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Painting, Sculpture and the Graphic Arts

Sculpture was the first of the fine arts to display Renaissance traits. Donatello was one of the most notable sculptors of the early Renaissance. He returned to classical techniques such as contrapposto and classical subjects like the unsupported nude. His second sculpture of David was the first free-standing bronze nude created in Europe since the Roman Empire. About a century later, Michelangelo developed figures that were completely independent of any architectural structure surrounding them. His statue of David is also a nude study; Michelangelo's David however is moving in a more natural way. Both sculptures are standing in contrapost, their weight shifted to one leg.

During the Renaissance, painters began to enhance the realism of their work by using new techniques in perspective, thus representing three dimensions more authentically. Artists also began to use new techniques in the manipulation of light and darkness, such as the tone contrast evident in many of Titian's portraits and the development of sfumato and chiaroscuro by Leonardo da Vinci and Giorgione. The period also saw movement away from religious themes, which were omnipresent in medieval art. The human body and natural landscapes became the center of attention. Piero della Francesca is noted for painting from an aerial perspective. Masaccios figures have a plasticity unknown up to that point in time. Compared to the flatness of gothic painting, his pictures were revolutionary. Less well known names from the Early Renaissance period include Paolo Uccello, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Sandro Botticelli.

The most "refined" works were produced in what is called the Renaissance Classicism or High Renaissance. The most famous painters from this time period are Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Their images are among the most widely known works of art in the world. The Last Supper, the Scuola di Atena and the Holy Family all feature a perspective, lively and natural presentation of people and landscapes. Renaissance painting evolved into Mannerism around the mid-16th century. Mannerism depicts mostly landscapes and portraits, with few religious themes. Figures become more elongated and their movements appear artificial.Addition Additionally, the High Renaissance was epitomized by the exquisitely balanced frescoes of Raphael Santi and the expressive and colorful paintings of Tiziano Vecellio, better known as Titian.

Literature and Poetry

In the early Renaissance, especially in Italy, much of the focus was on translating and studying classic works from Latin and Greek. Both the cultures were highly admired in the Renaissance, especially after the newly labeled Dark Ages. Renaissance authors were not content to rest on the laurels of ancient authors, however. Many authors attempted to integrate the methods and styles of the ancient greats into their own works. Among the most emulated Romans are Cicero, Horace, Sallust, and Virgil. Among the Greeks, Aristotle, Homer, Plato, and Socrates were also heavily emulated by Renaissance authors. The literature and poetry of the Renaissance was also largely influenced by the developing science and philosophy. The humanist Francesco Petrarch, a key figure in the renewed sense of scholarship, was also an accomplished poet, publishing several important works of poetry. He wrote poetry in Latin, notably the Punic War epic Africa, but is today remembered for his works in the Italian vernacular, especially the Canzoniere, a collection of love sonnets dedicated to his unrequited love Laura. He was the foremost writer of sonnets in Italian, and translations of his work into English by Thomas Wyatt established the sonnet form in that country, where it was employed by William Shakespeare and countless other poets.

Petrarch's disciple, Giovanni Boccaccio, became a major author in his own right. His major work was the Decameron, a collection of one hundred stories told by ten storytellers who have fled to the outskirts of Florence to escape the black plague over ten nights. The Decameron in particular and Boccaccio's work in general were a major source of inspiration and plots for many English authors in the Renaissance, including William Shakespeare.

Aside from Christianity, classical antiquity, and scholarship, a fourth influence on Renaissance literature was politics. The political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli is an important Italian author. His most famous work is The Prince, which has become so well-known in Western society that the term "Machiavellian" has come into use, referring to the self-serving attitude advocated by the book. However, most experts agree that Machiavelli himself did not fully embrace the tactics in his book, making "Machiavellian" a slightly inaccurate term. Regardless, along with many other Renaissance works, The Prince remains a relevant and influential work of literature today. Addiitonally, many sixteenth-century authors such as Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare expressed spiritual conflict through their writing. Spenser's Faerie Queene, for example, depicts the struggle of a staunchly Protestant knight of Holiness against the forces of Roman Catholicism.


In Italy, in the 14th century, there was an explosion of musical activity that corresponded in scope and level of innovation to the activity in the other arts. Although musicologists typically group the music of the trecento with the late medieval period, it included features which align with the early Renaissance in important ways: an increasing emphasis on secular sources, styles and forms; a spreading of culture away from ecclesiastical institutions to the nobility, and even to the common people; and a quick development of entirely new techniques. The principal forms were the trecento madrigal, the caccia, and the ballata. Overall, the musical style of the period is sometimes labeled as the "Italian ars nova." Then, from the early 15th century to the middle of the 16th century, the center of innovation in sacred music was in the Low Countries, and a flood of talented composers came to Italy from this region. Many of them sang in either the papal choir in Rome or the choirs at the numerous chapels of the aristocracy, in Rome, Florence, Milan, Ferrara and elsewhere; and they brought their polyphonic style with them, influencing many native Italian composers during their stay.

The predominant forms of church music during the period were the mass and the motet. By far the most famous composer of church music in 16th century Italy was Palestrina, the most prominent member of the Roman School, whose style of smooth, emotionally cool polyphony was to become the defining sound of the late 16th century. Few instruments were employed, as sacred music was generally written for an a cappella choir. Renaissance sacred music was an extension of the Gregorian Chant, a style of music that was also unaccompanied by instruments. The text of Renaissance music was also the same as that used in Gregorian Chant: the Roman liturgy, sung in Latin. Other Italian composers of the late 16th century focused on composing the main secular form of the era, the madrigal: and for almost a hundred years these secular songs for multiple singers were distributed all over Europe. Composers of madrigals included Jacques Arcadelt, at the beginning of the age, Cipriano de Rore, in the middle of the century, and Luca Marenzio, Philippe de Monte, Carlo Gesualdo, and Claudio Monteverdi at the end of the era.

Italy was also a centre of innovation in instrumental music. By the early 16th century keyboard improvisation came to be greatly valued, and numerous composers of virtuoso keyboard music appeared. Many familiar instruments were invented and perfected in late Renaissance Italy, such as the violin, the earliest forms of which came into use in the 1550s. By the late 16th century, Italy was the musical centre of Europe. Almost all of the innovations which were to define the transition to the Baroque period originated in northern Italy in the last few decades of the century. In Venice, the polychoral productions of the Venetian School, and associated instrumental music, moved north into Germany; in Florence, the Florentine Camerata developed monody, the important precursor to opera, which itself first appeared around 1600; and the avant-garde, manneristic style of the Ferrara school, which migrated to Naples and elsewhere through the music of Carlo Gesualdo, was to be the final statement of the polyphonic vocal music of the Renaissance.