The Renaissance 15th & 16th Centuries

Renaissance means rebirth. It refers to a rebirth of the art of classical antiquity. It first emerged in Florence in the 14th century but flourished in Southern and Northern Europe throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. As a cultural movement, the Renaissance had a significant impact on intellectual life in Europe. 

There were significant advancements in the understanding of physics and biology which lead to a heightened realism and grandeur in art. The Renaissance painter was a master of perspective and the Renaissance sculptor a genius in the creation of human movement and form. It is also important to note that the role of the artist changed during this period. He was no longer considered a mere craftsman, but a sought after scholar.


The Italian Renaissance can be divided into 2 distinct phases:

  • Early Renaissance (15th Century)

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)
Leone Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)
Donato Donatello (1386-1466)

Masaccio (1401-1428)
Paolo Uccello (1397-1475)
Piero della Francesca (1415-1492)
Sandro Botticelli (1446-1510)

  • High Renaissance (16th Century)

Donato Bramante (1444-1514)
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
Raphael Santi (1483-1520)


Northern Renaissance (15th Century)

The Northern artists achieved a heightened realism by paying very close attention to surface details and textures in comparison to the Italian Renaissance artists who focused on perspective and form. Also oil paint was more commonly used in Northern Europe instead of fresco (a painting technique, applying pigment to wet plaster).

Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441), The Arnolfini Wedding, 1434
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Self-Portrait at 28, 1500
Hans Holbein (1497-1543), The Ambassadors, 1533



The patron is the person who commissions a work of art. During the Renaissance patrons commissioned works of art and architecture in order to elevate their own social status and to bring glory to their family. Aristocratic families and the church were the main patrons at this time.


The Rising Status of the Artist (The emergence of the Self Portrait)

Prior to the Renaissance the artist had been considered just a craftsman and very rarely did he receive any major recognition for his work. However, during the Renaissance the artist started to include his own image in his work, which acted as type of signature, included as a means to gain recognition for his work. 

Ghiberti, The East Baptistery Doors, Self Portrait, 1425-52
Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Wedding, 1434
Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel, 1536-41 (Self Portrait as the flayed skin of St Bartholomew)


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