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What is... Renaissance?

A rare 16th century oil painting depicting Christ, painted by Italian Renaissance artist Jacopo de Barbari in 1503

THE RENAISSANCE literally means rebirth and took place between the 14th and 16th centuries in Europe. This movement of intense artistic and scientific activity acts as a bridge between the Medieval and the Modern world. Artists looked to classical Rome and Greece for inspiration. It was not only artists who looked back to the classical age for their muse, but also writers, explorers, scientists and architects. This was the time for writers like Rabelais, Montaigne and Shakespeare to spin magic with their words.

In 1550 art historian Giorgio Vasari used the word "rinascita" (meaning rebirth) to describe Giotto Di Bondone's work, which showed the distinct influence of the Roman manner. Renaissance is the French equivalent of rinascita.

Dark side of the moon

Not everything about the Renaissance was high culture. It was also a time of warfare and violence. The interest in occult, witchcraft and sorcery was on the rise.

The Renaissance also marks the beginning of the official sanction for the persecution of witchcraft. Disillusionment with the state of affairs prompted Thomas Moore to write Utopia and savage, satirical essays by Erasmus.

The Renaissance is divided into the Early, High and Late Renaissance. High Renaissance began around 1500 and the Artcyclopedia describes it as "the culmination of artistic revolution of Early Renaissance, and one of the great explosions of creative genius in history.

It is notable for three of the greatest artists in history - Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael." By 1520, High Renaissance was replaced by the Late Renaissance, which was marked by anti-classical sentiments and eventually led to the birth of Mannerism.

It is during the Renaissance that the first oil painting was made. Linseed oil mixed with powdered pigments was used for the first time. The slow drying nature of the paintings meant the artist could edit his work for months on end.

Architectural and anatomical accuracy was paramount to the artists. It was also the time of three-dimensional paintings with a subtle interplay of shadow and light. Artists experimented with proportions - the size and location of one thing compared to another. Subjects were invariably mythical or biblical. The Renaissance is also the time, which underlines the importance of Madonna in art - any reference to the Priory of Sion is purely coincidental!


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