The Art of the Renaissance

The Art of the Renaissance

The Art of the Renaissance

The Art of the Renaissance

Excerpt

Renaissance is a word which is very generally understood, but which few people would care to define very closely. This book is almost entirely about the Early Renaissance, about the formation of that style in the arts which, culminating in Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, is still generally used as a touchstone of aesthetic quality. The period is usually reckoned to begin in Italy earlier than elsewhere, in the fifteenth century or at some point in the fourteenth century, perhaps as early as Giotto (died 1337), and to end in the sixteenth century, at any time after the death of Raphael (1520) and before that of Tintoretto (1594). The word itself means 'rebirth', and there can be no doubt that the Italians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries regarded their own times as immensely superior to all the ages since the fall of the Roman Empire (that is, about a thousand years earlier), and in this opinion posterity has largely concurred. The idea of the rebirth of letters and of the arts after a sleep of a thousand years is an Italian one, as quotation can easily establish. Marsilio Ficino, writing to Paul of Middelburg in 1492, says: 'This century, like a golden age, has restored to light the liberal arts, which were almost extinct: grammar, poetry, rhetoric, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, the ancient singing of songs to the Orphic lyre, and all this in Florence. Achieving what had been honoured among the ancients, but almost forgotten since, the age has joined wisdom with eloquence, and prudence with the military art, and this most strikingly in Federigo, Duke of Urbino, as if proclaimed in the presence of Pallas herself. . . . In you also, my dear Paul, this century appears to have perfected astronomy, and in Florence it has recalled the Platonic teaching from darkness into light. . . .' Half a century earlier, the same ideas were expressed by . . .

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