Italian Art: From The Middle Ages
To The Renaissance

Italian art in the Middle Ages was subject to a number of internal and external influences. Unfortunately, because of the dazzling achievements of the Renaissance, the artistic legacy of medieval Europe has generally been considered inferior by art historians and scholars. It's only in the past 150 years or so that the true value of its paintings, sculptures and other artistic creations have been recognized and given their rightful place in the history of Western art.

Medieval Art - 476AD-1300AD

Medieval art in Italy was an amalgamation of Roman art (508BC to 476AD), early Christian art (100AD to 500AD), and the 'barbarian' artistic influences of the Northern Europeans, in particular the Germanic Ostrogoths and Visigoths who invaded Northern Italy after the fall of Rome. The eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire), headquartered in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), endured for another 1,000 years after the sack of Rome, and during this period Byzantine artistic styles found their way into medieval Italian art. Examples of Byzantine art can be found throughout the country, particularly in Ravenna, Venice, Rome and Sicily.

A derivative of Byzantine art, the Romanesque style, was utilized in the creation of precious metal objects such as bronze doors, crucifixes, candlesticks and other religious ornamentation. in France, Romanesque art gave birth to Gothic art, but it was less influential in Italy than in other European countries. Nevertheless, Italy still produced some of the best artists in that era. According to Wikipedia, out of 68 significant Gothic artists, over 75% of them were Italian.

[For a list of Italian Gothic artists, click here.]

Sadly, most of the artworks created by medieval Italian artists, in particular paintings on canvas, wall paintings and tapestries, have not survived. What remains are more durable works such as illuminated manuscripts (preserved by monasteries), metalwork, mosaics, sculpture and stained glass. The medieval basilicas of Rome contain some excellent examples of 4th century AD mosaics and fresco art, but, as in Roman times, the artists generally didn't sign their work, so there is no illustrious list of names to match that of the Renaissance. The only exceptions are the Gothic painters and sculptors from the late Middle Ages.

Renaissance Art - 14th-17th Century

The Renaissance is an almost legendary period in the history of Europe that saw the reemergence of classical influences in every area of artistic endeavor - from art and architecture to music and literature. In terms of European art, it is the age of giants, with names like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael and Botticelli dominating the period.

Some historians date the Renaissance from the late 13th century, the period when Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) gave birth to Italian literature. The art of Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) can be seen as a bridge between medieval art and the masterpieces of the High Renaissance. His work predates the period known as the Early Renaissance (1400-1475), which was followed by the High Renaissance (1475-1525). Other significant influences on the development of Renaissance art were the Florentine architects Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472).

Notable Early Renaissance artists include Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), Simone Martini (1280-1344), Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348) and Taddeo di Bartolo (1362-1422), all from Siena, and Florentine artists Bernardo Daddi (1290-1348), Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (c.1386–1466), Fra Angelico (1395-1455) and Paolo Uccello (1397-1475).

The legends of the High Renaissance include Alessandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), Raphael Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520), Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531), and the Venetians Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco) (1477-1510) and Titian (Tiziano Vecelli) (1477-1576).


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