The Artworks I Will Be Exploring
The artworks I will be exploring are part of the Renaissance period in art history which took place between the 14th and 16th centuries. The word Renaissance means "rebirth", a period of questioning and discovery. People during this time in Italy grew more interest in the traditions as well as the values of Ancient Greece and Rome. The Renaissance constantly advertised philosophy through their architecture, cities and predominantly art.
Renaissance architects rejected the Gothic style and alternated for the simplicity and balanced proportions of classicism. Renaissance churches and other buildings had distinct features that were much different to the churches of the Middle Ages. Numerous churches were constructed with square or symmetrical shapes with Roman columns. Commonly, arches and domes were built as an influence from Roman and Greek architecture. Most Renaissance church facades were fairly plain and have either a barrel vault or a flat ceiling. Many flat ceilings are covered with a series of decorated squares and the walls were generally smooth plastered. Stained glass windows were small and were rarely used. Churches were filled with a variety of beautifully created artworks, since this was a period of high art.
The Renaissance reached it’s high point in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, accompanied by the work of Italian masters. In addition to the Greco-Roman traditions, Renaissance art desired to capture the view of the natural world in beauty and mystery. A great number of Renaissance art depicted religious images that focused on key details. They were once viewed as devotional objects, meaning that they were often used in religious worship. This art period continued to emphasis on humanism and naturalism. Two of the most well known artists during this period were Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of ‘The Last Supper’ was created between 1495 and 1498. The Last Supper is a masterpiece of the Italian High Renaissance and one of the best known works of Christian art. The picture displays the reaction of each disciple to the news that Jesus had said to them "One of you will betray me." (Mark 14:18). This artwork contains a variety of different symbols and hidden messages portrayed in the twelve disciples, the table, food and background. Many moments and perspectives are captured in Leonardo’s art. However, Jesus is still depicted as the main figure of this painting as shown with divine presence. Jesus’ expansive gesture indicates the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He is positioned at the centre, forming an equilateral triangle probably symbolising the trinity. It is almost as if the window is framing Jesus’ head like a halo and creating a divine and dynamic centre of the composition. Christ looks completely calm, whilst all the apostles are in the midst of querying or showing various shades of horror, anger and disbelief. Moreover, Jesus’ presence in the centre is viewed from all perspective lines, ways or angles. He is looked upon as this serene figure in spite of the surroundings and faults committed by human beings.
Michelangelo I Buonarroti’s sculpture called ‘Pietà’ was created between 1498 and 1499. Michelangelo used one block of Carrara marble to create this scene of the Pietà. Virgin Mary is holding the dead body of Christ on her lap after his crucifixion, death and removal from the cross, prior to being placed in the tomb. These two figures are carved, appearing as a unified composition which forms a shape of a pyramid/triangle, similar to Leonardo’s artwork. Mary’s body is purposely enlarged with the addition of garments on her lap and folded drapery. Such detail is necessary in which the sculpture realistically portrays Jesus’ body and the weight in need of support from his mother. This is the moment when Mary is faced with the reality of the death of her son, but at the same time seeming resigned and in graceful acceptance. In relation to this, Jesus is depicted through his body in a way of clarifying that this is God’s sacrifice for mankind, the path to salvation. This artistic sculpture is meant to express the idea of suffering and pain that not only those who loved Jesus, but also Jesus himself had endured for our sake.
Both The Last Supper and Pietà were influential on how Jesus is depicted in the Catholic Church. In saying this, before the Renaissance period, art was largely commissioned by the Catholic Church that gave strict guidelines about the finished product. However, the re-birth of artists allowed greater flexibility in what they were to produce by exploring new themes and techniques. Therefore, the artworks created by these intellectual artists ultimately changed the view of Jesus in a more humanistic and naturalistic manner. Many Renaissance works were painted as altarpieces that were incorporated in Catholic Mass rituals. Jesus was magnificently looked upon because of these artworks as natural beauty.
What distinguishes the Renaissance is that it had an intensely clear vision of the purpose of art and how it affected the society at the time. Art was utilised as an idea of education to people including the church. It taught people at that time in history about beauty, truth and wisdom, especially through Christ. Art is still a way of representing beliefs, faith, perspectives; religion. Artists were asked to illustrate key philosophical truths that portrayed imagination and intelligence. They expressed their emotions and spirituality in their artworks of Jesus. Therefore, messages are symbolised in works of art and are observed by the viewer. Jesus in art displays a visual representation of his messages, his life, his loved ones; his sacrifice for us. Since this is such a powerful and meaningful portrayal, creating artworks is one way of showcasing it throughout world in order to spread the Catholic church and its faith.
The spread of the study of fundamental humanism during the Renaissance was one factor which lead to a rise in secularism in Europe. This taught people to think as individuals and encourage them to make decisions freely. Meaning we should not have religion dominate our lives entirely, but let our faith in Christ influence how we live and how should we treat everyone and everything. The Catholic church takes this idea on board and today we decide on how we capture the teachings of Jesus and manifest them into the world.