The Renaissance of Renaissance: The Contemporary Rebirth of a Classic Genre Has Garnered a Modern-Day Market

By Watson, Lisa Crawford | Art Business News, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The Renaissance of Renaissance: The Contemporary Rebirth of a Classic Genre Has Garnered a Modern-Day Market


Watson, Lisa Crawford, Art Business News


For many, the Renaissance conjures images of a heady time when the world new and flourishing; when science became a discipline and art was reborn, due to the genius of artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli, among others. These masters, from which the term "renaissance man" was inspired, mastered various forms of expression and moved easily from one medium to the other.

The current usage of the term, "renaissance," however, often refers less to the 15th-century blossoming of art and culture, and more to an act--a rebirth or return to an earlier period, practice or fashion, such as a renewed interest in family values. While it is difficult, if not impossible, to characterize the current period of artistic expression, a renaissance is certainly underway among artists and collectors attracted to contemporary works a la Renaissance. Whether working in the technique, style or subject of the Renaissance Masters, this group of contemporary artists is finding a voice in today's art market.

The Root of Inspiration

Born in Florence, Italy to Masaccio, Donatello and Botticelli--a trio of artists who fathered the period--the Renaissance of the 15th century was less of a return to the past than a shift in focus. Moving from the supernatural to the natural, from the spiritual world to the humane, a renewed interest in realism in art more characteristic of the Classical period that preceded the Middle Ages, when visual art quietly waited in the dark, was sparked. The Renaissance revived classical values and infused them with the development of scientific knowledge.

The application of realism in figurative and landscape work, supported by an expanded understanding of anatomy and perspective, resulted in more lifelike imagery. The figure became less linear and more round, more dimensional. Examples include Michelangelo's sublime "Creation of Man" and Botticelli's dazzling "The Birth of Venus," both of which represent pinnacles in the canon of Western art for their mastery of the human form.

But the allure of Renaissance art lies not merely in the beauty of the work but in the light it sheds on a world so distant from our own and yet fraught with the same human frailties, foibles, excesses and exigencies. There's nothing like a good story predicated on politics and passion, romance and risk, sovereignty and sanctity, and nowhere is it better told than through the art of the era.

For many, Michelangelo and the Medici are synonymous with the art of the Late Renaissance, which is the theme and title of an international exhibition currently presented at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The result of a six-year collaboration among the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure of Florence, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Detroit Institute of Arts, "The Medici, Michelangelo and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence" is the first major exhibition in North America dedicated to this rich period in the history of art.

"The themes of the exhibition look at the patronage of the first grand dukes to the arts, the relationship of Michelangelo to Florence and his association with the Medici," said Assistant Curator Antonia Bostrom. "The theme of the Medici speaks to their support of the arts, their workshops in painting, sculpture and decorative arts, and their contribution not only to art but to the portrayal and perception of the public through art. The narrative element of the work, the story and the telling, opens up the subject; those who know about it specifically and those who don't find it quite revealing."

The Detroit exhibit, along with a da Vinci exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through the end March called "Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman," are bringing focus to Renaissance art as a whole. The exhibit at the Met includes 120 drawings that illustrate da Vinci's contributions as an artist, scientist, theorist and teacher. …

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