Early Renaisance

Early Renaissance. 15th C.


  • Fillippo Brunellschi.  1377 -1446
  • Leone Battista Alberti . 1404 – 1472


  • Lorenzo Ghiberti. 1378 – 1472
  • Donatello. 1386 – 1466


  • Masaccio. 1401 – 1428
  • Paolo Ucello. 1397 – 1475
  • Piero Della Francesca 1415 – 1492
  • Sandro Botticelli. 1446 – 1510.  


  • The Renaissance began in Florence, Italy.
  • The ideas and artistic discoveries of the Renaissance would influence artists for centuries to come.
  • Renaissance means re- birth.
  • Quattrocento refers to the 1400s. Cinquecento  - 1500s
  • Renaissance ideas were based on a movement called Humanism.
  • Humanism studied the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome.
  • Artists inspired by themes from classical literature, art and architecture, and also Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology.

Humanism and Christianity.

  • Mythological scenes existed side by side with religious themes.
  • Humankind was seen as nature’s, and therefore God’s most perfect creation.

The Measurement of Man

  • A perfect set of proportions used for the correct way for artists and sculptors to represent the human form

Use of perspective.

  • Began by Giotto, perfected by Brunelleschi.
  • Correct perspective was created by mathematical formula.






  • The relationship between patron and artist changed.
  • To own artwork improved a person’s social standing, brought glory to the family name.
  • Wealthy families commissioned art, no longer just the church. The Papacy still remained a major patron of the arts.
  • Patrons would pay to have themselves included in the painting.
  • Wealthy families competed with each other, employed the leading artists, and artistic production increased.

The Medici Family.

  • Cosimo de Medici (a very wealthy Florentine banker), his son Piero, and his grandson Lorenzo (known as Lorenzo the Magnificent).
  • This family greatly appreciated and encouraged the arts, and commissioned many pieces of art.

Early Renaissance Sculpture.

  • NB. A Sculptor is the person who makes the sculpture.
  • During the Renaissance (like as in Greece / Rome) man was seen as the most noble and important creature of creation.
  • It was seen as important to represent the human form in 3D in as realistic a way as possible.


  • Artists studied anatomy from corpses to understand the workings of the body  (muscles etc).
  • Influenced by the great marble statues that existed from Ancient Rome.
  • By studying ancient statues, artists worked out a system of proportion for the human form.
  • Themes were mostly religious, mythological, historical.
  • Materials used were mostly stone, marble and wood. Used to make statues, portrait busts, relief carving.
  • Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello were the two foremost sculptors of the Early 15th C.






Early Renaissance Painting.


  • This was the main purpose. To tell a story based on religious, mythological or historical themes.
  • The ideas behind a painting were as important as the finished piece.
  • The story was now being told in a realistic way due to the new techniques.


Linear Perspective.

  • Drawing was the basis of painting. (Painting was considered to be a painted drawing).
  • Perspective put figures in a clearly defined space.
  • The artist placed objects or people on imaginary lines which led to a point in the painting (vanishing point). This was the focal point of the painting. Sometimes a painting had more than one vanishing point.


  • This was figures arranged in odd positions, seen from awkward angles. As well as making paintings appear more natural, it also afforded the artist the chance to show off their ability.

Light and shade.

  • They wanted figures to appear more natural and solid, and so would use shadow on the figures.
  • Often used an imaginary light source, which cast a shadow.
  • This required a technique called chiaroscuro, a characteristic of the work of Leonardo.


  • The people in the paintings, and the places in which these people were put, these were  far more realistic due to greater attention to detail.

Use of Paper.

  • Artists could work on detailed drawings and then transfer these onto the wall for frescos, using chalk on the reverse side. These were known as cartoons.




  • a career spanning just seven years
  • In the 15th Century art, thought, economy and nearly all walks of life were transformed. The Renaissance was a time of revival and creation.
  • The Gothic style of painting focused solely on religious themes based in the abstract. The images often had little to do with reality and presented a symbolic or iconic representation of bible characters and saints.
  • The Renaissance, brought those figures down to earth into real time and real space.
  • As Donatello and Brunelleschi were the first to incorporate linear perspective into their sculptures and architecture, Masaccio was the first in painting.
  • Masaccio was born in 1401 in a small town outside of Florence
  • Much of Masaccio's life is unknown, though it is known that he moved to Florence in around 1420 and joined a painter's guild.
  • It is unsure where Masaccio received his training, if indeed he had any at all, but by the age of 19 or 20 he already belonged to the guild and was a professional painter.
  • Masaccio's painting Trinity is considered the first spatially-correct painting in Western Art – used mathematical methods
  • His style reverted back to Classicalism, incorporating structure, perspective and humanistic colours.
  • Linear perspective:  Linear perspective is a mathematical system using a vanishing point to distinguish where the eye meets to create the illusion of distance.
  • Masaccio's use of light, vanishing points, colour and spatial context is renowned in the painting world.
  • All of Masaccio's pieces were commissioned and hold religious themes.
  • We know that Masaccio was influenced by Brunelleschi
  • It is also possible that Brunelleschi helped with the design of the vaulting in Trinity because of its remarkable similarity to the dome in the Old Sacristy in Florence, which Brunelleschi designed.
  • Also influenced by Donatello and certainly influenced by Giotto.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

  • The story of the Fall of Adam form the book of Genesis is one of the most famous stories in Western culture. Adam and Eve had everything they wanted but disobeyed God's word to have a bite from the tree of knowledge and were then banished from the Garden of Eden to live in the wilderness and be subject to a mortal life.
  • We see the shame and pain Adam and Eve suffered while being banished from Eden. The painting is striking and brutal in its portrayal of the abashment of the couple as they walk out of the Garden of Eden into desolation.
  • Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, as well as the other frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, was commissioned by the Brancacci family
  • Masaccio's heavy brush and thick shading give Adam and Eve the perfect human likeness.
  • The use of the subtle light source from the right side of the painting allows Masaccio to go into detail with regards to Adam and Eve's bodies.
  • The nudity shown was later covered up with fig leaves painted over the top and these were not removed until the 1980s during restoration.


The Tribute Money.

  • Apart from two works, all of the paintings inside the Brancacci Chapel present the life of St. Peter
  • The story is of Jesus and the disciples arriving at the town of Capernaum, where a tax collector looks for money from them. Peter remonstrates but Jesus tells him to go to the Sea of Galilee, catch a fish where he will find a coin. Peter does this and he then pays the tax collector.
  • The viewer's attention is first guided, by the vanishing-point on Jesus' head, to the center of the painting where Jesus tells Peter to retrieve a coin from a fish's mouth. The disciples and Jesus are both pointing in that direction.
  • On the right hand side of the painting we can see Peter paying the tax collector.
  • Felice Brancacci probably commissioned the frescoes to promote duty and authority changes represented by the times and it was maybe also a plea to the town's people to pay their taxes to ensure protection of the city.
  • Some of the figures are inspired by Four Crowned Saints by Nanni da Banco in the Church of Orsanmichelle.
  • Masaccio uses an old narrative format by showing three consecutive events in the one painting.
  • This technique being abandoned for hundreds of years during the Dark Ages was probably picked by Masaccio when he went to Rome to study classicism.
  • Although one normally reads from left to right, the first image is presented in the middle of the painting. The vanishing-point on Christ's forehead makes sure our eyes go there first.
  • From there Jesus and Peter are pointing to the left where then Peter goes and picks the coins from the fish's mouth.
  • Lastly we move to the right hand side of the painting where Peter pays the tax collector.
  • The casting of shadows behind the characters to the left is remarkable and the amount detail on the characters' feet.
  • Light seems to alternate and change throughout the painting
  • The detail on each of the men's faces adds a stark realism to the painting and the shadowing on the clothes  
  • The landscape in the background and Peter by the river extracting the coin are painted farther back into the painting than the other two scenes and are almost void of colour.
  • The buildings on the right, serve to provide classical structure that pushes light towards the centre of the painting. The lines and the centre of the structure are clearly aimed at Christ's head where all the light converges.


Natural vs. Artificial Imagery

It is interesting to note that while the halos are indeed tipped to one side, to show them as real physical objects, that they are even in the painting at all. Some suggest because of Masaccio's talent and his ability to portray characters so life like in his paintings, he needed something to mark them as religious figures and felt obligated to put something in the painting to designate them as such.



  • In Christian terms the Trinity means, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
  • One of Masaccio's most important works, Trinity, depicts Christ being crucified with the Virgin and Saint John contemplating his crucifixion.
  • This life size painting was probably commissioned by the Lenzi family and the two kneeling figures are probably two members of that family.
  • The painting is based in tradition of the Christian age; God the Father is supporting his crucified son, accompanied by the white dove (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) to complete the Trinity.
  • The painting also depicts the journey the body or soul must take to reach salvation. Unlike Christ's body which is still intact, our bodies decay and is represented by the skeleton under the altar. The use of realistic images of God and Jesus works well  to promote this theme, as in the picture God and Christ are depicted as humans in the flesh.
  • The skeleton, the human body, is placed at the bottom of the painting and must rise through the prayers and Virgin and John the Evangelist to the Trinity to achieve everlasting life, because only through prayer and devotion can we ever reach salvation.
  • Quote above the Tomb
  • The quote above the tomb reads, , meaning, I once was what you are and what I am you also will be.
  • The Trinity is a very unique painting in a few different ways. Firstly, the vaulting done over the head of Christ who is held up by God was the first successful image to create the depth and the three dimensional image. The outlining of the crucifixion or frame within the painting is classical shown by the columns on either sides.
  • Mary is visible to everyone and invites us in to observe the crucifixion; Saint John however is lost in contemplation. There is a vertical axis that directs the eye to move up and down and we find ourselves at the bottom able to rise high


Piero Della Francesca. c. 1420 - 1492

  • One of the great artists of the early Italian Renaissance, Piero della Francesca painted religious works that are marked by their simple serenity and clarity. He was also interested in geometry and mathematics and was known for his contributions in these fields.
  • Although the date and place of Piero della Francesca's birth are not definite, it seems likely that he was born in about 1420 in Sansepolcro, Italy. His father was a well-to-do tanner and shoemaker, and Piero's varied accomplishments indicate that he received a good education. He probably studied painting with one of several skilled artists of the Sienese school who lived in Sansepolcro.
  • By 1439 Piero was working with Domenico Veneziano on frescoes for the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence. His experience and contacts in Florence, where he would have seen the works of such sculptors, artists, and architects as Donatello, Brunelleschi, Masaccio, and Fra Angelico, had a profound influence on Piero's style.

The Baptism of Christ.

Subject Matter

  • New Testament story of Jesus’ Baptism. John the Baptist had been baptising people in the river Jordan. Jesus came to him to be baptised, John thought that it was he who should be baptised by Jesus, but Jesus said that this was the way it should be.
  • In the background is a figure removing clothes, ready to be baptised.
  • On the left of the painting are three angels to witness the event.
  • A dove flies above Jesus’ head, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. At this moment Jesus is revealed as the Son of God.






  • The painting has an arched frame, with the event taking place in a landscape that is quite similar to that of Sansepolcro.
  • Piero uses atmospheric perspective in the background to create depth.
  • The composition is horizontal with Christ occupying the centre of the painting. The figure undressing begins a horizontal line that continues through Johns’ belt and through the clothing of the angels.
  • The construction of the painting is based on geometric shapes. It is a semicircle above a square.
  • An equilateral triangle could be drawn in the square with the tip at the bottom, Christ would fit neatly into this triangle with his clasped hands at the centre, the dove is at the middle of the top line.
  • An unusual aspect of the composition is the tree which cuts through the left hand side of the painting.

It is a very serene, harmonious painting. The bright light gives it a heavenly feel. The light also allows Piero to create tone and three dimensionality in his paintings.

The three angels are reminiscent of the groups of children sculpted by Luca della Robbia for the Cantoria in Florence Cathedral.

The painting is now in the National Gallery, London.

The Flagellation of Christ.

This is one of the most mysterious paintings in the history of Art, but is regarded as a masterpiece of religious art and of the Early Renaissance. It’s true meaning is still unclear.

Meaning and Subject Matter.

  • A lot of experts believe that it is a political allegory in which the punished Christ represents the suffering of Constantinople (centre of the Eastern Byzantine Christian Church), a city besieged and then sacked by the Ottoman Turks.
  • The painting could have been commissioned to show the solidarity between the Western Church in Rome and the Eastern Church in the face of the threat from the Turks.
  • The man in the centre of the three in the foreground wears a Byzantine style robe.
  • The identity of the three men is unknown, but the older men may be political or religious figures of the time in the city of Urbino, which is where Piero painted it.
  • The obvious subject matter is the scourging of Christ before the crucifixion, under the order of Pontious Pilate, who is the figure seated on the left.
  • The painting is set in Pilates palace, whose dimensions and character were allegedly carefully researched by the artist.
  • The man in the turban, with his back to the viewer is thought to represent the Muslim threat to the church.


  • The painting is told in two parts – the flagellation on the left, and the three figures on the right in the foreground.
  • What is unusual is that Christ would usually be the focus of attention, yet he is a small figure in the background, and the lines of perspective do not lead to him.
  • The two scenes are separated by the column down the centre of the painting.
  • There is a very strong and accurate use of perspective in the painting, with the vanishing point being at the bottom right of the scourger’s robe.


There is a strange, surreal mood to the painting. It is calm and serene, despite the violent subject matter. The figures are sharply defined, as is the architecture, it is all illuminate by a cool clear light. Adding to the surreal mood is that the flagellation is lit from the right, while the three men are  lit from the left. Also the three men seem to have no interest in what is going on behind them.

There is extraordinary detail in the painting as can be seen in the blue and gold robe and the statue above Christ.

The painting measures 2 x 2.5 feet and is in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino. 


Sandro Botticelli. 1445 – 1510

  • Sandro Botticelli was an Italian painter and draughtsman. During his lifetime he was one of the most acclaimed painters in Italy
  • Botticelli was the son of a tanner and may have originally trained as a Goldsmith, but then entered the studio in Florence of Fra Filippo Lippi, who taught him painting.
  • Lippi taught Botticelli the techniques of panel painting and fresco along with giving him an assured control of linear perspective
  • By the age of 15 Botticelli already had his own workshop and this helped form his distinctive artistic style.
  • This style was very much inspired by the Humanist movement.
  • Botticelli's artistic and financial highpoint was reached during his middle years when he had contacts, money and fame as a result of the Medici family's patronage.
  • The Medici's influence greatly increased Botticelli's notoriety and during their patronage he was asked by the Papacy to travel to Rome in order to paint parts of the Sistine Chapel. This honour confirms the esteem in which Botticelli's art was held.
  • Botticelli's achievements lessened after coming under the influence of the controversial Florentine monk, Savonarola.
  • Savonarola encouraged the burning of many works of art and books, which were deemed to be ungodly, and being a follower of Savonarola, Botticelli took part in destroying many of his own paintings
  • The arrival of Leonardo Di Vinci and Michelangelo on the artistic landscape further pushed Botticelli's work from the spotlight.
  • Botticelli's name virtually disappeared until the reassessment of his works and reputation - a process which has gathered momentum since the 1890s.

The Birth of Venus. C.1486


Background to the painting.

  • During the 1480s in Florence it was not uncommon for artists and intellectuals to gather together and study the literature of Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Lorenzo the Great assembled groups of humanists, philosophers and artists to form a literary society who interpreted works and formed ideas that were then translated by the artists, painters, goldsmiths and musicians.
  • The Birth of Venus was a theme launched by Lorenzo.  Angelo Poliziano, a Humanist poet wrote a verse about it. This poem was the inspiration for Botticelli’s painting.
  • Not a Christian legend, but a classical myth - the Birth of Venus.
  • Likely to have been commissioned by the Medicis.

Subject Matter

  • In it the goddess Venus, Roman Goddess of Love (known as Aphrodite in Greek mythology) emerges from the sea upon an oyster shell (which is a symbol of fertility).
  • Her shell is pushed to the shore from winds being produced by the wind-gods Zephyr and Aura under a shower of roses.
  • As Venus is about to step onto the shore, a female figure reaches out to cover her with a cloak.
  • This woman is one of the Three Graces, who were the daughters of Zeus and Goddesses of Joy, Charm and Beauty.
  • Venus is illustrated as a beautiful and chaste goddess and symbol of the coming spring. Her depiction as a nude is significant in itself, given that during this time in Renaissance history almost all artwork was of a Christian theme, and nude women were hardly ever portrayed.
  • The pose of Botticelli's Venus is reminiscent of the Venus de Medici, a marble sculpture from Classical antiquity in the Medici collection which Botticelli had opportunity to study. Also influence by the Venus de Milo.

Technique and Colour.

  • This was the first large-scale canvas created in Renaissance Florence.
  • It was painted using tempera mix. Tempera was a homemade way of making paints using powdered pigments for the colour and mixing it with water and egg yolk as a binding agent. Botticelli used some egg white in his mix for this painting which was unusual. It is exquisitely painted with
  • There is a lot of bright blues and greens in the painting. It has a freshness to it. Venus’ golden flowing hair could have been inspired by Donatello’s Mary Magdalen.
  • There is exquisite detail in the painting, such as the patterns on the drapery.


  • The composition is horizontal. Venus is in the centre. A triangle of sorts is formed by the movement of the figures surrounding her. (the right arm of figure on the right, and the angle of the wind-gods).
  • There is an idealised landscape in the background which gives the painting an atmospheric perspective.
  • Many aspects of Botticelli's Birth of Venus are in motion. For example, the leaves of the orange trees in the background, ringlets of hair being blown by the Zephyrs, the roses floating behind her, the waves gently breaking, and the cloaks and drapery of the figures blown and lifted by the breeze.
  • The painting has a mysterious yet peaceful atmosphere.


Primavera. C.1482


  • Quite a large painting, 202 x 314 cm.
  • Believed to have been commissioned by the Medic and it hung in the bedroom of a bride of one of its members.

Subject Matter.

  • It is an allegory of Spring. (an allegorical painting is when the artist uses figures, objects or symbols to depict some hidden meaning)
  • Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, is in the centre of the picture surrounded by the Three Graces.
  • The painting is set in a meadow complete with flowers and trees.
  • It shows nine figures, all based on a mythological text. The man on the far left is Mercury and he separates the clouds so that spring may come. Cupid is above Venus.
  • Venus is the goddess who protects and cares for the institution of marriage. The myrtle plant surrounding her is traditionally thought of as the plant that represents marriage and child bearing. All the female figures appear pregnant.
  • The three girls are the Three Graces.
  • On the right of the painting is the wind god Zephyr who emerges from the woods. He grabs a female figure figure, Chloris. The myth is that he raped Chloris, felt guilt for his actions, married her and renamed her Flora. Chloris appears to be pregnant, flowers are flowing out of her mouth as she touches Flora, thus creating her. Flora (the Goddess of flowers) spreads flowers along the ground.
  • The painting was meant to be used a celebration of marriage. (remember it hung in a brides bedroom). Also symbolic of 15th century marriage where women had little control over whom they married)
  • The garden is bursting with fruit (oranges) , flowers and trees – suggesting fertility. The right of the painting is dark and lifeless, suggesting that birth comes only after marriage.





  • Composition is largely horizontal with a shallow perspective. Depth is created by the light coming from behind the trees.  A triangle is also formed with cupid as the apex. It is a crowded scene, but not over crowded.

Technique and Colour.

  • There is quite a colour contrast in the painting. The dark greens of the landscape, contrast with the reds, whites, flesh tones, and very light blue used to paint the figures.
  • It is a tempera painting on wood panel.
  • It exquisitely painted, (detail on Flora’s dress), naturalistic, yet also has a surreal atmosphere.  



Order of artists & paintings in the slide show.

Massaccio - The Expulsion From the Garden, The Tribute Money, The Trinity.

Piero Della Francesca - The Baptism of Christ, The Flagellation of Christ.

Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus, Primavera.