Italian art

The Quattrocento

In the second decade of the 15th cent. Italy—primarily Florence—took the lead in the formation of an art that was to affect Europe profoundly for more than 500 years (see Renaissance art and architecture). Political stability was established in several regions, and powerful ruling families produced the patrons of art that made the artistic flowering possible. Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Alberti were among the first to look consciously toward classical antiquity as a model for their work. They, with Masaccio, whose style recalls Giotto's monumentality, began to devise the optical system of perspective. They also set a high artistic standard that was emulated by succeeding generations.

In the first half of the 15th cent. the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti embellished the Florentine baptistery with his splendid bronze doors, winning the commission in competition against another great sculptor and architect, Filippo Brunelleschi. Other sculptors, such as Desiderio da Settignano, Antonio Rossellino, and Bertoldo di Giovanni, carried the tradition established by Donatello through to Michelangelo, while the workshop of the Della Robbias during the 15th cent. produced a great quantity of superb terra-cotta relief sculptures. The Tuscan painters, including Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, created works of exquisite color. Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno contributed refinements to the understanding of the laws of perspective.

Domenico Veneziano and Piero della Francesca were attracted to Florence, while Florentine artists such as Donatello and Fra Filippo Lippi ventured into N Italy. By the second half of the quattrocento, schools in N Italy began to flourish. Squarcione was the teacher of many painters, among them Carlo Crivelli and the powerful master Andrea Mantegna, who painted magnificent frescoes for churches and palaces in Padua and Mantua. His father-in-law, Jacopo Bellini, a superb draftsman, had two sons, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, who continued his Venetian workshop. Gentile painted detailed and delightful scenes of Venice, as did Carpaccio. Giovanni Bellini initiated a century of Venetian greatness with the richness of color for which Venice became famous.

The Vivarini family produced paintings notable for a bright, translucent color. Antonello da Messina, a Sicilian who was briefly in Venice, was one of the first Italians to use the medium of oil painting, with remarkable effect. The impact of Mantegna's style was felt in Ferrara in the paintings of Cosimo Tura, Francesco del Cossa, and Ercole de' Roberti. In Siena during the 15th cent. the major artists included Sassetta, Giovanni di Paolo, Francesco di Giorgio, and the sculptor Vecchietta.

The last half of the quattrocento in Florence saw the rise of a group of painters celebrated for their lyrical style—Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, and Baldovinetti—as well as the more austere masters Signorelli and Antonio Pollaiuolo. Perugino and particularly Melozzo da Forlì were among the notable painters of Umbria. Benozzo Gozzoli and Ghirlandaio decorated Florence with exquisite narrative frescoes. The Florentine sculptor Verrocchio infused his works with a fresh vitality and sense of drama. But in the years around the turn of the 16th cent. the works of these artists were reduced in significance as the figures of the High Renaissance emerged.

The High Renaissance

Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael vied with one another in Florence and in Rome to create a perfect art. Raphael's idealized Madonnas and portraits and his Vatican frescoes exerted a tremendous influence over European artists. Whereas his works have come down to us fully realized, many of the complete artistic schemes of Michelangelo and Leonardo remain largely on paper.

Leonardo has left only a small group of magnificent easel paintings and one grand but deteriorated fresco, The Last Supper in Milan. His unparalleled, incredibly versatile genius is most clearly revealed in his notebooks, replete with extraordinary plans of all varieties. Michelangelo's magnificent ceiling and Last Judgment for the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican are the only monumental projects in painting, sculpture, or architecture that materialized according to his plans. Most of his sculptural masterpieces are fragments of vast designs that were never executed in their entirety.

Mannerism

In the early 16th cent. some of the grandeur of the High Renaissance artists was echoed in the works of Andrea del Sarto, Sebastiano del Piombo, and Fra Bartolommeo, but other followers of the great masters in Rome, in Florence, and elsewhere developed a complex, sometimes bizarre style in their own right known as mannerism. Among these were the painters Pontormo, Giulio Romano, Parmigianino, Il Rosso, Primaticcio, and later Bronzino and Vasari, as well as the sculptors Giovanni Bologna, Bandinelli, Ammanati, Buontalenti, and Benvenuto Cellini. By the second half of the 16th cent. the mannerist style had declined into a rather dry academism, seen in the works of the Zuccari family.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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