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Renaissance Art

Beginning in Italy in the early 1400s, the Renaissance spread north through Europe, flourishing throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. As a period, it is defined by the new Renaissance idea of ‘humanism’. This was inspired by the scholarly thinking and ideals of Ancient Greece and Rome, specifically the Roman concept of humanitas, an amalgamation of the Greek ideas of philanthrôpía (love of humanity) and paideia (education of the ideal citizen). Humanism promoted the worth of man as individual within society above all else. Coupled with a growing interest in nature, Renaissance art is characterised by an increasing adherence to realism, such as the introduction of perspective in painting. Although religious and mythological subject matter remained the dominant themes, depictions of holy or mythical figures were drawn from real life. The Renaissance period held classical learning in the highest esteem. Greco-Roman notions of symmetry, proportion and geometry are also reflected in the art and architecture of the period.
The role of the patron during the Renaissance period was particularly important and princely courts and powerful families, such as the Medici of Florence, commissioned works to promote their power, wealth and status, as well as that of their city. The Medici patronage of the arts within Florence was such that the city became known as the ‘Cradle of the Renaissance’, but the ideas of the movement soon reached other Italian city-states, such as Milan, Venice, Bologna and Rome, before spreading into other European countries. The invention of the printing press in Germany in the mid-15th century was vital in helping to disseminate the ideas of the Renaissance. The Northern Renaissance refers to the subsequent adoption of similar ideals in the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands), Germany, France and England, although it remains distinct from the Italian Renaissance in many ways.
The Renaissance is considered to have reached its apogee in the years between c.1500 and 1530 (the High Renaissance). During this time, the movement was dominated by three vital figures, Michelangelo, painter, architect and sculptor, Raphael, skilled in calculations of perspective and application of colour, and Leonardo Da Vinci, the ultimate polymath, and thus model Renaissance man. 
Key Figure: Andreas Palladio
Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) is one of the most influential architects of all time. To a large extent, his enduring fame was the result of his publication in 1570 of the Quattro Libri dell’Architettura which made his designs available to architects all over the world. Born in Padua, Italy, Palladio trained as a stonecutter and as a young man was employed by the Humanist scholar Gian Giorgio Trissino, an encounter which introduced him to classical thought and eventually enabled him to study in Rome. The classical principles of symmetry, proportion and harmony that he encountered there were to inform his own architectural designs, and with great encouragement from subsequent benefactors he was able to put these into practice. As an established architect he designed a great many palaces and churches, but it is his elegant villas, most of which are in the Veneto region, for which he is best known. The Palladian style, which became popular in England in the 17th century, was inspired by the work of the Italian architect. Experience the elegance of Palladio’s work in person on our study tour, Villas of the Veneto.
Key Work: The School of Athens, Vatican Palace, Rome
The School of Athens is a fresco in the Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael’s Rooms) in the Vatican Palace in Rome. Painted by the Renaissance master Raphael Sanzio between 1509 and 1511, it represents the union of art, science and philosophy that came to define the Renaissance period. The four rooms that make up the stanze were painted as a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II, with each space decorated according to a specific theme. The School of Athens is one of four frescoes in the Stanze della Segnatura, which collectively present the concepts of truth, good and beauty. In The School of Athens, the concept of rational truth is honoured through the portrayal of the greatest mathematicians, philosophers and scientists from classical antiquity. Pleasingly, Raphael has painted his very own likeness into the very edge of the scene, knowingly meeting the eye of the viewer as he wanders between the great minds of the ancient world. Examine Raphael’s masterpiece on an exclusive private tour of the Stanze di Raffaello, gloriously free from crowds, as part of our study tour to Renaissance Rome.
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