OF THE RENAISSANCE
A revival of interest in the arts and techniques of classical antiquity was one of the chief characteristics of the Renaissance. This great rediscovery of the past was in part responsible for many changes in the arts of the period. In literature and philosophy, for instance, the intellectual leaders of the Renaissance sought out the Greek and Roman works still extant, and had them copied by hand or printed. In the same spirit they collected examples of the classical bronzes that had been prized by the Greeks and Romans, who kept them as cabinet pieces. However, these pieces were rare, for during intervening centuries of the Middle Ages there had been little interest in preserving them (the few bronze statuettes then produced were of an ecclesiastical character). The men of the Renaissance were generally content, therefore, with copies of the antique, either exact or free. What was equally important, they also found pleasure in statuettes that were on the whole lacking in elements of the antique, that is to say, bronzes thoroughly in the style of the Renaissance.
The possession of bronzes either the old or the new--was the mark of men with pretensions to culture, and as a result such sculptures enjoyed wide popularity, for during the Renaissance all alert individuals from priests to condottieri prided themselves on their learning. Aside from the question of fashion in collecting, it is probable that statuettes strongly appealed to them as giving tangible proof that they possessed interests that were kindred to those of the man of classical days. Bronzes could not have won such popularity merely as decorative objects.
Although the finest bronzes are usually those depending least on inspiration from the antique, the starting point in a study of them must always be classical art. Only by considering their prototypes can one understand their subsequent development.
The Italians of the Renaissance, to whom such thorough appreciation of classical antiquity was a new experience, liked best the late phases of classical art, the Hellenistic and the Roman. This was inevitable, for all the Roman art in Italy and most of the Greek art found or sent to Italy were products of these late periods. Moreover, the naturalism of modelling characteristic of these periods appealed strongly to tastes that had developed out of the emotional and realistic late mediaeval art. The variety of the late antique subject matter also found favor among the Italians. They used a great many Hellenistic models, which in addition to representations of gods and goddesses, heroes and athletes, also included portrayals of children--which the Italians especially loved--of the aged, the infirm, the grotesque, foreigners such as negroes, and animals of every sort.
If the artists producing statuettes were indebted to antique art, they owed still more to their own vital tradition. The similarities between classical and Renaissance bronzes were in many ways superficial, but the differences were basic; they were