WEIRDLAND: Renaissance Artists

Monday, May 04, 2015

Renaissance Artists

Leonardo Da Vinci is mentioned in a list by Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza about the most prominent engineers, from the 1490s, comprising four in the top category of Ingenariis ducalis: ‘Bramante engineer and painter; Giovanni Battagio, engineer and builder; Giovan Giacomo Dolcebuono, engineer and sculptor; Leonardo Da Vinci, engineer and painter.’ Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks testify that his mind was busily active in his capacity as a ducal engineer, devising ingenious solutions to engineering problems – large and small, architectural and mechanical, military and domestic, feasible and fanciful. There was hardly a field of mechanical endeavour in the Renaissance which did not come under his scrutiny. The most prominent industries in Milan, arms and textiles, received especially sustained and detailed treatment in his drawings at this time. The difficulty in studying these in their historical context does not lie in judging the quality of his designs – their conceptual and illustrative brilliance is spectacularly apparent – but in knowing how far they played a productive role in the practice of the various trades and professions. Rarely do we possess adequate records of actual machines from this period, and when a later working design appears to reflect a Leonardo invention, there is generally no way of knowing whether they were both dependent upon a common prototype.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born to poor aristocrats in Caprese, near Florence. Barely thirty years later, he was hailed throughout Italy and much of Europe as one of the greatest artists of all time, a judgment of which he was keenly aware and that he would bemoan yet try to preserve throughout his life. Michelangelo’s artistic contributions redefined Rome as the self-proclaimed “capital of the world.” In turn, the world celebrated the artist for his redefinition of beauty and expression, reclaiming the word “genius”—a term resurrected from the Latin—to describe this singular artist’s talents. Michelangelo’s contemporaries struggled to describe the phenomenal talents of a man whose work surpassed all superlatives. According to one of Michelangelo’s friends and biographers, Giorgio Vasari, God sent “to earth a spirit who, working alone, was able to demonstrate in every art and every profession the meaning of perfection.” Countless visitors still flock to see the frescoes, sculptures, and architecture with which Michelangelo adorned Rome. Although many artists fade from popularity as styles and tastes change, Michelangelo’s golden reputation has never tarnished.

Few other great Renaissance artists specialized in portraiture and were so brilliant as portrait artists as Titian, mastering a genre that in his time was considered less important than religious, historical or mythological subjects, and which was underrated by Vasari and Michelangelo, who believed that the reproduction of nature was less exalted than the creation of ideal forms and features. Masters of the calibre of the Bellini brothers, Leonardo, Giorgione and Raphael developed Italian portraiture as a sideline. Titian, who was the first Venetian to take advantage of a new appetite for realistic likenesses of prominent people, was unique both for the sheer numbers of his portraits and for the techniques and insights with which he revolutionized the genre. Portraits constitute a greater proportion of Titian’s oeuvre than they do of any other artist of the period. About a third of his extant works, are portraits, now scattered throughout the picture galleries of the world.

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