All the artistic trends of the 15th century culminated around 1500 in the short-lived High Renaissance, which Heinrich Wölfflin, in Klassische Künst (introduction, 1898), described as the Classic Art of the modern age. It is as hard to give precise time limits to the period, as it is to give a comprehensive definition of it. It is generally accepted that artists of the High Renaissance developed more monumental forms and created unified and harmonious compositions that reject the decorative details of 15th-century art.
In terms of the geography of art, there were important shifts in the period from c. 1490 to c. 1510. Florence lost its cultural ascendancy owing to the fall of the Medici in 1494 and the subsequent influence of the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola. After Savonarola was executed in 1498, Florence alternately fell into the hands of rival forces before the Medici returned to power in 1512. Those two decades were the climax of the High Renaissance, but Florence lacked influential patrons. The papacy with its restored power, on the other hand, attracted leading artists to Rome. In 1506 Pope Julius II appointed Donato Bramante architect for the new St Peter's, in 1505 he commissioned Michelangelo to build his tomb, and in 1508 he appointed Raphael to provide paintings for his private rooms, the Stanze. Rome once again became the center of the Christian West. At the same time Venice-which retained a powerful and wealthy feudal aristocracy who became enthusiastic patrons of art, particularly of painting-developed as a second important center whose influence spread throughout 16th-century Europe.
At the start of the 16th century an intense dialogue began between the art of the Italian Renaissance and that of northern Europe, which surpassed earlier isolated, albeit significant, exchanges, and with northern Europe now the main recipient. After c. 1500 most important German and Netherlandish painters spent some years as apprentices in Italy as part of their training, and a wider knowledge of Italian art was spread through woodcuts and engravings.
(iii) Painting and graphic art.
(iv) The move towards Mannerism.
In architecture Rome acted as a catalyst, enabling architects to mature their talents through a study of Classical antiquity. The centrally planned building, contained within it and developed symmetrically round a center, was preferred. Donato Bramante's Tempietto in the courtyard of the monastery of S Pietro in Montorio, which is not only a pure centrally planned building but also a completely unified structure, is comparable to sculpture with perfectly harmonious proportions. The additive composition of earlier centrally planned buildings, such as Giuliano da Sangallo's Madonna delle Carceri in Prato, was here discarded in favor of a more unified structure. Bramante intended to enclose the building within a circular colonnade, which would have emphasized its centrality and related it to its surroundings. The new St Peter's was also laid out as a pure centrally planned building, possibly a symbolic reference to its position as the center of Christendom. In keeping with the size of the project, Bramante designed a richly organized structure, the many spatial compartments of which were brought together in the ground plan as a square. The extent to which the inspiration of antiquity was at work is indicated by Bramante's proud declaration that in his design for St Peter's he wanted to put the Pantheon on top of Constantine's basilica (the Lateran Basilica). Bramante's scheme, still at its initial stages on his death in 1514, was modified by his successors, who included Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo the younger, and transformed by Michelangelo from 1547 when the sculptor shifted it in a more sculptural direction and incorporated more detail.
Only a few of the great architectural projects of the early 16th century were implemented. The extent to which variants on the idea of the centrally planned building occupied artists' imaginations can be recognized particularly from painted background buildings and design drawings, especially those of Leonardo da Vinci. Of the large church projects that were realized, S Maria della Consolazione in Todi, conceived under Bramante's influence, is the purest incarnation of the spirit of the High Renaissance: no longer is the building assembled from independent cubes, instead the central structure and the transepts blend into one another, with the half-cylinders and half-domes of the transepts serving as a preparation for the circular form and hemisphere of the dominant central dome.
The complexity and detail of the work of the preceding generation gave way to a new, unified concept of the statue. There were of course preliminary stages, such as the Virgin Enthroned and St Sebastian by Benedetto da Maiano (both Florence, Misericordia, left unfinished on the sculptor's death in 1497). They form part of the foundations of the work of Michelangelo, the most important sculptor of the High Renaissance, who also contributed decisively towards bringing this brief stylistic period to an end. A series of monumental commissions given to Michelangelo, which included Julius II's tomb (a commission awarded in 1505, then constantly reduced in scale), the cycle of 12 larger-than-life-size statues for the choir of Florence Cathedral, started in 1506 (only St Matthew was executed; Florence, Accad.), the sculptural program for the façade of S Lorenzo in Florence, which never got beyond the design stage (1516), and the enrichment (from 1524) of the New Sacristy in S Lorenzo, Florence, were on an unprecedented scale and made new demands. Antiquity now played a crucial role as a source of inspiration. The importance of Roman ruins to architecture was paralleled in sculpture by the many antique works that were being excavated in Rome and that came to form the foundations of the Vatican collections. In 1506 the Laokoon (Rome, Vatican, Mus. Pio-Clementino) was found, supposedly in the presence of Michelangelo. In 1515 Pope Leo X appointed Raphael overseer of the antique buildings of Rome.
(iii) Painting and graphic art.
Around 1500 Italian painting is notable for its wide range of varied possibilities, some contradictory and some complementing one another. Lively lines could be used as a means of heightening expression, as in the art of Botticelli, but the line could also be exaggerated to virtuosic brilliance, with no inhibitions about effect, as by Filippino Lippi. At the same time the Umbrian school (led by Pietro Perugino) and Venetian painters (particularly Giovanni Bellini) cultivated the modeling of figures and objects by means of light and colour. Alongside the ability of Mantegna and Melozzo da Forlì to achieve powerful illusionistic effects was Piero della Francesca's doctrine of the constitutive importance of the surface. Artists such as Luca Signorelli developed a detailed realism, barely imaginable in the early 15th century, and associated with mastery in conveying the human body in extremes of movement. There are also examples of large-scale and imposing, multi-figured compositions, such as Domenico Ghirlandaio's frescoes of the Life of the Virgin and Life of St John the Baptist (1486-90) in the choir of S Maria Novella, Florence. A wide range of mythological, secular themes 15th century had expanded the subject matter of the early.
Against all probability and expectation, elements that had to some extent appeared irreconcilable came together in a synthesis c. 1500, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper for the refectory of S Maria delle Grazie in Milan in 1496-7. The viewer is initially overwhelmed by apparently being able to identify with the painted figures but is in fact held at a distance by the various perspective systems governing real and artistic space, the ideal nature of the composition, which has been thought through to the last detail, and the monumental scale of the figures. In Leonardo's panel paintings his compositional skill is combined with a revolutionary approach to painterly qualities. Increasingly line was replaced by the modulation of colour, and the transitions between figures and landscapes became fluid. Space came to be conveyed not primarily by the use of mathematical perspective, but by lightening the colour and gradually softening the outlines. Leonardo, the perfect embodiment of the ideal of an artist able to work in every artistic sphere and at the same time possessing universal knowledge, did not receive the recognition and understanding that were his due in either Florence or Rome. His move to North Italy, justified in worldly terms by a large number of prestigious commissions from Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, was ultimately sanctioned by an internal logic: close to Venice, he was able both to develop and to spread his influence. The Venetian approach to colour, created by Giorgione and the young Titian, and is inconceivable without knowledge of Leonardo.
Next to Leonardo, Raphael most perfectly represents the ideals of the High Renaissance. Born in Urbino, he was exposed to the works and theories of Leon Battista Alberti and Piero della Francesca while still very young. His feeling for the painterly treatment of contours and his gift for depicting landscape were developed in Umbria in Perugino's studio. During the years he spent in Florence his drawing became more precise, he acquired an understanding of how to convey the human body in movement, and at the same time the works of Fra Bartolomeo provided him with a model for the large-scale organization of monumental compositions, which he then perfected on Roman soil in his own frescoes under the influence of antique monuments. As with Leonardo's Last Supper, the Disputà and the School of Athens, both in the Stanze at the Vatican, do not at first sight reveal the artistic intelligence with which the tension between the painted space and the flat surface is resolved, or how the unpromising, badly lit wall surfaces, asymmetrically interrupted by doors, are seemingly transformed into virtually 'ideal' formats; or how the unforced and apparently casual figure groupings are in fact thought out down to the smallest detail and are extensively prepared in a long series of studies; or, finally, how the complicated iconographical program are made readily comprehensible.
The High Renaissance is essentially a phenomenon of Italian art. North of the Alps the antique tradition, the inspiration of all 'classical art', was absent. The great exception is the work of Albrecht Dürer. In northern Europe an interest in the ideals of Italian art, at present inexplicable in terms of the history of either art or civilization, culminated in the work of Dürer. In the 15th century the greatest northern achievements had taken place in the Netherlands, but in the 16th century Germany became the dominant artistic center. Initially Dürer used line as his prime means of expression, and accordingly in his early work woodcut and engraving are at the center of his creative output. His decisive encounter with Italian art took place in the course of his two journeys to Italy in 1494-5 and 1505-7. From the Venetians, above all Giovanni Bellini, he learnt to use colour to soften outlines and recognized the need for a theory of art going beyond the purely intuitive description of objects. Presumably he also went to Rome during his second stay in Italy and was able to see the monuments of antiquity for himself. The Virgin of the Rose Garlands (1506; Prague, N.G.) painted in Venice for the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the Landauer Altarpiece (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.)-A counterpart to Raphael's Disputà-and the Four Apostles (1526; Munich, Alte Pin. see fig. 5) superbly demonstrate a blending of the German and Italian feeling for form.
Dürer's great German contemporaries cannot be categorized as High Renaissance artists. Matthias Grünewald has even been described as the 'master of anti-classical painting' (A. M. Vogt). He emphasized the expressive power of colour. His Isenheim Altar (begun c. 1512; Colmar, Mus. Unterlinden) is the most important contribution to the history of colour ever made throughout the course of German art. Further research is still needed to establish the extent of any connection between it and Leonardo's new colour theories and the work of Giorgione. The painters of the Danube school, especially Lucas Cranach the elder as a young man, Albrecht Altdorfer and Wolfgang Huber, also took colour as their starting point.
(iv) The move towards Mannerism.
The High Renaissance period could only last a short time. The integration of the real into the ideal, of the utmost fullness of life into something strictly composed, of the spontaneous into the intellectual, of the extremely individualistic into the typical, of the perfect, illusionistic representation of space into a flat surface and of the secular into the sacred could not be surpassed. It was in fact the very people who had participated in the High Renaissance who introduced new developments: Michelangelo when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in the Vatican (1508-12) by the passionate sweep of movement in his figures and the blurring of the boundaries between painting and sculpture; Raphael in the later Stanze in the Vatican and his final panel paintings (e.g. Transfiguration, 1517-19; Rome, Pin. Vaticana) by his emphasis on spatial depth at the expense of surface, on colour at the expense of line, on the contrasts of light and shade at the expense of an even spread of light, and on the free equilibrium of forces at the expense of a balance achieved by near symmetry; and finally Leonardo by the sfumato of his late works causing figures and objects to retreat as it were behind a veil. They opened the way to the late Renaissance phase now generally referred to as Mannerism.
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