Scale in Art

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The Initial A, The Cultivation of Trees, from Historia Naturalis, 15th century.

When one thinks of Italian Renaissance painting, ne typically envisions iconic images, such as The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo's most well-known panel of the central decoration of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. While the impact of that artwork cannot be understated, the vividly colored and elaborately executed paintings found in illuminated manuscripts were the miniature equivalents of the large-scale frescoes that adorned the walls and ceilings of churches, chapels, private palazzi and other public buildings.

"Some of the most highly priced items in the inventories of Renaissance kings and princes were illuminated manuscripts--handwritten books with illustrations and decorations painted in brilliant colors and gold. It was not simply the cost of materials and labor--their visual richness makes each book the equivalent of a gallery of paintings--but it is their aesthetic quality that led to these books being so highly valued, for the artists who painted them were often the leading artists of their day. Such books were among the most eloquent demonstrations of the wealth and refined taste of their owners." (Source:

The tradition of Italian illumination began in the 12th-century monasteries of southern Italy. As medieval Europe passed into the Renaissance, the task of producing illustrated texts extended beyond monastery walls into universities and artists' workshops. From the 13th through 15th centuries, some of Italy's greatest panel and fresco painters, such as Pisanello (1395-1455) and Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506), produced illustrations for illuminated manuscripts. Stylistically as well as regionally, the most skilled manuscript painters were known for a particular approach or treatment, such as the depiction of facial expression, the use of color, the intricacy and originality of the border or, during the Renaissance, how the artist used perspective to create the illusion of space. …