Botticelli to Van Gogh

Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London

The Renaissance: Power and Art

The word ‘renaissance’ is a French word that was originally taken from 'rinascita', which is Italian for ‘rebirth’. ‘The Renaissance’ is used to describe what took place in Italy from the 14th to the 16th century, a time of extraordinary abundance and diversity in art production. Reviving ancient Greek and Roman arts and philosophies was a feature of the Renaissance and the opposing forces of tradition and flourishing innovation reflected the turbulence of the social and political sphere. Humanism was a distinguishing philosophy of the period, which sought to elevate the importance of rational thought and human accomplishment over the divine.

Situated on a peninsula on the Mediterranean Sea, modern-day Italy was the gateway for European trade. City states, powerful families, dukedoms and principalities constantly jostled with each other for wealth and influence, often commissioning great works of art and architecture as a show of power. The outpouring of paintings, sculptures and architecture that characterised the Italian Renaissance highlights the instability of the times coupled with enormous wealth.

Look at these paintings and decide which ones emanate calm classicism and which ones reflect turbulence and instability. What characteristics of each painting help convey this?

Think about some of the challenges Italian artists may have faced during the Renaissance. Find out about the cultural, social and political changes that occurred during this time.

Create two still-life sketches. Use verticals and horizontals to make a calm composition and use dynamic diagonals and spirals to compose a more unsettling painting.

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