High above the Italian city of Florence stands the dome of the Santa Maria Cathedral. Weighing 37,000 tons, it keeps watch over the Florentine skyline. Filippo Brunelleschi's dome is but one of the many wonders to have come out of the Renaissance, the period of intense creativity that swept Europe between 1400 and 1650. Brought on by a rediscovery of classical motifs, the Renaissance produced an immense array of cultural achievements in its own right. Some of its boldest accomplishments took place in painting, sculpture, literature and engineering.
New Perspectives in Painting
The Renaissance saw the emergence of a new naturalism in painting. With Filippo Brunelleschi's invention of linear perspective, painted works now took on spatial dimensions unseen in earlier art. Subject matter changed, as well. A spirit of worldliness now allowed for secular themes, found in works like Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and El Greco's "View of Toledo." Yet, the period still produced a considerable amount of religious art, among which were the frescoes Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The Human Form in Sculpture
Two representations of the biblical David demonstrated the breadth and variety of Renaissance sculpture. Donatello crafted his David from bronze, placing him in a relaxed pose, with his foot atop Goliath's head. Michelangelo took a different approach. His David was a towering marble creation emphasizing strength and nobility. In both instances, the sculptors emphasized the physical beauty of the human form. Other Renaissance works followed this new principle as well. Tullio Lombardo's "Adam" was an exemplary work, as were the "Gates of Paradise" sculptures that Lorenzo Ghiberti created for the entrance to the Florence Baptistery.
Over the course of the Renaissance, a multitude of lasting literary works appeared. The new emphasis on humanism encouraged writers to focus on individual experience and to create works in their native languages, as opposed to the traditional Latin. The trend began in Italy, with Dante's "Divine Comedy," Boccaccio's "The Decameron" and Petrarch's 14-line poems called sonnets. In Spain, Miguel Cervantes published "Don Quixote," while France was the place where Montaigne invented the essay. Across the English Channel, William Shakespeare breathed new life into drama and poetry, taking Petrarch's sonnets to an even higher level of achievement.
The Renaissance produced significant achievements in engineering, especially with regards to architecture. One celebrated figure was Leon Battista Alberti, whose writings stressed visual harmony in architecture and city planning. Another accomplished engineer was Leonardo Da Vinci, who drew up early blueprints for the bicycle, the parachute and even various flying machines. However, the most prominent engineering feat was the eight-sided dome atop Florence's Santa Maria Cathedral. Designed by Fillipo Brunelleschi, the inventor of linear perspective, this soaring conical dome represented a definitive break with the Gothic architecture of the past. Today, it stands as a permanent reminder of the Renaissance era's many achievements.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Art of Renaissance Europe: A Resource for Educators
- Renaissance and Reformation: Almanac; Peggy Saari et al
- University of Massachusetts Lowell: Italian Renaissance Arcitecture
- BBC History: Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519)
- Sarah Lawrence College: First-Year Studies: The Three Crowns of Florence: Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the Beginnings of Modern
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