9 12th century (1100-1199) The Early Christians  Art - Byzantine Art
  10-11 13th century (1200-1299) Gothic Art
  12 14th century (1300-1399) Gothic Art - International Style
  13 15th century (1400-1499) The Early Renaissance
  14 16th century (1500-1599) The High Renaissance
  15-16 16th century (1500-1599) Mannerism
  17-18-19-20 17th century (1600-1699) Baroque
  21-22 18th century (1700-1799) Rococo
  23-24-25-26-27-28-29 19th century(1800–1899) Neoclassical - Romanticism
    19th century (1863-1899) Impressionism Timeline
    19th century (1860-1899) Simbolism
    20th century(1900-1999) ART OF THE 20TH CENTURY
15th century (1400-1499)

The Early Renaissance
  Late Gothic & Early Renaissance

Architecture  Sculpture  Painting
Late Gothic & Early Renaissance
Jacopo Bellini
Stefan Lochner
Konrad Witz
Hans Multscher
Rogier van der Weyden
Luca Della Robbia
Bernardo Rossellino
Leon Battista Alberti
Fra Filippo Lippi
Bernardo Rossellino
Dieric Bouts
Jaume Huguet
Jean Malouel
Agostino Di Duccio
Filippo Brunelleschi
Piero della Francesca
Jean Fouquet
Bertoldo di Giovanni
Nanni di Banco
Antonio Rossellino
Bernat Martorell
Giovanni Bellini
Mino da Fiesole
Andrei Rublev
Desiderio da Settignano
Antonello da Messina
Andrea Mantegna
Antonio del Pollaiuolo
Hans Memling
Pietro Lombardo
Andrea della Robbia
Niccolo dell’Arca
Nicolas Froment
Andrea del Verrocchio
Michael Pacher
Jacopo della Quercia
Francesco di Giorgio
Hugo van der Goes
Derick Baegert
Bartolome Bermejo
Fernando Gallego
Benedetto da Maiano
Giuliano da Sangallo
Sandro Botticelli
Donato Bramante
Barthelemy d'Eyck
Martin Schongauer
Israhel van Meckenem
Luca Signorelli
Pietro Perugino
Biagio Rossetti
Giovanni Antonio Amadeo
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Hieronymus Bosch
Pedro Berruguete
Heinrich Isaac
Leonardo da Vinci
Antonio da Sangallo the Elder
Paolo Uccello
Filippino Lippi
Antonio Lombardo
Gerard David
Tullio Lombardo
Hans Holbein the Elder
Quentin Massys
Andrea Sansovino
Master E. S.
Giovanni della Robbia
Albrecht Durer
Baldassarre Peruzzi
Antonio da Sangallo the Younger
Sebastiano del Piombo
Andrea del Sarto
Dosso Dossi
Barthel Bruyn
Francesco da Sangallo
Rosso Fiorentino
Lucas van Leyden
Carlo Crivelli
Tilman Riemenschneider
Hans Holbein the Younger
The Early Renaissance

The term Renaissance was first used by French art historians of the late 18th century in reference to the reappearance of antique architectural forms on Italian buildings of the early 16th century. The term was later expanded to include the whole of the 15th and 16th centuries and, by extension, to include sculpture, painting, and the decorative arts. There is still considerable disagreement among art historians as to whether the term should be restricted to a phenomenon that had its origins in Italy and then spread through western Europe (the point of view taken here) or whether directly contemporary developments north of the Alps, and especially in the Low Countries, should be included on an equal footing with what was happening in Italy.

The controversies that raged after the publication of Jacob Burckhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (English translation, 1878) have abated, and the time span of the Renaissance is generally accepted as the period from roughly 1400 to about 1600, although certain geographical areas and certain art forms require greater latitude. This period is characterized as a rebirth or, better, the birth of attitudes and aims that have their closest parallel in the art of classical antiquity. Classical literature and, less often, classical painting were invoked as a justification for these new aims. The theoretical writings on art from the period indicate that man was the dominant theme. In religious painting, drama and emotion are expressed in human terms. From the late Middle Ages the theme of the Madonna enthroned with Christ Child is presented in an earthly setting peopled by mortals. This strongly humanistic trend serves to explain, at least in part, the development of portraiture as an independent genre and the ever-increasing number of profane, usually classical mythological, subjects in the art of the Renaissance. The painting of landscapes, as the earthly setting of man's activity, has its first modest beginnings in this period.

The role of art and of the artist began to take on modern form during the Renaissance. Leon Battista Alberti's De pictura (Della pittura), a treatise on the theory of painting, as opposed to the techniques of preparing and applying colours, appeared in Florence in 1435-36. The directions that art and art theory were to follow for the next 470 years are already present in this little book. The artist is considered to be a creator rather than a technician because he uses his intellect to measure, arrange, and harmonize the elements of his creation. The intellectual activity of art is demonstrated, by a series of comparisons, to be equivalent to that of the other liberal arts. Influences such as Alberti's book led to a new evaluation of the artist, with painters and their works being sought after by the rulers of Europe (Michelangelo and Titian were actually ennobled); the result was that great collections containing the works of major and minor masters were formed. At the same time the artist slowly began to free himself from the old guild system and to band together with his colleagues, first in religious confraternities and later in academies of art, which, in turn, were to lead to the modern art school. During the Renaissance, practitioners of all the arts evolved from anonymous craftsmen to individuals, often highly respected ones. Painting became more intellectual, sometimes to its own disadvantage, and changed from serving as a vehicle for didacticism or decoration to becoming a self-aware, self-assured form of expression.

For the sake of convenience, painting of the Renaissance is divided into three periods, although there is considerable overlap depending upon the painter and the place. The early Renaissance is reckoned to cover the period from about 1420 to 1495. The High Renaissance, or classic phase, is generally considered to extend from 1495 to 1520, the death of Raphael. The period of Mannerism and what has more recently been called late Renaissance painting is considered to extend from the 1520s to approximately 1600.

Early Renaissance in Italy

The early Renaissance in Italy was essentially an experimental period characterized by the styles of individual artists rather than by any all-encompassing stylistic trend as in the High Renaissance or Mannerism. Early Renaissance painting in Italy had its birth and development in Florence, from which it spread to such centres as Urbino, Ferrara, Padua, Mantua, Venice, and Milan after the middle of the century.

The political and economic climate of the Italian Renaissance was often unstable; Florence, however, did at least provide an intellectual and cultural environment that was extremely propitious for the development of art. Although the direct impact of humanist literary studies upon 15th-century painting has generally been denied, three writers of the 15th century (Alberti, Filarete, and Enea Silvio Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II) drew parallels between the rebirth of classical learning and the rebirth of art. The literature of antiquity revealed that in earlier times both works of art and artists had been appreciated for their own intrinsic merits. Humanist studies also fostered a tendency, already apparent in Florentine painting as early as the time of Giotto, to see the world and everything in it in human terms. In the early 15th century Masaccio emphasized the human drama and emotions in his painting "The Expulsion" (Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence) rather than the theological implications of the act portrayed. Masaccio in his "Trinity" (Santa Maria Novella, Florence) and Fra Angelico in his San Marco altarpiece seem to be much more concerned with the human relations between the figures in the composition than with the purely devotional aspects of the subject. In the same way, the painter became more and more concerned with the relations between the work of art and the observer. This latter aspect of early 15th-century Florentine painting relies in great part on the invention of the one-point perspective system, which derives in turn from the new learning and the new vision of the world. The empirical system devised through mathematical studies by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi was given theoretical form and universal application by Alberti in De pictura. In this system all parts of the painting bear a rational relation to each other and to the observer, for the observer's height and the distance he is to stand from the painting are controlled by the artist in laying out his perspective construction. By means of this system the microcosm of the painting and the real world of the observer become visually one, and the observer participates, as it were, in what he observes. To heighten the illusion of a painting as a window on the world, the Italian artists of the early 15th century turned to a study of the effects of light in nature and how to represent them in a painting, a study of the anatomy and proportions of man, and a careful observation of the world about them. It is primarily these characteristics that separate early Renaissance painting from late medieval painting in Italy.

Florentine painters of the mid-15th century

Masaccio had no true followers or successors of equal stature, though there was a group of other Florentine painters who were about the same age as Masaccio and who followed in his footsteps to a greater or lesser degree: Fra Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, and Paolo Uccello.
Fra Filippo Lippi was a Carmelite monk who spent his youth and early manhood at Santa Maria del Carmine, where Masaccio's work was daily before his eyes. His earliest datable work, the "Madonna and Child" (1437) from Tarquinia Corneto, relies on the Madonna from the Pisa altarpiece, but in his Christ Child Fra Filippo already reveals an earthiness and sweetness unlike anything by Masaccio. "The Madonna and Child with Two Angels" (Uffizi, Florence)--with its urchin-angels, lumpy Christ Child, and elegant Madonna--is perhaps one of his best-known late works; the placement of the Madonna before an open window is one of the key sources for later Renaissance portraiture, including Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," while the elegance and sweetness of the Madonna were to have their greatest reflection in the work of Fra Filippo Lippi's student, Botticelli.

Born about the same time as Masaccio, Fra Angelico was a Dominican monk who lived at Fiesole (just outside Florence) and at San Marco in Florence. His earliest documented work, the "Linaiuoli Altarpiece" (Museum of San Marco, Florence) of 1433, continues much that is traditional to medieval art, although the male saints in the wings (side pieces of a composite painting, typically a tripartite altarpiece) already reveal the influence of Masaccio. The altarpiece that he executed between 1438 and 1440 for the high altar of San Marco is one of the landmarks of early Renaissance art. It is the first appearance in Florence of the sacra conversazione, a composition in which angels, saints, and sometimes donors occupy the same space as the Madonna and Christ Child and in which the figures seem to be engaged in conversation. In addition to inaugurating a new phase of religious painting, the altarpiece reveals the influence of Masaccio in the sculptural treatment of the figures and an accurate awareness of the perspective theories of painting expressed by Alberti in his treatise. At about the same date, Fra Angelico was commissioned to decorate the monks' cells in San Marco. The nature of the commission--traditional devotional images whose execution required assistants--apparently turned Fra Angelico toward the religious and didactic works that characterize the end of his career; e.g., the Chapel of Nicholas V in the Vatican.

Paolo Uccello's reputation as a practitioner of perspective is such that his truly remarkable gifts as a decorator tend to be overlooked. Studies of his extant works suggest that he was more interested in medieval optics than in the rational perspective system of Alberti and Brunelleschi. His earliest documented work, the "Sir John Hawkwood" fresco of 1436 in Florence cathedral, is a decorative work of a very high order and one that respects the integrity of the wall to which it is attached. Uccello is perhaps best known for the three panels depicting "The Battle of San Romano," executed about 1456 for the Medici Palace (now in the National Gallery, London; the Louvre, Paris; and the Uffizi). The paintings were designed as wall decoration and as such resemble tapestries: Uccello is concerned only with creating a small boxlike space for the action, for he closes off the background with a tapestry-like interweaving of men and animals. His primary concern is with the rhythmic disposition of the elements of the composition across the surface, an emphasis that he reinforces with the repetition of arcs and circles. Uccello's concern with the decorative and linear properties of painting had a great impact on the cassone (chest) painters of Florence and found its greatest reflection and refinement in the work of Botticelli.

Masaccio's greatest impact can be seen in the works of three younger painters, Andrea del Castagno, Domenico Veneziano, and Piero della Francesca. Castagno was the leader of the group. His "Last Supper" of about 1445, in the former convent of Sant'Apollonia in Florence, reveals the influence of Masaccio in the sculptural treatment of the figures, the painter's concern with light, and his desire to create a credible and rationally conceived space. At the same time Castagno betrays an almost pedantic interest in antiquity, which roughly parallels a similar development in letters, by the use of fictive marble panels on the rear wall and of sphinxes for the bench ends, both of which are direct copies of Roman prototypes. In the last years of his life, Castagno's style changed abruptly; he adopted a highly expressive emotionalism that paralleled a similar development in the work of his contemporaries. His "The Trinity with Saints" in the church of the Santissima Annunziata, Florence, was originally planned with calm and balanced figures, as the underpainting reveals. In the final painting, however, the figures, though sculpturally conceived, project an agitation heightened by the emaciated figure of St. Jerome and the radically conceived figure of the crucified Christ. The optimism, rationality, and calm human drama of earlier Renaissance painting in Florence were beginning to give way to a more personal, expressive, and linear style.

One aspect of this new direction is met in the work of the enigmatic Domenico Veneziano, the second of the three principal painters who looked to Masaccio. His name indicates that he was a Venetian, and it is known that he arrived in Florence about 1438. He was associated with Castagno, and perhaps Fra Angelico, and helped to train the somewhat younger Piero della Francesca. His St. Lucy altarpiece of about 1445-50 (Uffizi) is an example of the sacra conversazione genre and contains references to the painting of Masaccio and the early 15th-century sculpture of the Florentine Nanni di Banco. The colour, however, is Domenico's own and has no relation to the Florentine tradition. His juxtaposition of pinks and light greens and his generally blond tonality point rather to his Venetian origins. In the painting he has lowered the vanishing point in order to make the figures appear to tower over the observer, with the result that the monumentality of the painting is enhanced at the expense of the observer's sense of participating in the painting.

Piero della Francesca received his early training in Florence but spent the active part of his career outside the city in such centres as Urbino, Arezzo, Rimini, and his native Borgo San Sepolcro, in Umbria. His "Flagellation of Christ" (late 1450s), in the National Gallery of the Marches, Urbino, is a summary of early 15th-century interest in mathematics, perspective, and proportion. The calm sculptural figures are placed in clear, rational space and bathed in a cool light. This gives them a monumental dignity that can only be compared to early 5th-century-BC Greek sculpture. Much the same tendency can be seen in Piero's great fresco cycle in the church of San Francesco in Arezzo.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Late 15th-century Florentine painters

A hiatus occurred in Florentine painting around 1465-75. All the older artists had died, and the men who were to dominate the second half of the century were too young to have had prolonged contact with them. Three of these younger artists, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Sandro Botticelli, and Andrea del Verrocchio, began their careers as goldsmiths, which perhaps explains the linear emphasis and sense of movement noticeable in Florentine painting of the later 15th century.
As well as being a goldsmith, Antonio Pollaiuolo was a painter, sculptor, engraver, and architect. His work indicates his fascination with muscles in action, and he is said to have been the first artist to dissect the human body. In the altarpiece "The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian" (1475; National Gallery, London) he presents the archers from two points of view to demonstrate their muscular activity. His painting (formerly in the Uffizi but now lost) and small sculpture (Bargello, Florence) of "Hercules and Antaeus," like the engraving of "The Battle of the Nudes", depict struggle and violent action. "The Rape of Deianira" (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.) emphasizes yet another new element in Florentine painting, the landscape setting, in this case a lovely portrait of the Arno Valley with the city of Florence in the background.

A similar concern with moving figures, a sense of movement across the surface of the panel, and landscape is found in the earlier works of Sandro Botticelli. In his well-known painting "The Primavera" (Uffizi) he uses line in depicting hair, flowing draperies, or the contour of an arm to suggest the movement of the figures. At the same time the pose and gesture of the figures set up a rising and falling linear movement across the surface of the painting. Botticelli's well-known paintings of the Madonna and Child reveal a sweetness that he may have learned from Fra Filippo Lippi, together with his own sense of elegance and grace. A certain nervosity and pessimistic introspection inherent in Botticelli's early works broke forth about 1490. His "Mystic Nativity" of 1501 (National Gallery, London) is even, in one sense, a denial of all that the Renaissance stood for. The ambiguities of space and proportion are directed toward the unprecedented creation of a highly personal and emotionally charged statement.

Florentine painters active in the closing decades of the 15th century include Andrea del Verrocchio, who is best known as the master of Leonardo da Vinci and Perugino. There was also Filippino Lippi, who was apparently apprenticed to Botticelli when his father, Fra Filippo Lippi, died; he painted a group of madonnas that are easily confused with Botticelli's early work. By 1485, however, he had developed a somewhat nervous and agitated style that can be seen in the highly expressive "Vision of St. Bernard" in the Badia, Florence. His last works, such as the series of frescoes he painted in Santa Maria Novella (1502), reveal a use of colour and distortion of form that may have influenced the later development of Mannerism in Florence a generation or so later. Another painter active at this time was Domenico Ghirlandajo, whose artistic career was spent as a reporter of the Florentine scene. The series of frescoes on the "Life of the Virgin" in Santa Maria Novella (finished 1490) can be viewed as the life of a young Florentine girl as well as a religious painting. His art was already old-fashioned in his own time, but he provided a large number of Florentine artists, among them Michelangelo, with training in the difficult art of fresco painting.

Diffusion of the innovations of the Florentine school

The discoveries and innovations of the early 15th century in Florence began to diffuse to other artistic centres by mid-century. Siena painters in general continued the traditions of the 14th century except for such artists as Matteo di Giovanni, Neroccio di Bartolomeo, and Vecchietta, who alone in that city were to a certain degree under Florentine influence. In Ferrara, Cosme Tura , Francesco del Cossa, and Ercole de' Roberti felt the influence of Florence as transmitted by Piero della Francesca. Only in Padua and Venice, however, did painters arise who could actually challenge the preeminence of Florence.

Matteo di Giovanni

(b Borgo Sansepolcro, c. 1430; d Siena, 1495).

Italian painter. His large surviving oeuvre exemplifies the development of Sienese painting in the 15th century from an emphasis on line and pattern to an early interest in the innovations of contemporary Florentine art. It has been suggested that he was first influenced by Umbrian painting of the mid-15th century, but he was already active in Siena by the early 1450s. This was a decade of transition in the artistic life of the city after the death of Sassetta, Domenico di Bartolo and Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio and before the influx of new ideas during the pontificate of Pius II. Matteo is first documented in Siena in 1452, when he was commissioned to gild an angel carved in wood by Jacopo della Quercia for Siena Cathedral. In 1457 he decorated the chapel of S Bernardino there. The modest nature of these projects suggests that he was still an apprentice. In this period he collaborated with Giovanni di Pietro, the brother of il Vecchietta, which supports the hypothesis that his early training was in the circle of il Vecchietta.

Matteo di Giovanni
The Apostle St Bartholomew
about 1480
Tempera on wood, 80,5 x 48 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Matteo di Giovanni
Madonna with Child and Two Angels
Tempera on wood, 66 x 76 cm
Christian Museum, Esztergom

Matteo di Giovanni
St Jerome
Tempera on wood, 42 x 25 cm
Christian Museum, Esztergom

Matteo di Giovanni

Madonna and Child with Angels and
c. 1460/1465
Andrew W. Mellon Collection

Matteo di Giovanni
Christ Crowned with Thorns

Matteo di Giovanni
Saint Sebastian

Matteo di Giovanni
The Assumption of the Virgin



(bapt Siena, 11 Aug 1410; d Siena, 6 June 1480).

Italian painter, sculptor, goldsmith and architect. He was formerly believed to have been born c. 1412 in the Tuscan town of Castiglione d’Orcia, but del Bravo has identified him with the Lorenzo di Pietro di Giovanni who was baptized in Siena in 1410. His name appears in a list of the members of the Siena painters’ guild in 1428. From the evidence of later works he is generally supposed to have been apprenticed to Sassetta, but his early work has not been identified. Between c. 1435 and 1439 he executed for Cardinal Branda Castiglione (1350–1443) a series of frescoes at Castiglione Olona, near Varese in Lombardy. He has been considered an assistant of MASOLINO DA PANICALE in this enterprise, but the scenes of the martyrdoms of SS Lawrence and Stephen in the apse of the Collegiata, below Masolino’s vault frescoes, show that Vecchietta’s closely packed compositional style was already fully formed. He also painted the frescoes (partially published by Bertelli) in the chapel of the Cardinal’s palace in the town, depicting the Evangelists (vault) and friezes of male and female saints (side walls). Although abraded and fragmentary, they nevertheless indicate the naturalistic effects of atmospheric lighting and foreshortening that, more than any other Sienese painter of his day, he had learnt from Masolino and the Florentine painters. In 1439, aided by Sano di Pietro, he painted the figures of a wooden Annunciation group (untraced) for the high altar of Siena Cathedral.

Frick Collection, New York


Early Renaissance painter who founded the Paduan school.


Francesco Squarcione
born 1397, Padua, Carrara [now in Italy]
died c. 1468, Padua

Squarcione was associated in 1434 with the influential Tuscan painter Fra Filippo Lippi during the latter's stay in Padua. His two extant panel paintings, a Madonna in a museum of the Prussian Cultural Property Foundation in Berlin and a polyptych of 1449–52 in the Civic Museum of Padua, show the influence of the Florentine early Renaissance style, especially that of the sculptor Donatello, who worked in Padua from 1443 to 1453. The only record of his mature style is contained in a cycle of frescoes of scenes from the life of St. Francis on the exterior of San Francesco at Padua (c. 1452–66). Such compositions as canbe reconstructed confirm the traditional view of Squarcione as one of the channels through which the early Renaissance style of Florence diffused in Padua. According to Scardeone (the prime source for knowledge of the painter's work), Squarcione had 137 pupils. Among the artists he taught or influenced were Andrea Mantegna, Marco Zoppo, Giorgio Schiavone, and Cosme Tura.

Francesco Squarcione
Virgin and Child
c. 1460
Staatliche Museen, Berlin


Andrea Mantegna was influenced by the sculpture executed by Donatello in Padua, the art of antiquity around him, and the teaching of his master, Francesco Squarcione. The frescoes he completed in 1455 in the Ovetari Chapel of the Eremitani Church in Padua (destroyed in World War II) grew out of the traditions of Florence, traditions to which Mantegna gave his own special stamp, however. His space is like that devised by the Florentines except that he lowers the horizon line to give his figures greater monumentality. His sculptural and often stony figures descend from Donatello and from ancient Roman models. His use of decorative details from antiquity reveals the almost archaeological training that he had received from Squarcione. By 1460 Mantegna had moved to Mantua, where he became court painter for the Gonzaga family, executing a number of family portraits and pictures depicting ancient myths. His altarpieces, interpretation of antiquity, and engravings made him preeminent in northern Italy and a strong influence on his contemporaries and successors.

The Bellini family of Venice forms one of the great dynasties in painting. The father, Jacopo, who had been a student of Gentile da Fabriano, adopted a style that owed something to both that prevailing in the Low Countries and that in Italy; he also compiled an important sketchbook (British Museum; Louvre). A daughter of Jacopo's was married to Mantegna, and the two sons - Gentile and, more especially, Giovanni Bellini--dominated Venetian painting until the first decade of the 16th century. Gentile followed more closely in his father's footsteps and is perhaps best known for his portraits of doges and sultans of Constantinople and his large paintings of Venetian religious processions. Giovanni early fell under the influence of Mantegna. The paintings each executed of "The Agony in the Garden" (both in the National Gallery, London) indicate how close they were stylistically and also their common reliance on Jacopo Bellini's sketchbook. At an unknown point in his career, Giovanni was in addition introduced to Flemish painting. These different influences permitted him about 1480 to evolve a highly personal style that greatly influenced the work of subsequent Venetian painters. This style consists above all of a softly diffused Venetian light that can only be achieved in an oil medium. Giovanni's work in the traditional medium for painting on panels--egg tempera--retains the crispness of contour and tightness of composition that the medium seems to require. The oil paintings, however, emphasize by their use of light the textures of the objects represented, softening the outlines and creating an elegiac mood. The "Madonna and Child with Saints" of 1488, in Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice, derived its composition from the Florentine sacra conversazione and two earlier altarpieces by Mantegna in which the Madonna and attendant saints are located in a unified but compartmentalized architectural setting. Giovanni's greatest innovation is the way in which the soft light suffuses the entire space, an effect particularly remarkable where it strikes the golden half dome of the apse and the ample draperies of the figures, which seem almost palpable. The "Enthroned Madonna from San Giobbe" (Gallerie dell'Accademia di Venezia) of about the same date goes even further in defining a composition and a way of painting that endured in Venice for centuries. The painting of "St. Francis in Ecstasy" (c. 1480; Frick Collection, New York City) adds yet another dimension to Giovanni's art. The observer's eye tends to wander from the saint and his cell into the distant landscape, for Giovanni was one of the greatest 15th-century masters of landscape painting. Figures, animals, trees, and buildings provide a series of guideposts leading the eye back into space. Giovanni influenced several Venetian painters: Lorenzo Lotto and Vittore Carpaccio and also, more importantly, Giorgione and Titian.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Interest in the classical world had never been very strong in the Middle Ages. However, it emerged as the driving force in the development of European culture from the middle of the 15th century, a period of revival known as the Renaissance. The recovery and imitation of ancient texts and classical sculptures led to a marked transformation of intellectual life, which encompassed the study of human relations in literature (hence the term humanism), as well as philosophy, art, and historical biography. Those engaged in the rediscovery of Latin and Greek texts, including the poets Petrarch (1304-74) and Poliziano (1454-94) were also interested in art and artists. The study of classical authors and their works, notably Pliny (1423-79) and his Historia Naturalis, and De Architectura (before ad27) by Vitruvius, favoured an upsurge in the ideal of "rebirth". This concept of revival also found expression in the figurative arts and in architecture. It ranged from the Triumphs of Caesar, created by Mantegna Andrea (1431-1506) for the court of the Gonzagas, who ruled Mantua for 300 years, to the design by Leon Battista Alberti (c. 1404-72) for the Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini. The link between humanist studies and the figurative arts was particularly evident in the methods used for the interpretation of art itself; these were initially borrowed from classical rhetoric: ekfrasis, an analytical and descriptive narrative system, became the basis on which humanist circles in the Po Valley judged and appreciated the delicate and fantastical art of Pisanello (c.1380-1455) and Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370-1420). Elsewhere, composition, which in the art of rhetoric was the essential element in the construction of a speech, became a principal criterion for artistic theory; this was cited by Leon Battista Alberti in his influential book De Pictura (1435), a work marking the transition from medieval attitudes to the new humanist outlook on the arts. This link with the literary world shows a desire to instil in the figurative arts a sense of social interaction and responsibility. Change was also seen in architecture, thanks partly to the architectural theory of Antonio Averlino, known as Filarete (c. 1400-69), which attempted to explain in scientific terms the component pieces of construction. The literary influences on painting and sculpture changed decisively after the last medieval book of prescriptions, dating from the late 14th century. Writings on art such as those by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) now gained greater authority.
New Ideas

The revival of antique texts and sculptures led to a general feeling of artistic rebirth, typified by the pioneering art history book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74). This was published in its expanded form in 1568. The literary form of biography had been developed by the 15th century, particularly in Tuscany. In works such as Ghiberti's Commentari (c.1445) and the anonymous Life of Filippo Brunelleschi, the authors combined praise of one or more artists with an emphasis on the primacy of new "modern" ideas over traditional values. The beginnings of the rinascita, or "rebirth", especially in painting, are identified with the movement towards realism as instigated by Cimabue (c.l240-c.l302) and Giotto (1267-1337) during the 14th century. According to Vasari, this Golden Age advanced from the art of Masaccio (1401-28) through to works by Perugino (c.1450-1523) towards a new-found natural truth; he wrote in 1550: "we shall see all things infinitely improved, compositions with many more figures, richer in ornamentation; and design that is better grounded and more true to life...the style lighter, the colours more delicate, so that the arts will be close to perfection and to the exact imitation of the truth of nature." The changes from the Gothic style that occured in architecture are more difficult to recognize. The design of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore by Brunelleschi followed the classical experiments of Alberti, and it was later praised by Alberti in his first theoretical work on the arts. De Pictura, which he dedicated to. amongst other leading artists. Brunelleschi, and which earned him a reputation as a supreme innovator. The complex changes of the time also affected the Rome of Popes Eugenius IV and Nicholas V. After the schismatic crisis of Avignon in 1377, they intended to reaffirm the central authority of the See of Saint Peter by emphasizing the Imperial and Christian past of the city, and by defining the requirements for the reconstruction of the Vatican basilica in terms that still expressed the Gothic aesthetic. For example, Nicholas V's famous Testamento placed great emphasis on light and refinement. The return to classicism, whether as the standard for harmony and proportion in the design of monuments, or in the revival of details from antiquity, became a distinguishing factor in the development of the new architecture. Brunelleschi demonstrated this change in taste and renewed interest in classical style in the designs of his two Florentine basilicas, San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito, when he tackled the problems of Vitruvius' theory of order and attempted to create an ordered, harmonious balance that paralleled the discovery of perspective by painters at the same time. Brunelleschi's meticulous design for the capitals commemorated the most prestigious Roman remains, and were probably perfected during a stay in the city. The preference in the Tuscan Romanesque style for the inclusion of marble in the walls also harks back to classical models.


In his enthusiastic report of Filippo Brunelleschi's dome (1420-36) for Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Leon Battista Alberti records the "structure so great, challenging the sky. wide enough to cover with its shadow all the people of Tuscany." Brunelleschi's Vita and Ghiberti's Commentari give two very different accounts of the competition for its design. The dome had to be set on an existing octagonal drum constructed during the 14th century according to a plan by Arnolfo di Cambio. Manetti describes Brunelleschi waiting to be called by the wardens of the cathedral and the consuls of the Wool Guild, who would soon realise that he was the only-architect capable of raising a dome large enough to cover the tribune without the help of scallolding. Ghiberti claimed that the project was the result of a collaboration, which was then abandoned, because he had other work to carry out. Brunelleschi dismissed "centering" and, instead, created a curtain wall and two vaults that allowed the dome to support itself, rising towards the lantern. The discovery of this engineering technique has always been attributed to Brunelleschi, who transformed and modernized this 14th-century building.

Cupola, Santa Maria del Fiore


In 1401, the Arte di Calimala, a merchant guild, commissioned a competition for the design of a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistry in Florence. The subject given was the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham. Seven Florentine sculptors were chosen to compete, including the young Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), a trained painter and goldsmith, and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). In both reliefs, the theme is of divine intervention. The boy is on the altar with his father putting the knife to his throat; the angel intervenes, and the ram is visible in the background. The ass drinks water between the two servants. The guild preferred Ghibeiti's subtle, beautiful, and more spiritual composition, but Brunelleschi's is the more dramatic and daring work, full of naturalistic observations and tensions.



In the North, Flemish art was transformed by the dramatic and lively naturalistic style, which had its roots in Florence and travelled north via Burgundy. The Flemish environment, which nurtured Jan van Eyck (died 1441) and the Master of Flemalle, (thought to be Robert Campin, active 1406-44), was a place of learning and of the diffusion of knowledge, as were Burgundy and central southern Germany. They were all receptive to influences and new ideas from elsewhere. Here, Konrad Witz (c. 1400-46) achieved his forceful vision of realism through sculptural form and a meticulous attention to detail, while Stephan Lochner (1410-51) used shaded colours and a luminous opalescence, reminiscent of the work of Stefano da Verona (1379-c.1438). The network of ecclesiastical and trading relationships that was active in the 15th century favoured a continuous exchange of works and ideas between countries. The work of the great French miniaturist and painter Jean Fouquet (1420-81) spanned and combined elements of Flemish, French, and Italian painting. The works resulting from his stay in Rome in 1447, such as the Diptych of Melun (c.1450), echo the Roman style of Filarete, Fra Angelico, and Masolino, while his miniatures, such as the Antiquites judaiques, reveal his imagination at its most expressive. Another artist who was able to blend Flemish influences with those of the Po Valley was the Spaniard Bartolome Bermejo (c.1440-1500), whose work shows strong links with van Eyck's intense naturalism. This Spanish style, which was resonant with Flemish and Burgundian echoes, reached Naples and influenced the work of Colantonio (active c.1440-70) and members of his workshop. Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, also arranged for illuminated codices for wedding plans to be despatched from the principal Milanese studios to the court of Aragon. It might have been expected that this variety would result in an uneasy juxtaposition of conflicting styles, but the clear and penetrating naturalism of the portraits of Antonello da Messina, as well as those by Colantonio himself, prove this was a successful combination.

Scientific Perspective

The new direction taken by the arts in its quest for linear perspective cannot be attributed to the revived interest in antiquity alone. It is significant that the architect Brunelleschi was the first to raise the problem of perceiving depth in rational and mathematical terms. He did so, initially, with his panel for the competition of 1401 for the door of the Florentine baptistry and, later, in his experiments in perspective that are recounted by his biographers. The most striking evidence lies in Brunelleschi's architectural works, in which space is immediately perceived according to his unifying, linear perspectival definition. Similarly, in painting and sculpture - most notably, in the works of Masaccio and Donatello - perspective reinterpreted the realism of Giotto and Arnolfo di Cambio. Structural orderliness led to a definition of depth, which was characterized by a unifying principle that reconciled real and figurative space. Alberti likened a painting to a window open to the world, in which, thanks to "legitimate construction" or perspective, the true representation of the relation between the elements depicted can be seen. This definition of space, where everything converges towards a single vanishing point - the story line, the arrangement of the figures, and the measured play of light and colour - provided the ideal form for Florentine painting in the early 15th century. This new point of departure can be seen in the work of Masaccio, from the polyptych for the Santa Maria del Carmine in Pisa (1426) to the cycle of the Brancacci chapel, Florence (1427). in which the aim to portray the state of mind and moral positions of the main figures is always apparent. The need to depict emotions and inner turmoil continued to grow" in importance during the 15th century, reaching its zenith in the work of Leonardo.



Donatello spent a long period in Florence, first as Ghiberti's pupil and later working on the reliefs for the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo. He was in Padua in 1443 to 1453. Here, he reassessed his relationship with classicism, and reacted against established classical principles, giving free rein to his imagination. In the reliefs for the Paduan high altar (1446-50), the relief technique known as stiacciato - a perspectival solution obtained by means of a dense superimposition of planes to achieve depth - places the restless, crowded scenes of the Miracles of St Anthony into wide architectural structures. The popular nature of the subjects reveals an attempt to rework established motifs with a dramatic realism, in which light was used to create depth. His use of foreshortening and the play of light effectively express anguish in the reliefs for the pulpit of San Lorenzo in Florence. Finished by Donatello's assistants after his death in 1446, the scenes from The Passion of Christ seem to contradict the certainties that were established in the early Tuscan Renaissance.


"From Giotto on, Masaccio is the most modern of all the old masters whom we have ever seen," wrote Vasari, who advised Michelangelo to teach everybody but to learn from only Masaccio. His fresco cycle of the life of St Peter and other scenes in the Brancacci family chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Florence, reveal a completely new-approach, the success of which lies in its narrative synthesis. This relied on an assured creation of spatial depth to link the episodes through perspective and geometric structure, as can be seen, in The Expulsion from Paradise, in which the Archangel points to the world of chastisement. A more complex composition can be seen in the arrangement of
the Apostles around Christ and Peter in The Tribute Money. Their heads are placed on the same level as those of the main protaganists. but they gradually recede, while remaining in proportion. The faces, painted from Roman busts and full of concentration, are turned to Christ and Peter. Vasari wrote: "We see the boldness with which Peter questions Our Lord, and the attentiveness of the Apostles as they stand in various attitudes around Christ, waiting for His decision." In 1428, Masaccio went to Rome and left the Brancacci frescos unfinished.

Tribute Money
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

Flemish Art

An equally strong realistic movement in Flanders and Spain led to a style of painting that analysed objects in the most minute detail. The goal of the artists of this movement was to achieve as high a level of realism as possible. Employing many and varied techniques of colour application for the maximum impact, this pursuit of ideal representations of reality relied on the sheer luminosity of the colours. The portrait painting of Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441), Hans Memling (c. 1440-94), and Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1400-64) achieved high levels of expressiveness and insight. Their artistic approach won strong support from the Devotio Moderna, a religious movement active from the middle of the 14th century onwards. The group's spirituality relied on personal immersion in the sacred story. The impact on iconography can be seen in the narrative composition of sacred works of art, and in the heightened realism of the details, a common characteristic of northern European art.

Devotion and History

To a certain extent, the Italian phenomenon osserrvanza was linked to the Devotio Moderna. Observance led the principal monastic orders to revive their original rules during the course of the 15th century in order to establish a more positive relevance to everyday life. Sacred art underwent a renewal in its didactic and devotional purposes. The concepts of spatial and compositional construction had to be in keeping with the new expectations of art - of its imagery and what was communicated, which were increasingly shaped by a growing need for self-identification. This change in style and its subsequent development in Dominican circles can be seen in the frescos painted by Fra Angelico in the cells of the monastery of San Marco in Florence, and in Leonardo's The Last Supper (c.1495) in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. The cult of the Immaculate Conception, popular among the Franciscans, led to the mysterious iconography of The Virgin of the Rocks (1508), painted by Leonardo for the Milanese Foundation of San Francesco Grande. Many convent churches in the Po Valley and the Alps acquired very simple and didactic Passion cycles, which were often based on Nordic engravings, particularly those of Albrecht Durer, which also dealt with the same themes. The Augustinian monks, too. were encouraging figurative and architectonic art of the first order, from Santo Spirito in Florence to the Incoronata in Milan, and Santa Maria delle Grazie at Gravcdona. Historical events had an impact on art, too. The ending of the pope's exile in Avignon and the return of the papal seat to Rome came about through a complex series of councils. The first ones were held in Constance (1414-18) and Basel (1431-37), followed by meetings in Ferrara and Florence (1437-39), where doctrinal and political problems were discussed, such as the nationalistic demands of Bohemia, the Jewish question in Spain, and the great effort to reunite the Eastern churches around St Peter's See. From these debates arose the many Eucharistic themes tackled by artists all over Europe. In Ghent in 1432, the Adoration of the Lamb for St Bavo was completed by Jan van Eyck (his brother Hubert died before finishing it); in Siena, Sassetta completed the polyptych (1423-24) for the Wool Guild; and, in Belgium, The Last Supper (1468) by Dieric Bouts was created as part of his major work, the Louvain altarpiece. which depicted the Sacraments of St Peter.

Early Renaissance Themes

During the Early Renaissance, artistic themes were generally linked to the rediscovery of the classical world. This was exemplified by such works as Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar and the Stories of Hercules by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo (1447-1522), which identified a new view of man, whose destiny was guided by personal virtues and abilities. This idea sought to distance humanity from the previous, secure relationship with God that had been one of the few certainties of medieval life. The Uomini Illustri, painted by Masolino (1383-C.1440) in the Palazzo Orsini di Montegiordano in Rome, probably served as a model for other cycles, such as that of Andrea del Castagno (c. 1421-57) at the Villa di Legnaia. This included the Uomini d'arme, later copied by Bramante (1444-1514) in Milan for Gaspare Visconti. Similar intentions lay behind other iconographical themes, such as those of the Muses, the Arts, or the classical philosophers, which were of interest to the principal courts of the time. Perugino (1450-1523) in the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia and his assistant Pinturicchio (1454-1513) at the Borgia apartments in the Vatican gave the Muses and Arts a courtly and detailed rendering, with the aim of connecting classical themes with those of the Christian tradition. The Florentine Academy, led by the humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), featured philosophers in its paintings. The individual was glorified, and was depicted as the master of his own destiny. This increased the popularity of individual funerary monuments, boosting the fortunes of Italian sculptors, such as Desiderio di Settignano (c. 1430-1464), Andrea Bregno (1421-1506), and Pietro Lombardo (1435-1515). This also provided opportunities for new experiments to be made in architecture, as seen in the Portinari Chapel in Milan and the old sacristy in San Lorenzo in Florence, which was caned for the Medici.


When visiting Mantua in 1494, the great Giovanni de' Medici, the future Pope Leo X, expressed his admiration for the camera picta (painted room) and the decorated apartments in the Gonzagas' palace. The frescos of the socalled Camera degli Sposi (1471-74) and the nine canvases depicting the Triumphs of Caesar (c. 1484-95) were considered to be central to the role played by Mantegna and the Mantuan circle in paving the way for the "modern manner". When Mantegna was appointed court painter at Mantua in 1460, he entered one of the key centres of humanist culture. His greatest contribution to that culture was the Camera degli Sposi, where he painted a series of frescos to glorify his patrons, the Marquis Ludovico II Gonzaga and his wife. The frescos depict group portraits of the Gonzaga family, scenes from court life, and images from classical mythology. Motifs from classical architecture and bust medallions of the Caesars were included - creating a clear visual link between the Gonzagas and the great figures of the Roman Empire.

Camera degli Sposi
Palazzo Ducale at Mantua
Urban Portraits and Figures

The popularity of portrait painting and the ever greater prominence given to patrons and donors of art (even in the cycles of sacred stories such as those painted by Ghirlandaio (1449-94) in the Santa Trinita in Florence) showed man in a new light as master of his natural and historical environment, able to take control of his own fate. Neo-Platonic teaching, which Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) held to be the basis of Christianity, was prominent in Florence during the late 15th century, and led towards the more esoteric and obscure aspects of ancient culture. The growing interest in hieroglyphics, notably in Bologna, Rome, and Venice, was exemplified by the Hypneromachia Poliphili, an illustrated romance published by Aldo Manuzio, in which the gradual achievement of beauty is interpreted as a mystical journey. Repeated attempts were made to reconcile these tendencies with medieval tradition, by emphasizing the continuity between classical culture and Christian truth. Pico della Mirandola (1463-94) was a key figure in this pursuit. The change of focus on to history and the individual favoured the development of a new ideal of the city. Ideas were forwarded by leading theorists, such as Filarete, who outlined a vision for a new city -Sforzinda - in his Trattato, or in the city plans sketched out by Francesco di Giorgio. Biblical themes and classical texts were combined in a new definition of an orderly and functional city, which set out to reflect, in the Aristotelian sense, harmonious cohabitation. These ideals were otten far removed from the reality of city life, but the concepts were rapidly adopted in the figurative arts, where subjects were increasingly placed in urban settings, which were often given the role of protagonist in a narrative. The repertory was vast: the backgrounds to Mantegna's paintings in the Ovetari Chapel in Padua (1453); Perugino's Vision of St Bernard (1493); Gentile Bellini's large canvases of urban ceremonies; the Stories of Saint Ambrose (1489-93) bv Zenale and Butinone in San Pietro in Milan; the Emilian altarpieces by Ercole de' Roberti; and the fresco cycles dedicated to the Stories of St Ursula (1490-95) and St George (1502-07) by Vittore Carpaccio. The Sistine Chapel and its pictorial splendours may be thought of as the ideal celestial city. Theatre and festivals aroused interest, too, as seen in Leonardo's efforts in the staging of games for Ludovico il Moro, and in the public demand for a true Vitruvian theatre to be created in the palace of Cardinal Riario. This taste for scenography entered figurative art at various levels, and is evident in the secular Ferrarese cycle painted by Cosme Tura (c.1430-95), Francesco del Cossa (c.1436-78), and Ercole d'Antonio de' Roberti (1448-96) at the Schifanoia Palace. The sacred cycle of the Life of the Virgin and the Passion of Christ by Rogier van der Weyden (1400-64), displays a pictorial transposition of rhythms and contexts that enlivened sacred painting. Due to the traditional tastes of art patrons in the Po Valley, and the ongoing construction of medieval cathedrals that began in the previous century, Gothic culture retained its vitality, especially in southern Italy. It was evident in the work of Paolo Uccello (1396-1475) and of Andrea del Castagno (1419-57) on the mosaics of St Mark's in Venice. Through looking at the works of artists such as Giacomo Jaquerio, Pisanello, and Jacopo Bellini it is clear that the artistic climate of the Renaissance was still evolving. The stylistic trends introduced during the mid-15th century by Mantegna, Vincenzo Foppa, and Giovanni Bellini (c.1432-1516), among others, continued stylistic trends started by earlier generations of artists, notably the feeling for atmospheric colour and light, which glorified antiquity and illustrated a reverence for and interest in nature. The dramatic intensity of Donatello's sculptures in Padua had considerable influence at this time. A realistic style that harked back to traditional values was taking shape in Lombardy, involving an effective and invigorating sense of history, while, elsewhere, artists such as Bellini and Giorgione (c.1477—1510) portrayed man in an ideal, naturalistic environment. Signs of a broader, encompassing trend were appearing, in what was to become the modern manner. The presence of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Po Valley encouraged the continuing progress of this style during the last two decades of the century. At the same time, many of the great workshops were
establishing interaction with one another, including the Florentine schools of Verrocchio, the della Robbia family of sculptors, and the schools of Fontainebleau.
The second half of the 15th century was also distinguished by the great pictorial experiments of Piero della Francesca (c.1410-92), who worked between his native town of Sansepolcro and the sophisticated Adriatic courts of Urbino and Rimini. His theory of perspective, as set out in his De Prospectiva Pingendi, found expression in works bearing great significance, from The Legend of the True Cross (c. 1452—57), which decorates the chancel of San Francesco in Arezzo to The Flagellation of Christ at Urbino. In Piero's work, time and space attained absolute definition: they were harmoniously calculated in every smallest detail, but always with a mystery in the gestures and expressions of the figures.


During the rule of the Dukes Borso and Ercole d'Este, the Schifanoia fresco cycle of the Months of the Year was painted in Borso's palace in Ferrara. It was executed by the leading painters of the 15th century school of Ferrara - Cosme Tura, Francesco del Cossa, and Ercole de' Roberti. Based on the 14th-century theme of the Triumphs and the older "work of the Months of the Year, the lavishly illustrated cycle borrows from the astrological texts of the time, using their symbols and icons. There was a previously unknown freedom in the depiction of the allegorical scenes, which makes use of a wide field of reference, from courtly occupations to antiquity, all expressed in brilliant colour. The perspective, too, always bold in its foreshortening effects (in the style of Mantegna, is impressive, and the works are, overall, lively and imaginative.


Between I464 and 1468, Vincenzo Foppa (c.1427-1515) painted the frescos for the ancestral chapel built by the Medici banker Pigello Portinari behind the apse of Sant'Eustorgio in Milan. The chapel was a fusion of architecture, sculpture, and Milanese painting, typical of style that flourished during the reign of the duke, Francesco Sforza. It celebrated St Peter Martyr, standard-hearer of the Dominican order and a model of life for the patrons buried within. Foppa elaborated the humanistic language typical of Lombardy, with its compositional clarity and simplicity, understated realism, straightforward naturalism, and brilliant colours. Bernardino Butinone and Bernardo Zenale, two artists from Treviso, were later commissioned to collaborate on painting The Stories of St Ambrose in the Grifi Chapel in San Pietro in Gessate, a church linked to the reformed Benedictines of Santa Giustma. The story unfolds in continuous sequences, displaying Zenales mastery of perspective and composition and revealing the influence of the Sforzas. Butinone's nervous and metallic figurations seem closer to the house of Este, which governed Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio. The family was linked with Ludovico il Moro of Milan through his wife, Beatrice d'Este.

Bernardino Butinone

(b c. 1450; d Treviglio, before 6 Nov 1510).

Italian painter, lombard school. He was the son of the painter Jacopo Butinone of Treviglio. His training was probably based on the study of such painters as Andrea Mantegna, Cosimo Tura, Francesco del Cossa, from whom he learnt an expressive and refined style, and Vincenzo Foppa. The earliest works, probably from the early 1480s, include a panel of the Crucifixion (Rome, G.N.A. Mod.), in which the incisive drawing and dramatic atmosphere suggest Mantegna’s influence. Also from this period is the Virgin and Child with Angels (Milan, Gallarati-Scotti priv. col.), inspired by Tura and Cossa. Butinone is documented in Milan from 1484, probably the year he painted the triptych of the Virgin and Child with SS Leonard and Bernardino of Siena (Milan, Brera), which reflects the realistic style of Foppa.


Crocifisso tra Maria e San Giovanni

The Adoration of the Shepherds

The Massacre of the Innocents

Madonna and Child
c. 1490
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan


Pope Sixtus IV Della Rovere summoned to Rome the best Umbrian and Tuscan painters in 1428. to decorate in fresco the lower walls of his new chapel: Signorelli (c.1441-1523), Perugino (1445-1523), Ghirlandaio (1452-1525), Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507). and Botticelli (1445-1510) came to paint stories from the Old and New Testaments. An element of competition emerged between the various pictorial styles, which included Botticelli's ability to render the stories as decorative friezes, copiously borrowing from the Roman repertory of antiquity.
Perugino preferred ordered spaciousness and perspective, while a simpler, narrative style with overcrowded landscapes characterized the work of Rosselli and Luca Signorelli. In this remarkable contest, the compositional and narrative precepts set clown in 1435 by Leon Battista Alberti reached maturity. Some of these would soon be glimpsed in tlte youthful aspirations of Raphael, a pupil of Perugino and Michelangelo, a former pupil of Ghirlandaio. Nearby is the chapel of Nicholas V, beautifully decorated by Fra Angelico between 1447 and 1449 with the Lives of Saint Lawrence and Saint Stephen. These reveal a emphasis on narrative detail that is new to the artist.

The Spread of Humanist Art

From its inception, the influence of the humanist movement spread across Europe. The church councils set up in the early part of the 15th century served as meeting points, providing opportunities for cultural exchanges and increasing the circulation in Europe of classical manuscripts and new artistic ideas. For example, Masolino worked in Hungary between 1425 and 1427 in the retinue of Cardinal Branda Castiglioni. Through this connection, the ruler, Matthias Corvino (1440—90), commissioned a series of illuminated manuscripts by the most important studios of the Po valley in the second half of the century. Through these contacts the slow penetration of Italian artistic and architectural ideas into western and northern Europe began. While the Gothic style prevailed, some of these new ideas were adopted, especially the excessively antiquarian style of the sculptors of the Po valley, which was evidently more in keeping with the Gothic ideal than the diversity of perspectival and compositional themes advocated by Leon Battista Alberti. The Late Gothic culture of the Burgundian courts had encouraged a realistic attention to detail. The quest for an ideal luminosity of colour was pursued by an assortment of Flemish artists who were capable of combining the sculptural values favoured by Claus Sluter (active c.1380) and his followers with a firm grasp of perspective that accentuated the feeling of depth in their paintings. This marked the birth of a vigorous pictorial tradition that extended from the Low Countries to the Alsace of Martin Schongauer (1453-91). It conquered even the most sophisticated Italian courts, like those of Florence. Ferrara, and Urbino, with the works of van der Weyden, Justus of Ghent, Hugo van der Goes (c. 1435-82), and Pedro Berruguete (c.1450-1504) becoming popular. Before long, the "infinite landscapes" of van Eyck were emulated, with urban features added, in the portraits of Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro painted by Piero della Francesca.

The great age of Flemish painting, which was supported by the thriving merchants of Flanders, marked the rise of the technique of painting with oils on panels. The skill and vibrancy of their work allowed the artists to give the fullest possible expression to Flemish figurative ideals, which originated in the workshops producing illuminated books such as the Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, illustrated by the Limbourg Brothers and Jacquemart de Hesdin in about 1410. The polyptych of the Adoration of the Lamh, painted by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck in 1432. was erected in Ghent Cathedral. At about that time. Jan painted the Arnolfini Marriage and the Rolin Madonna, which displayed a masterly use of colour that defined with vibrant precision the smallest and most distant detail, in an almost photographic manner. Portrait painters sought to idealize human characteristics, while the ample draperies of the costumes gave a solid presence to the figures, who were often absorbed in reflection and clearly contained in their own space. This decade also saw the start of the career of Rogier van der Weyden, who had an intense interest in the compositional and sculptural themes of wooden sculpture. He dramatically articulated complex forms in his compositions, accentuating his animated figures, and their unambiguous gestures and expressions. It is clear that the artist's consuming interest was for the figures as compositional factors, and the Madonna of San Luca shows his sensitivity, which allows subtle variations of emotion in his figures to disturb the symmetrical limitations that his predecessors imposed on their work. His journey to Italy in 1450 involved an exchange of works and ideas with other artists, and the impact of this can be best traced in portraiture. While van der Weyden accepted the influence of Italian painting, the Bruges artist Hans Memling (c.1430-94) exemplified the distinctiveness of Flemish art, by developing and expanding the compositional techniques within his own culture. Also in Bruges. Petrus Christus (died c.1475) was influenced by van Eyck, but in a more simplified style and with an intimate, devotional tone, while Dieric Bouts (died 1475) showed great affinity with van der Weyden - he painted figures set in beautiful, shimmering landscapes. Bouts also experimented with perspective, and was highly influential. His major work was the altarpiece in the church of St Pierre in Louvain. Painting in the north, then, was also going through a radical transformation, with innovations of techniques and ideas in figurative and landscape painting.


The great Flemish masterpiece, the Ghent Altarpiece, with its principal panel of the Adoration of the Lamb, was placed in the cathedral of St Bavo in Ghent in 1432. It was begun by Hubert van Eyck and completed by his brother Jan, after his death in 1426. The outer panels depict the Annunciation and the donors and John the Evangelist and John the Baptist. The central panel depict biblical scenes, groups of angels, processions of the blessed, and Adam and Eve. The theme is the Redemption and the story of mankind, with the lamb as an Eucharistic and apocalyptic symbol. The Gothic city depicted in the background is the Holy City of Jerusalem, under the guise of a typical Flemish urban centre. The vibrant and diverse colours, the wholly accurate details and. above all, the analytical naturalism that captures the most distant detail as clearly as the objects in the foreground, are all outstanding. The altarpiece can be seen as heralding the beginning of the Flemish Renaissance in painting, the result of a growing mutual assimilation of ideas. Regional styles were interacting along traditional lines of communication dictated by trade and history. in both directions from the Lower Rhine to Tuscany, from Paris to Rome, and from Seville to Naples and Palermo. Out of all these influences, a single "Renaissance" stvle was born.

Hubert and Jan van Eyck
The Ghent Altarpiece (wings open)
Cathedral of St Bavo, Ghent


Little is known of the early works of Rogier van der Weyden, and any evaluation of him as an artist is usually based on the few works attributed to him, including the Last Judgment (1444-48), commissioned for the Hotel Dieu of Beaune in Burgundy. It is a large, ambitious work on nine panels, vividly depicting the judgment of anguished souls. The painting that is generally considered his masterpiece is The Deposition (1440). This work is quite unlike that of his teachers Campin and van Eyck; it is far more powerful and emotive, with the grief and the tears on the faces of the mourners portrayed in meticulous detail. An extremely influential artist, by the mid- 15th century, van der Weyden had established a busy workshop and enjoyed an international reputation. His technical skill and self-confidence led to his ability to take on commissions of a monumental scale. He was known and visited by many Italian artists, and ideas and techniques were exchanged between them. References to him are found in the De Icona by the Italian humanist theologian Nicholas of Cusa.

Rogier van der Weyden
The Last Judgment Polyptych


Little is known about Antonello da Messina's life, but his familiarity with the work of Piero della Francesca and the time he spent in Venice in 1475 are established facts. From an early age, Antonello acquired a clear and disciplined sense of spatial values, as can be seen in his geometric background design. The Venetian scenery heightened his lively sense of colour, adding an intense and mystical nature to his later painting of the lagoon at Venice. This search for inner truth made Antonello one of the greatest portraitists of all time. He had contact with Flemish painting, firstly during his training in the Neapolitan studio of the court painter Colantonio. Among the Venetians encouraged to follow in his footsteps were, most notably. Giorgione (1477-1510) and Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516). In creating his work Transfiguration, Giovanni abruptly abandoned the sharp, precise style of his brother Gentile and his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna that he had earlier employed. In his liberal use of colour and his mastery of half-light, Giovanni succeeded in expressing his feelings on the mysteries of creation and the natural world.


Giovanni Bellini
Transfiguration of Christ
c. 1487
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples