Transition and the Sublime
The evolution of art & culture in the early Renaissance
Perspective and early abstraction

Lecture by  Johnes Ruta, independent curator & art theorist
Art Director New Haven Free Public Library

© Copyright 2012, Johnes Ruta. All Rights Reserved.

All Photo Credits: "Art Across Time" Third Edition - by Laurie Schneider Adams
(McGraw-Hill, 2007, ISBN: 0072965258)
  For a better understanding of the transition from medieval and Byzantine styles of art into the "Renaissance," I'd like to briefly trace the forces that allowed Greek and Roman art to survive the Dark Ages and to gradually emerge into the historical developments that brought about a new age of expression in music, art, philosophy, the rebirth of culture that was called "The Renaissance." If we have any idea of the thousand years between 500 AD and 1500 AD, we must acknowledge that after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 6th century, the Christian Church started out as the preserver of the literacy and the vast knowledge that existed in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. For the first several hundred years of this 1000 years, barbarians stalked the countryside so that trade between towns always came under attack by brigands. This was the beginning and cause of the Age of Chivalry, when knights ventured forth to rid the roads of these brigands.

But for the Church, there were no other places of education in the Western world, but by the late 10 hundreds, the leadership of the Church had decided that its momentum of social power determined it was now time to reclaim the now Islamic "Holy Lands." The First Crusade was launched, and the kings of Europe were commanded to supply armies for this purpose. By this time, the somewhat tribal farming communities of Western Europe had come under the dominance and so-called "protection" of the aristocracies of the Noble class, especially in the Holy Roman Empire in Germany and Austria, and the Norman Conquest of the Saxons in England. The Church monasteries continued as the centers of learning even as the first universities were established, and as the centers of the preservation and publication of ancient writings carefully copied and beautifully illustrated into Illuminated Manuscripts. These themselves are a wealth of knowledge.

Limbourg Brothers illumination "Annunciation" 1413-1416
(Photo: Art Across Time 12.29)
Limbourg Brothers illumination "January" from the
Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry
(Photo: Art Across Time 12.30)

Unfortunately, from 1050 for the next 800 years, the Church also narrowed the tradition of ancient knowledge to mesh only with the tenets of faith and religious doctrine as established back during the Roman Empire when Christian dogma replaced paganism as the state religion. The categorizations of knowledge given in the works of Aristotle became the defined standard of all forms of nature, form, reason, and logic in the Western and Near Eastern worlds.

The Church served as an important buffer between the peasant and serf classes against their frequent abuses by the aristocracy which lavished itself in wealth as extracted from the peasantry. Now expressions of personal mysticism outside the clergy became strictly forbidden and branded as heresy, enforced by the Holy Inquisition, and artistic expression was regulated by accepted traditional styles. Minor artists worked within the nearly anonymous confines of the guilds; and successful, individually commissioned artists needed
to beware lest the Inquisition be perplexed by questions of theology and of the social order in their work. Scientific discoveries expressed in art were sometimes luckier to advance, such as theories optics which led to new principles of Perspective in art.

In this survey of the "Early Renaissance" we must first realize that there were "2 TRAINS RUNNNING" -- the one in the south, first built by Arab Optical scientists in the 10th century and engineered in Italy by GIOTTO in the early 1300s-- and that in northern Europe, first built by Charlemagne in the 9th century and setting off in 1404 on a path from Bruxelles carrying the funeral cortege of Phillip the Bold back to Burgundy.

  I.    After the Fall of Rome    

In the late Roman Empire, the system of education had been devised by Martanius Capella in the fifth century, based on study of the the Seven Liberal Arts which consisted of two categories of study - the
Trivium of three subjects:
1. Grammar
2. Dialectic [intellectual debate]
3. Rhetoric,

Quadrivium of four subjects:
1. Arithmetic
2. Geometry
3, Musical Harmony, and
4. Astronomy.

The philosopher Boethius, the author of "Consolations of Philosophy," also promoted this system.

In the late 500s AD, the western Roman Empire collapsed as the Italian provinces were invaded by Germanic tribes, the Ostrogoths and the Lombards, who took over the cities and countryside. In the cities and towns, the Roman plebian populations were reduced to further servitude, forced to work the fields and tend the livestock, with no protection
from marauders raiding their labors and homes. Outside of the towns, those who travelled the highways and transported goods became the prey of marauders. With the roads totally unsafe, manufacturing supplies could not move, products could not be distributed. Markets and businesses totally collapsed. Formal education was largely abandoned, and general literacy quickly evaporated against the hardships of this environment. Learning now was handed down from generation to generation by crafts people and trades people.

The Dark Ages were a period of hardship and danger.

The only system of education to continue was now based in the fortified monasteries, where scribes were trained to copy surviving Greek and Roman texts in order to preserve them for posterity.

The Baths of Caracalie, Rome.
Enormous Corinthian columns support the groin vaults in the ceiling of the central hall. 952 baths.
Restoration drawing. (Photo: Art Across Time 7.15)
  II.    The Court of  Charlemagne, AD 742-814  
In what is now France, the Frankish Empire had been founded by Charles Martel "Charles the Hammer" and his son Pippin, with the incorporation of the provinces of Aquitaine, Gascogne, and Provence, and the defeat of the Saracen invasion from Iberian Spain in 768. Charles Martel's grandson became Charles the Great, who led his cavalry armies east into Italy to push out the Germanic Lombards. Italy was incorporated into the Frankish Empire. Thus, as an ally of the Pope, Charles the Great's coronation as Emperor of the Frankish Empire took place on Christmas Day the year 800. Under the reign of Charlemagne, there was a restoration of order and the reminiscence of the grandeur and consciousness of the Roman Empire, and thus a period of renewal of the arts, and a style of splendor in the royal court.
  III.   Illuminated Manuscript production    
  Produced all through the Dark Ages from AD 400 to 1600.

Various Bestiaries showing zoological studies and allegories,
Bible illuminations:
The Winchester Bible 1160-1175, England
The Psalter of Blanche of Castile, 1230, Paris
The Lambeth Apocalypse 1270, London

  IV.  Cathedral building  
  Romanesque construction style, begun in the early reign of Charlemagne.
The term "Romanesque" began as a derogatory to describe the "debased" form
of the architecture of ancient Roman basilicas.

From 1100 these creations proceed into façade and entryway sculpture figures of intricate design. The floor-plan of these cathedrals was in the shape of the Cross with the long Nave and the Choir section behind the altar crossed by transept
Stone vaults above eventually replaced the use of wood timber ceilings - too heavy to balance lasting constructions. The stone vaults, with columns and forward protruding vertical pilaster columns, also gave an excellent dispersion of sound for the Gregorian Chants continually sung by monks.

Cathedral height became a matter of great rivalry, especially in France :
1. Chartres -- 30 floors with a 121 ft. vault
2. Strasbourg - 40 floors
3. Notre Dame - 108 ft.
4. Reims - 125 ft.
5. Amiens - 139 ft.
6. Bauvais -- 158 ft - an insupportable height which collapsed during construction killing many workers.

  V. Education systems in the Middle Ages  
  The first higher education institution in medieval Europe was the University of Constantinople, followed by the University of Salerno (9th century), the Preslav Literary School and Ohrid Literary School in the Bulgarian Empire (9th century).

The first degree-granting universities in Europe were the University of Bologna (1088), the University of Paris (c. 1150, later associated with the Sorbonne), the University of Oxford (1167), the University of Cambridge (1209), the University of Salamanca (1218), the University of Montpellier (1220), the University of Padua (1222), the University of Naples Federico II (1224), the University of Toulouse (1229, the University of Orleans (1235); the University of Siena (1240); the University of Coimbra (1288).

Some scholars argue that these medieval universities were influenced in many ways by the medieval Madrasah institutions in Islamic Spain, the Emirate of Sicily, and the Middle East (during the Crusades).

The earliest universities in Western Europe were developed under the aegis of the Catholic Church, usually as cathedral schools or by papal bull as studia generali (n.b. The development of cathedral schools into universities actually appears to be quite rare, with the University of Paris being an exception - see Leff, Paris and Oxford Universities), later they were also founded by Kings (Charles University in Prague, Jagiellonian University in Krakow) or municipal administrations (University of Cologne, University of Erfurt). In the early medieval period, most new universities were founded from pre-existing schools, usually when these schools were deemed to have become primarily sites of higher education. Many historians state that universities and cathedral schools were a continuation of the interest in learning promoted by monasteries.

In Europe, young men proceeded to university when they had completed their study of the trivium-the preparatory arts of grammar, rhetoric and dialectic or logic-and the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

  VI.  Scholastic Philosophy

By the 11th century, there arose a constellation of universities in the cities of Europe: The first universities: Bologna (1088); Paris (1088); Oxford (1096); Modena (1175); Palencia (1208); Salamanca (1218); Montellier (1220); Padua (1222); Toulouse (1229);

The term "schola" derives from ancient Greek for "leisure" -- as it was recognized since antiquity that one must possess leisure time in order to contemplate the ultimate nature of things - leisure is an essential condition. In the middle ages, no clear distinction was made between philosophy and theology - Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) suggested that philosophy operated on premises supplied by nature, and theology operated on premises supplied by revelation.

Aquinas succeeded in re-establishing the acceptability of Aristotle's philosophy, which at that time was under suspicion by more conservative Church theologians as pagan. The surviving texts came through the Muslim world and were translations from
Arabic sources and commentaries. Aquinas' system of metaphysics perceived that matter in the universe was manifested in two ways:
first as esse naturale, that is, the Form from Nature that makes a piece of matter the thing that it is; second, esse intelligible, is that which arises as an idea in a person's mind.

Thomas Aquinas: "Beautiful things are those which please when seen, because they are felt to be rays from God's mind."

The Byzantine Empire was the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire which had also divided the Church in the Great Schism

In addition to the growing weariness with old forms, the social desire for bright new objects, silks and spices from the East, there was a weariness with Byzantine drabness and the Byzantine political influence and presence in many parts of Italy. These new social trends were also factors that opened the door to allow artistic innovation in the 13th century.

VII. Arabic innovation

I.       Al-chemia : Transformative Power.  

II.     Perfection in the hypnotic repetition of the interlocking Geometric motif.

The History of OPTICS
* extromissive vision :  sight occurs by the emission of light out of the eye, illuminating the objects seen.  Light is believed to originate from the eye.             

* intromissive vision :  sight occurs by the entry of light rays into the eye.  Light is believed to originate from the external world.

The Atomists -- Leucippus (fl. 450-420 BC) & Democritus (c.460 BC-370BC) 

In optics, the Atomists promoted the Extromissive principle of sight that objects are constantly peeling off  particles from their surfaces which enter the eye to show the object.         

(fl. 300 BC) – (extromissive principle of sight)  In time of Euclid the prevailing theory of sight was already that light is emitted from the eye by which we illuminate what we see.   From this principle, Euclid applied his mathematical geometry, that light enters the eye in the shape of a cone.   The geometric angles of objects on the aspects of this cone thus give the sense of visual perspective.

(384-322 BC) --  (intromissive principle) “Objects modify the intervening media." 

Claudius Ptolemy
  (90 – 168 C.E.)  (extromissive vision)   Sight believed to be rays of light emitted from the eyes.   

Al-Hazan   (965-1040 C.E.)  Intromissive principle of Optics.   

Al Hazan's most important work, Optics, consisted of seven volumes of experiments, mathematics, and inductive reasoning, without reliance on previous authorities. Euclid, Ptolemy, and other ancient scientists had believed that vision resulted from light rays emitted by the eye. Al Hazan originated the theory that vision was the result of illuminated rays reaching the eye. He believed that light rays emanated in straight lines, in a spherical direction, from every point of a luminous object. He studied the properties of various types of lenses, mirrors, and magnifying glasses and conducted major studies on refraction, the angle at which light is bent when passing from one medium to another. Latin translations of Optics influenced European scientists, such as Roger Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Pierre de Fermat, and René Descartes, from the end of the twelfth century into the seventeenth century. Al Hazan addressed the "moon illusion," the ancient question of why the sun and moon appear larger near the horizon. He suggested that objects on the horizon influence our optical perception of the moon. Although the illusion holds even at sea where there are no objects on the horizon, he was correct in considering it to be a problem of visual perception, wherein the brain is unable to accurately interpret optical information about size and distance. Al Hazan wrote at least 92 works on mathematics, physics, and metaphysics, as well as treatises on logic, politics, religion, ethics, poetry, and music. He wrote summaries of the works of Aristotle, the Roman physician Galen, Ptolemy, and Euclid. About 20 of Al Hazan's mathematical works are extant. One of these became known as "Al Hazan's problem." This is the mathematical problem of finding the point, on a surface of a given shape, that will reflect the light from a point opposite the surface to a second point opposite the surface. At least 20 of Al Hazan's surviving works deal with astronomy and he authored an important commentary on the Ptolemy’s astronomical text The Almagest, written in Alexandria in the second century. Al Hazan's most famous astronomical work, On the Configuration of the World, was translated into Spanish in the thirteenth century, and from Spanish into Latin. It also was translated into Hebrew and then into Latin and influenced the astronomers of the early Renaissance.    


Documents regarding Al Hazan:

The sun's rays proceed from the sun along straight lines and are reflected from every polished object at equal angles, i.e. the reflected ray subtends, together with the line tangential to the polished object which is in the plane of the reflected ray, two equal angles. Hence it follows that the ray reflected from the spherical surface, together with the circumference of the circle which is in the plane of the ray, subtends two equal angles. From this it also follows that the reflected ray, together with the diameter of the circle, subtends two equal angles. And every ray which is reflected from a polished object to a point produces a certain heating at that point, so that if numerous rays are collected at one point, the heating at that point is multiplied: and if the number of rays increases, the effect of the heat increases accordingly.
— Alhazan In H. J. J. Winter, 'A Discourse of the Concave Spherical Mirror by Ibn Al-Haitham', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1950, 16, 2.     

Opticae Thesaurus

Translated into Latin in 1270, Opticae Thesaurus was the first real contribution to the science of optics in the first millennium and had a great influence on both Bacon and Kepler. Of particular note the six volume work contains the first serious study of lenses, a disproof of Ptolemy's law of refraction, research into reflections from spherical and parabolic mirrors and the first accurate description of the anatomy of the human eye.  He also studied the phenomena of eclipses, shadows, and rainbows and the role of the dispersion light in the determination of colours.

Many experiments were conducted in a dark room lit through a solitary hole.  Outside the room, adjacent to the wall with the hole, Alhazen hung five lamps. He observed that these produced five 'lights' on the wall inside his dark room and that by placing an obstruction between one of the lanterns and the hole one of the 'lights' on the wall disappears. His observation that the lantern, the obstruction and the hole were in a straight line demonstrated that light travels in straight lines. The fact that there were five 'lights' on the wall inside the room revealed that, despite there being five light sources simultaneously traveling through the hole, they were not mixed up. From this Alhazen deduced that vision was the product of light being reflected into the eye rather than rays from the eye scanning objects. This overturned a thousand years of Aristotelian scientific thought. Alhazen's experiment was the first scientific description of the 'camera obscura' (dark room), the principle behind the pinhole camera.The IET Archives  holds a copy of Opticae Thesaurus dated 1572, the first year in which it was published. This edition is of particular note as, prior to being owned by IEE past president, Silvanus P Thompson, it was also in the possession of the celebrated Andre Marie Ampere.His book, Mizan al-Hikmah, examines the density of the atmosphere, atmospheric refraction, and why twilight begins or ends only when the sun is 19 degrees below the horizon.  Ultimately, his desire was to use all of these aspects to determine the height of the atmosphere.

(965 - 1040 AD)

Al-Haitham, known in the West as Alhazen, is considered as the father of modern optics. Ibn al-Haitham was born in 965 C.E. in Basrah (present Iraq), and received his education in Basrah and Baghdad. He traveled to Egypt and Spain. He spent most of his life in Spain, where conducted research in optics, mathematics, physics, medicine and development of scientific methods.
Al-Haitham conducted experiments on the propagation of light and colors, optic illusions and reflections. He examined the refraction of light rays through transparent medium (air, water) and documented the laws of refraction. He also carried out the first experiments on the dispersion of light into colors. In detailing his experiment with spherical segments (glass vessels filled with water), he came very close to discovering the theory of magnifying lenses which was developed in Italy three centuries later. It took another three centuries before the law of sines was proposed by Snell and Descartes. His book Kitab-al-Manazir was translated into Latin in the Middle Ages, as also his book dealing with the colors of sunset. He dealt at length with the theory of various physical phenomena such as the rainbow, shadows, eclipses, and speculated on the physical nature of light. Roger Bacon (thirteenth century), Pole Witelo (Vitellio) and all Medieval Western writers on Optics base their optical work primarily on Al-Haitham's 'Opticae Thesaurus.' His work also influenced Leonardo da Vinci and Johann Kepler. His approach to optics generated fresh ideas and resulted in great progress in experimental methods. Al-Haitham was the first to describe accurately the various parts of the eye and gave a scientific explanation of the process of vision. He contradicted Euclid’s and Ptolemy's Extromissive theories of vision that the eye sends out visual rays to the object; according to him the rays originate in the object of vision and not in the eye.   Al-Haitham also attempted to explain binocular vision, and gave a correct explanation of the apparent increase in size of the sun and the moon when near the horizon. He is known for the earliest use of the Camera Obscura. In Al-Haitham's writings, one finds a clear explanation of the development of scientific method, the systematic observation of physical phenomena and their relationship to theory. His research in optics focused on spherical and parabolic mirrors and spherical aberration. He made the important observation that the ratio between the angle of incidence and refraction does not remain constant and investigated the magnifying power of a lens. His catoptrics contains the important problem known as Alhazen's problem. It comprises drawing lines from two points in the plane of a circle meeting at a point on the circumference and making equal angles with the normal at that point. This leads to an equation of the fourth degree. He also solved the shape of an aplantic surface for reflection. In his book Mizan al-Hikmah, Al-Haitham has discussed the density of the atmosphere and developed a relation between it and the height. He also studied atmospheric refraction. He discovered that the twilight only ceases or begins when the sun is 19o below the horizon and attempted to measure the height of the atmosphere on that basis. He deduced the height of homogeneous atmosphere to be 55 miles. In mathematics, he developed analytical geometry by establishing linkage between algebra and geometry. Al-Haitham wrote more than two hundred books, very few of which have survived. His monumental treatise on optics has survived through its Latin translation. During the Middle Ages his books on cosmology were translated into Latin, Hebrew and other European languages. by Dr. A. Zahoor

  Proto Renaissance in Italy

In the medieval centuries between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of universities in the 12th and 13th centuries, Europe had very few schools for children and illiteracy was wide-spread. Similar to modern "Liberal Theology" in Latin America, the medieval Church was the only real force standing between the aristocracy and the peasantry -- against the excesses of feudalism and the ill treatments of serfdom. In this situation, painting was considered a means to visually illustrate religious themes, and thereby to provide Hope to the people of a better world to come. However, from the beginning of the Holy Inquisition in 1184, shortly before the beginning of the Third Crusade in 1187, the Church demanded strict adherence to its tenets of dogma of principles of Faith and Creed. Personal mystical experience was suspect as heresy, and lay theoretical theology was also forbidden.

  Nicola Pisano (c.1220/5-1284)  and his son Giovanni Pisano (c.1245/50-after 1318)   

The Pisanos created the Pulpit - Baptistry at Pisa (Nicola 1260). Used antique art as a model for his art, attempted to create a Christian art style with the realism and dignity of Late Roman art. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (d. 1250) was engaged in a deliberate revival of Roman grandeur. Against the pure Byzantine style (flat gilded backgrounds) there is the beginning of landscape backgrounds, possibly influenced by the French Gothic style, where the artists might have visited.

Nicola Pisano - Marble relief - Pisa Chapel, 1260
upper left -"The Annunciation" ; center "The Nativity"; upper right "Annunciation to the Shepherds"
(Photo: Art Across Time12.2)
  DUCCIO di Buoninsegna  (c.1255-c1319)        

The first great Sienese painter. Worked and retained the austere Byzantine style in use for centuries in Italy in which the backgrounds gilded and 2-dimensional.

Considered a profound innovator in his Solidity of forms. Used varied and elegant outlines as the surface patterns and to describe forms. His early figures have a doll-like quality, but his developing use of rich and subtle color then enabled him to begin to portray the emotional depth
of figures in their faces.

Duccio di Buoninsegna  “Kiss of Judas”  1308 (Photo: Art Across Time12.18)
  GIOTTO di Bondone   (c.1266/7 – 1337)  

Adaptation of Perspective from Arabic principles of  sight.   Influenced by sculpture style of Giovanni Pisano.  

Both born in Florence, Giotto in 1266 and the poet Dante in 1265 (d.1321) were close friends. Both lived more than a millennium after the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy had defined the world order as a system of nine heavens composed of Moon, Sun, the five known planets,  the fixed constellations, and the Crystalline Heaven, all with their center at the core of  the Earth, itself turning around a fixed axis.  By the basis of this Aristotelian world view,  the Neo-Platonists,  such as Plotinus and Proclus,  had later elaborated the system of  the all-encompassing universe as a series of vertical chains: the Visible Cosmos, consisting of Matter,  the  Earth,  the Seven Planets, and the Fixed Stars;  and, above,  the Invisible Cosmos, consisting of  the World Soul, the Divine Mind of God (or Forms as Platonic  ideas), and the One(ness).  

To Dante’s intuition,  expressed through philosophy, understanding,  and creative allusion,  the vertical correspondences  of these concentric realms were echoes of the parallel forces of a triune reality of universal Mind, Body, and Spirit. Dionysius, the 5th century Church father who had also realigned the calendar and (inaccurately) set the Year One as that of Christ's birth,  restated this scenario as mankind's own situation in his Doctrine of  Celestial Hierarchy, rising from deeper to higher levels from that inner core of the Earth, outward through all the evenly harmonized spheres of moral reason where are found, respectively: the demonic, the human,  and the angelic orders. 8  

“In the  Ptolemaic  world-picture,” says Titus Burkhardt, “the wider the heavenly sphere in which a star moves,  the purer it is,  the less conditioned, and the nearer the divine origin is the degree of existence and the level of consciousness to which it corresponds.”  9

When Giotto’s family accompany the painter out of  Florence during work on any long commission, Dante is invited to stay with them as well.  From the artistic and theological conversations between them, both painter and poet would retain the visual and verbal images and figures of religious revelations. 28   

On the walls of the Arena chapel in Padua, Giotto's great fresco The Last Judgment, consecrated in 1305, would manifest the incipient use of the principle of perspective in the con-vergence into a vortex at the bottom, the implied lines aligned to the edges of galleries of saints on either side of the throne of God overlooking  the panorama of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Thus the placement of background forms would be employed to construct the optical illusion of  a 3-dimensional field.  Lining the side walls of the Arena chapel, Giotto's smaller narrative series of paintings  The Life of Mary,  The Life of Christ, and The Passion of Christ display a more developed notion of perspective in the structures of cornices and buildings employing the clearly deliberate techniques of alignment and delineation into 3-dimensional spaces that also are described in Dante's explanation of the wedge-shaped boundaries of the walls extending down into the vortex-like depth of the Inferno, to its pit at the core of the Earth. Dante sees in Giotto's paintings the visual interpretation of their discussions:  the souls of all those held there are the total body of the medieval world itself, in the details of its corruption. Into this lower center of concentric circles all divergent lines converge inward into the abyss. 

Upon the utmost verge of a high bank,
By craggy rocks environ'd round, we came.
Where woes beneath, more cruel yet, we stow'd.   
And here, to shun the horrible excess   
Of fetid exhalation upward cast  
From the profound abyss...

  (Inferno,  Canto XI, 1-6) 

With Dante’s literary description and Giotto’s examples of  implied convergence lines depicting recessive ceilings,  Giotto’s artistic successors such as Taddeo Gaddi, Simone Martini, and the Lorenzettis,  combined with principles found in the reappearance of the text of Euclid's Optics would eventually bring a recognition of convergence  into the conscious principle of the “vanishing point” in the Perspective drawings of such Renaissance architects as Brunelleschi and Alberti in the early 15th century, thus disseminating the concept to their students Masaccio, Donatello, Paolo Uccello, and Piero della Francesca.
Giotto di Bondone “Kiss of Judas  1305 (Photo: Art Across Time 12.19)
Giotto di Bondone “The Last Judgement  fresco, Arena Chapel, Padua 1305 (Photo: Art Across Time12.10)
  Ambroglio LORENZETTI  (active 1320-1345)  

Sienese painters Lorenzo and Pietro Lorenzetti extended the style of Duccio's concepts rendering solidity of form and emotional depth. Ambroglio's mural painting reflected the humanist interest in the republican form of government of their time - the shift away from the dominance of the aristocracy toward the influence of the merchant classes.

This is the first panoramic representation in modern Western art. People freely move about the city in their activities and trades (a school, a cobbler shop, a tavern, merchant caravans, farmers working the fields) and their leisure (people riding horseback, men playing dice, ladies dancing). Ambroglio further developed the dimension of perspective and depth of field in detailed foregrounds and backgrounds.

(Sadly, none of the Lorenzetti family seems to have survived the Black Plague of 1348.)

Ambroglio Lorenzetti “The Effects of Good Government in the City and Conntry” 
46 ft wide fresco, 1338-39, Sala della Pace, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

(Photo: Art Across Time 12.20a) 
Ambroglio Lorenzetti “The Effects of Bad Government in the City” 
46 ft wide fresco, 1338-39, Sala della Pace, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

(Photo: Art Across Time 12.20b) 

The Burgundian Court, AD 1300-1450

The Limbourg Brothers

Illustrated Manuscript production

12.29 Limbourg Brothers "Annunciation" 1413-1416
12.30 Limbourg Brothers "January" from the Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry.

Claus Sluter (active 1379-1406)

During the period of suffering and continual upheaval of the Hundred Years War, Claus Sluter, the Court sculptor of Phillip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, departed from the doll-like figures of previous style, and introduced a new representation of sensitive facial expression in sculptures both in the portal of the Chartreuse de Champmol" in Dijon, France, which reveal deeper physical and psychological characteristics in the figures, such as the "Virgin Mary and Christ" 1385-1393, and the "Well of Moses," a hexagonal pedestal with the statues of the prophets begun 1395, displayed an intense realism never seen before in European sculpture.

Before its destruction during the French Revolution, a crucifixion circle stood above the center. Now the only surviving piece of that damage, the head of Christ itself, displays in its face a mood of both intense suffering and a profound release at His moment of death. This development of style manifests a new feeling which is also evolving in the Humanist philosophy of the 14th century such as Dante, whose "Divine Comedy" told the lives of diverse individuals, then to Meister Eckhart, a NeoPlatonist who considered metaphysics and spiritual psychology in his widely published writings in the early 14th century, and Petrarch, who recognized and defined the experience of the Dark Ages in human history. Both Eckhart and Petrarch discovered and published previously unknown philosophical writings from ancient Roman, such as Cicero and Virgil.

Claus Sluter -- Portal of the Chartreuse de Champmol in Dijon, France
(Photo: Art Across Time 12.26) 
Claus Sluter -- "Virgin Mary and Christ"
Portal of the Chartreuse de Champmol in Dijon, France
(Photo: Art Across Time 12.27) 
Claus Sluter -- "Well of Moses"
Chartreuse de Champmol in Dijon, France
1. David
2. Moses
3. Jeremiah
4. Zachariah
5. Isaiah
6. Daniel

(Photo: Art Across Time 12.28) 

Robert Campin  (1378-1444)

An altarpiece used for private devotions in a home. Each panel is seen from a different viewpoint, with symbolic details some so small that magnification is needed. Left panel: the donor prays, awaiting entry to the blessed place. At right, Joseph is seen in his carpentry workshop, shown in contemporary rather than ancient garb, his tools scatter around his wrk area awaiting his use. At center the angel Gabriel gives the annunciation to the Virgin, holding a wash basin with the book of prophecy, alarge towel by his feet, possibly representing the news that her Child will cleanse the sins of the world.
Robert Campin  “Mercade Altarpiece”   1425-30  tempera & oil on wood (Cloisters, NYC)
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.60) 
  Jan van Eyck    (1399-1440) 

1.10     “Virgin in a Church” 

After working for Count John of Holland from 1422-1424 at The Hague, he was appointed Court Painterand “varlet de chambre” by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. On the Duke’s business, he made several secret journeys to Spain in 1427 and Portugal in 1428, and bought a house in Bruges in 1430.  For centuries, he was credited with the invention of oil painting, but while this really dates back to ancient Greece, van Eyck did invent many great improvements to the use of ground minerals, such as  lapis lazuli, malachite, azurite, ochre, manganese, lead-oxides, cinnabar, verdigris (copper treated with acetic acid from vinegar) orpiment, etc-- mixed with linseed oil.

The Arnolfi wedding Portrait is the best known wedding painting in Western art. It carries an array and depth of symbolism, starting with the comparative height of the characters, man taller, standing upright, left hand taking her right hand, his right hand held up in a ambiguous poise of upright morality or stand-off-ishness. Arnolfi was both a money-lender and an art dealer. The bride bows her head and gives her open right hand in a posture of submission. Her left hand lays upon her fecund, or pregnant belly. The marriage bed awaits in the background, with light entering from the open window at left, drapery hanging over above at right. The dog, symbol of both lust and loyalty gazes at the viewer.

Jan van Eyck “Ghent Altarpiece”   1434, oil on wood, 14"w x 11" h,
Cathedral of Saint Bevon, Ghent, Belgium
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.62) 
Jan van Eyck “Ghent Altarpiece”   detail
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.63) 
Jan van Eyck “The Arnolfi Wedding Portrait”   1434, oil on wood, 21"w x 32" h, National Gallery, London
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.67) 

Jan van Eyck “The Arnolfi Wedding Portrait”   detail

ROGIER van der Weyden   (1399-1464)
 Rogier was a student of Robert Campin in Tournai, 1427-1432, and developed from Campin’s
direct, realistic, plebian style into more imbued with more emotion, warmth, and sensitiveness. Attains the same luminosity and observation of situation as Jan van Eyck, but created a style more involved with religious feeling and human sympathy.  His use of color is cooler and based on emotion. He has a strong affinity with Italian painters, especially Fra Angelico. All of these strong qualities gave Rogier a strong influence on his successors among the Flemish painters.   Rogier invented a type of diptych which had a Madonna and Child on one wing, and a praying portrait on the opposite wing.

Rogier van der Weyden  “St. Luke Depicting the Virgin" 1435-38 oil on panel
Boston Fine Arts Museum
Photo: Art Across Time 13.70) 

Principles of panoramic landscape -- influence on Italian painting

In European Courts of the nobility in the 15th century, the strong success of German and Netherlanish painting, with its style characteristics, such as detailed landscape depth of field and individualized moods in human faces, led by the 1460s to a very strong export art market of northern painting, especially to Naples and Florence. Works by many Northern painters, such as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling, were also seen by Italian painters, amplified their departure from the flat Byzantine style, into the already developing display of landscape (what we would call) depth of field.

Rogier van der Weyden made a pilgrimage in 1450 to Italy, visiting Rome, Florence, and Ferrara. He was commissioned by nobles such as Alessandro Sforza (1409-1479), and merchant families such as Battista Agnelli of Pisa, to paint or reproduce such paintings as St. Luke depicting the Virgin, The Deposition of Christ, The Entombment of Christ for Italian patrons.

  Albrecht Durer (1450-1516)

Beginning in 1490 Durer travelled widely for study, including trips to Italy in 1494 and 1505-7 and to Antwerp and the Low Countries in 1520-1. During his visit to Venice on his second Italian trip Durer was especially influenced by Giovanni Bellini and Bellini's brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna, each then near the end of his career. In The Uffizi: A Guide to the Gallery (Venice: Edizione Storti, 1980, p. 57) Umberto Fortis comments that Durer's journeys enabled him "to fuse the Gothic traditions of the North with the achievements in perspective, volumetric and plastic handling of forms, and color of the Italians in an original synthesis which was to have great influence with the Italian Mannerists."

  Hieronymus Bosch  (c.1450-1516)    

16.3     “The Garden of Earthly Delights” El Prado, Madrid
Hieronymous Bosch   “Garden of Earthly Delights" c.1490-1510, triptych, oil on wood, 7 ft 2" x 12 ft 9"
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Photo: Art Across Time 16.3) 
  Matthias Grunewald  (1470-1528)    

16.15   “Annunciation  Virgin and Child”    The Isenheim Altarpeice 
  Pieter Bruegel the Elder  (1525/30-1569)    

16.6     “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”

Italian Renaissance, AD 1400-1550

  Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)


Ghiberti was the most talented and respected sculptor in Florence. He was selected to make two of the three bronze doors for the Baptistery in Florence in 1404. The Baptistery construction was begun in 1059, and the building completed in 1128, built in the Romanesque architectural style.
The first door had been created by Andrea Pisano (1290-1348) from 1330 to 1336. (?? relation to Nicola & Giovanni ??) Pisano had been a later student of Giotto, and was also influential in freeing art from the established Byzantine flat, gilded style.

The competition for the Baptistery Doors was announced in 1401; the subject was the sacrifice of Isaac, and Ghiberti and Brunelleschi were the final contestants for the commission. Brunelleschi's entry possessed a greater sense of drama and violence, with the angel Gabriel seizing the arm of Abraham to stop him in the last instant before his is about to plunge the knife, having demonstrated his faith to God. But his piece was not as well constructed, with several pieces bolted to the bronze base. So Ghiberti won the competition, with his far more accomplished designs blending Gothic grace with the elegance of the nude figure of Isaac modeled on Classical sculpture, and the perfected one-piece construction of his piece.

Filippo Brunelleschi design for the Baptistery Door competition "The Sacrifices of Isaac" bronze
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.02) 
Lorenzo Ghiberti's design for the Baptistery Door competition "The Sacrifices of Isaac" bronze
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.03) 

Aware of the advanced expertise of Ghiberti's designs, Brunelleschi immediately left Florence to study in Rome, taking his pupil Donatello with him. He found ancient Roman ruins in bad repair, but analyzed these ancient Roman building techniques in preparation for his ambition for further work on the Cathedral of Florence.

Actual work of Ghiberti's winning design on the Florence Baptistery doors began in 1404, with Ghiberti's father and Donatello as his assistants. The two new doors were completed in 1436, each weighing up to 40 tons, the North Doors with 20 scenes from the life of Christ, and "The Gates of Paradise" - with 10 scenes from the Old Testament beginning "Adam and Eve," and "The Sacrifice of Isaac," through "Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba."

13.05 Floor-plan of the Florence Cathedral

Florence Cathedral
Floor Plan
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.05)
Axonometric section of the dome's architectural construction
Florence Cathedral
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.06)
Florence Cathedral, begun 1393, exterior view with completed dome
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.04)

Constructed in 1393, the Cathedral of Florence still remained without a dome to cover its 150 foot wide crossing of the nave/choir and transept. Medieval houses still stood within the area of unfinished construction. A conference of architects proposed many methods of building a dome over this open space, such as plaster, wood, stone models, but no proposal fulfilled the engineering specifications that would hold up. Brunelleschi came to this conference with a riddle: "How could one balance and egg on it end ?" The other architects puzzled and tried, but none could do it, until Brunelleschi demonstrated his solution by pushing the egg down, breaking it on its narrower end. -- They were disgruntled, but he then showed them his
plan: to build an inner shell of stone with vertical, rounded supports connected at the top. The building scaffold would be constructed 40 feet above the floor which would then support its own weight. A passage way to be between the inner and outer shells would support the weight of the building materials brought up to construct an outer shell of bricks arranged in a herring-bone pattern of alternating horizontal and vertically set bricks which would gradually spiral upwards from the rim of the opening, closing in to the pointed and rounded pinnacle of the dome. The strength and stability of this dome was proven and still stands.


  Brunelleschi was hired to build this dome, but Ghiberti, because of his political influence in Florence, was hired as co-engineer with the same pay, despite his lack of architectural skill. Finally, exasperated by the bureaucracy of this arrangement, Brunelleschi finally feigned illness and stayed home, telling the managers that Ghiberti would easily finish the project, until Ghiberti was removed from the work, and Brunelleschi took full charge.  
Lorenzo Ghiberti "The Meeting of Solomon and Sheba" 1450-52
east door of Florence Baptistery (with perspective lines) gilt bronze relief
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.10) 
  Gentile da Fabriano  (c.1370-1427)  

13.27   “Adoration of the Magi”   altarpiece  1423

Gentile was the exponent of the International Gothic Style in Italy. He developed a non-linear style, in the sense that edges are softened, profiles are not used.   Edges are softly brushed, and fade gently into the movement of the surface…. LINE is felt only as a directional flow within the tissue of Matter and Space : observe the flow of great processions in the background, the flows around, and down, and up, the flow of silks, velvets, and brocades.  Natural objects are presented with scrupulous delicacy and extreme psychological realism…..
Gentile da Fabiano “Adoration of the Magi” 1423, altarpiece
80""h x 111" w Uffizi, Florence
(Photo: Art Across Time 13.27) 
  Fra Angelico (c.1387-1455)   

13.47   “Annunciation”  1440   (perspective:  curved archway)

Fra Giovanni da Fiesole was a Dominican friar, also a friend of Saint Antoninus and knew the popes Eugenius IV and Nicholas V.  He was a member of the Order of Preachers and used his art for didactic purposes, rather than a mystical purpose, starting to paint around the age of 28. His style is simple and direct, and used a largeness of form previously used by Giotto and Masaccio, and a Gothic style of representation which runs counter to the trend of Florentine painting.
  Paolo Uccello   1396/7-1475  

13.40   “Sir John Hawkwood”  

Paolo Uccello loved to paint birds and other animals, and in his studio had a greatmany studies of birds, so that he was eventually dubbed “Paolo of the Birds”  as in Italian “uccello” means birds.  Paolo Uccello was criticized by Georgio Vasari in his  Lives of the Artists for paying attention only to his study of the problems of perspective and not to the development of figure representation  in his art work.  14… --  Created the fresco in Santa Maria Maggiore,  “The Annunciation” which is considered an original achievement in grace and proportion, and lines are made to recede to the vanishing-point for the first time in painting.   Columns are foreshortened in perspective to break the upward and outward (salient) projection in the angle of vaulting.   14…  -- Fresco in Cloister of  San Miniato (outside Florence)  -- “Lives of the Fathers of the Church” – ignored rule of color consistency =  fields are blue,  cities  - red, buildings – various colors.  Stone colored with another tint.   At this project the abbot fed Uccello meals of  only cheese. After a while of this, Uccello stopped going to work, sick of cheese. Being absent from his commission, Uccello tried to avoid being forced to return, but one day, walking on the street, two friars of the abbey saw him. Uccello ran but they caught up to him and began to reprimand him.  He told them he was sick of cheese and wouldn’t work under this diet. They laughed and then persuaded the abbot to feed him properly,
and the project was then completed.

13.24   “The Expulsion from Eden 

Masaccio was the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance, whose innovations in the use of  scientific perspective inaugurated the modern era in painting. Masaccio, originally named Tommaso Cassai, was born in San Giovanni Valdarno, near Florence, on December 21, 1401. He joined the painters guild in Florence in 1422. His remarkably individual style owed little to other painters, except possibly the great 14th-century master Giotto. He was more strongly influenced by the architect Brunelleschi and the sculptor Donatello, both of whom were his contemporaries in Florence. From Brunelleschi he acquired a knowledge of mathematical proportion that was crucial to his revival of the principles of scientific perspective. From Donatello he imbibed a knowledge of classical art that led him away from the prevailing Gothic style. He inaugurated a new naturalistic approach to painting that was concerned less with details and ornamentation than with simplicity and unity, less with flat surfaces than with the illusion of three dimensionality. Together with Brunelleschi and Donatello, he was a founder of the Renaissance.Only four unquestionably attributable works of Masaccio survive, although various other paintings have been attributed in whole or in part to him. All of his works are religious in nature—altarpieces or church frescoes. The earliest, a panel, the Madonna with St. Anne (circa 1423, Uffizi, Florence), shows the influence of Donatello in its realistic flesh textures and solidly rounded forms. The fresco Trinity (c. 1425, Santa Maria Novella, Florence) used full perspective for the first time in Western art. His altarpiece for Santa Maria del Carmine, Pisa (1426), with its central panel of the Adoration of the Magi (now in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin), was a simple, unadorned version of a theme that was treated by other painters in a more decorative, ornamental manner. The fresco series for the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence (about 1427) illustrates another of his great innovations, the use of light to define the human body and its draperies. In these frescoes, rather than bathing his scenes in flat uniform light, he painted them as if they were illuminated from a single source of light (the actual chapel window), thus creating a play of light and shadow (chiaroscuro) that gave them a natural, realistic quality unknown in the art of his day. Of these six fresco scenes, Tribute Money and the Expulsion from Paradise are considered his masterpieces.Masaccio's work exerted a strong influence on the course of later Florentine art and particularly on the work of Michelangelo. He died in Rome in 1427 or 1428.
Masaccio  “The Holy Trinity” 1425, fresco, 21 ft. 9"h x 9 ft. 4" w (Photo: Art Across Time 13.21a) 
Masaccio  “The Holy Trinity” perspectival study (Photo: Art Across Time 13.21b) 

Leon Alberti 1404-1472

On Painting 1436 - first Renaissance text on art theory: summed up contributions of Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Ghiberti, and Donatello to the visual arts.

On Architecture published after his death -- based on the writings of the Roman analytical architect Vitruvius.


Theme of David and Goliath

13.29 Donatello - David, 1430-40, bronze 5' 2"
13.36 Andrea del Castagno - Youthful David, 1450, tempera on leather mounted on wood
13.37 Andrea del Verrocchio - David, early 1470s, bronze, 49"h

Biblical theme of the graceful David's defeat of the giant Canaan bully Goliath preoccupied Italian artists throughout the Renaissance. David was a symbol of Florence, and its resistance to powerful external forces, papal and foreign armies already for hundreds of years.

Monumentality versus Spirituality in 15th century painting: Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Filippo Lippi

  Piero della Francesca  (1410/20-1492)

13.13   “Flagellation”   (perspective example)
13.45   “Battista Sforza / Federico de Montefeltro”  portraits
13.52   “The Dream of Constantine” 

Piero della Francesca was the most popular painter of the 1400s, due to the mathematical perfection of his forms, and his  superb sense of interval.  These forms give a serene and timeless quality to his paintings – increased by his soft and pale colors.   To modern viewers, there is a sense of Cubism in his forms, and a strong development of symmetry. 
  Andrea Mantegna  (1431-1506)  
The Parnassus is a painting by the Italian Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna, executed in 1497. It is housed in the Musée du Louvre of Paris. The Parnassus was the first picture painted by Mantegna for Isabella d'Este's studiolo (cabinet) in the Ducal Palace of Mantua. The shipping of the paint used by Mantegna for the work is documented in 1497; there is also a letter to Isabella (who was at Ferrara) informing her that once back she would find the work completed.

The theme was suggested by the court poet Paride da Ceresara. After Mantegna's death in 1506, the work was partially repainted to update it to the oil technique which had become predominant. The intervention was due perhaps to Lorenzo Leonbruno, and regarded the heads of the Muses, of Apollo, Venus and the landscape.

Together with the other paintings in the studiolo, it was gifted by Duke Charles I of Mantua to Cardinal Richelieu in 1627, entering the royal collections with Louis XIV of France. Later it became part of the Louvre Museum. The traditional interpretation of the work is based on a late 15th century poem by Battista Fiera, which identified it as a representation of Mount Parnassus, culminating in the allegory of Isabella as Venus and Francesco II Gonzaga as Mars.

The two gods are shown on a natural arch of rocks in front a symbolic bed; in the background the vegetation has many fruits in the right part (the male one) and only one in the left (female) part, symbolizing the fecundation. The posture of Venus derives from the ancient sculpture. They are accompanied by Anteros (the heavenly love), opposed to the carnal one. The latter is still holding the arch, and has a blowpipe which aims at the genitals of Vulcan, Venus' husband, portrayed in his workshop in a grotto. Behind him is the grape, perhaps a symbol of the drunk's intemperance.

In a clearing under the arch is Apollo playing a zither. Nine Muses are dancing, in an allegory of universal harmony. According to ancient mythology, her chant could generate earthquakes and other catastrophes, symbolized by the crumbling mountains in the upper left. Such disasters could be cared by Pegasus' hoof: the horse indeed appears in the right foreground. The touch of his hoof could also generate the spring which fed the falls of Mount Helicon, which can be seen in the background. The Muses danced traditionally in wood of this mount, and thus the traditional naming of Mount Parnassus is wrong.

Near Pegasus is Mercury, dressing his traditional winged hat, the caduceus (stick with twisted snakes) and the messenger shoes. His presence is due to his role as a protector of the two adulterous.

Andrea Mantegna “Parnassus" .1497 tempera and gold on canvas, 21.5" x 28"
Musee du Louvre, Paris
Photo: Art Across Time 13.55) 
  Sandro Botticelli  (1445-1510)

13.59   “Mystical Nativity”        1500

Botticelli was the most individual and possibly the most influential painter in Florence at the end of the 15th century. He was a student of Fra Filippo Lippi, and became known as early as 1470, with the painting “Fortitute.”   The chronology of his work ranges from the vigorous realism of his early work, such as “Fortitude” 1470, and “Mars and Venus” 1475, to the langorous and anti-naturalistic ecstasy of his last dated painting “Mystical Nativity” 1500.  His style appeared deliberately archaic, and steeped in deep mythological allegory, especially as opposed to the new ideas of Leonardo da Vinci.  
Sandro Botticelli “Mars and Venus" c.1475 tempera on wood
National Gallery, Washington, DC
Photo: Art Across Time 13.56) 
Sandro Botticelli “Birth opf Venus" c.1480 tempera on wood, 9 ft. w x 5 ft. h
Galeria degli Uffizi, Florence
Photo: Art Across Time 13.57) 
  Leonardo da Vinci  (1452-1529)    

14.15   “Madonna and Child with St. Anne”    (abstract background of mountains)
  Giorgine da Castelfranco  (1476/78-1510)

A Venetian painter, a pupil of Giovanni Bellinni, who along with Leonardo was one of the founders of modern painting.   He was the first exponent of the small picture in oils. Many of his contemporaries were unable to interpret the subject of Giorgione’s painting “The Tempest,”
and analysts today are still mystified.   This painting appears to be the first “landscape of mood,” expressing the heat and tension of an approaching thunderstorm.
Giorgione Castelfranco “The Tempest" .1508 oil on canvas,,33". w x 29"
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
Photo: Art Across Time 14.47)