Leonardo da Vinci was probably the greatest artist of the 1400's. His portrait “Mona Lisa” and his religious scene “the Last Supper” rank among the most famous pictures ever painted.
Leonardo, as he is almost always called, was trained to e a painter. But he became one of the most versatile geniuses in history. His interests and achievements spread into an astonishing variety of fields, such as anatomy, astronomy, botany, and geology. Leonardo's paintings made him famous, and his more graceful approach marked the beginning of the High Renaissance Style.
Leonardo finished painting “The Last Supper” about 1497. He created the famous scene on a wall of the dining hall in the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It shows Christ and his 12 apostles just after Jesus has announced that one of the them will betray him. Leonardo changed the traditional arrangement of the figures from a line of 13 figures to several small groups. Each apostle responds in a different way to Christ's announcement. Jesus sits in the center of the scene, apart from the other figures Leonardo's composition creates a more active and centralized design than earlier artists had achieved.
When painting “The Last Supper”, Leonardo rejected the fresco technique normally used for wall paintings. An artist who uses this fresco method must work quickly. But Leonardo wanted to paint slowly, revise his work, and use shadows all of which would have been impossible in fresco painting. He developed a new techniques that involved coating the wall with a compound he had created. But the compound, which was supposed to hold in place and protect it from moisture. Did not work. Soon after Leonardo completed the picture, the paint began to flake away. “The Last Supper” still exists, but in poor condition.
“The Mona Lisa” is a portrait of Lisa del Giacondo, the young wife of a Florentine merchant. It is often called “La Gioconda”. “The Mona Lisa” became famous because of the mysterious smile of the subject. Actually, Leonardo showed the woman's face moving into or out of a smile. He arranged her folded hands so that the figure formed a pyramid design. Leonardo's technique solved a problem that had faced earlier portrait painters. These artists had shown only the head and upper part of the body, and the picture seemed to cut off the subject at the cheat. Leonardo's placement of the hands of the “Mona Lisa” gave the woman a more complete, natural appearance. On the whole, Leonardo's paintings are remarkable for their delicate use of Shadow and their sense of motion.
By the early 1500's, Rome had replaced Florence as the chief center of Italian painting. The popes lived in Rome, and they spent great sums on art to make Rome the most glorious city of the Christian world. In addition, two of the greatest artists in history - Raphael and Michelangelo - worked there. The style of painting that centered in Rome during the early 1500's is called High Renaissance. It combined elements of many earlier styles, including graceful figures, classical Roman realism, and linear perspective. The works of Raphael and Michelangelo best show the High Renaissance style of painting.
Raphael painted balanced, harmonious designs that express a calm, noble way of life. This style appealed to Italians of the early 1500's. During this period, the Roman Catholic Church was sure of its supreme position in Europe, and leading Italians were convinced that the great classical Roman civilization had been reborn and was flourishing in Italy.
Raphael was strongly influenced by Leonardo da Vinces style of arranging figures to form a pyramid. He used this compositional form often in a series of paintings of the Madonna (the Virgin Mary). In these paintings Madonna is as graceful as a goddess. Her manner suggests the Renaissance ideal that a good woman should be faithful, humble, and pure.
Raphael's “School of Athens” covers one wall of the Stanza (a room in the pope's private quarters in the Vatican). He used the actual arch in the wall to frame the painting. Three painted arches serve as a background for the ancient Greek philosophers and scientists in the front of the scene. In the center, beneath the arches, stand Plato and Aristotle, the leading philosophers. Raphael grouped the main representatives of the schools of Greek philosophy and science in casual but carefully organized arrangements. The scene expresses the sense of clarity, space, and proportion for which Raphael became famous.
Mickelangelo worked as a sculptor until the pope ordered him to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. "The Creation of Adam" is one frexo from the chapel ceiling. It shows God moving on a cloud among many angels. He extends a figures toward Adam raises his arm to receive the spark of life. Michelangelo's human figures are more sculptural and solidlooking than Raphael's. Raphael's figures seem happier and more graceful, but not so herac and powerful as Mickelangelo's.
Venetian painting. Venice ranked second only to Rome as a center of Italian art during the 1500's. Venice was a commercial city that handled much of the trade between Europe and the East. Venetian painters showed the influence of Eastern art in their fascination with color. Their works also show a trend away from interest in the hard outline and sculptural and heroic figures found in the paintings of Florence and Rome. Venetian painters tried to please and relax the viewers rather than inspire them to noble deeds. Giorgione, Titian and Tintoretto were the most famous. They all were neasters of oil painting.
The texture of the paint itself interested some Venetian artists more than the subject matter. These painters brushed on their paint in thick strokes. Sometimes they seem almost to have painted their pictures in sweeping brushstrokes. These pictures are often full of motion and action, and invite the viewer to an imaginary world where he can relax in the presence of beautiful women and lovely nature.
The Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church's response to the Protestant Reformation, and the rise of nationalism in many European countries helped bring about a major painting style - baroque, Baroque and a related style, rococo, dominated European painting during the 1600's and 1700's. The Reformation forced the Roman Catholic Church to organize against Protestantism. Church officials wanted to use art in order to spread Catholic ideas and teachings. The church told artists that they should create religious paintings that would be realistic and easy to understand and - most importantly - would inspire religious emotional reactions in viewers. These qualities formed the basic of the baroque painting style.
Peter Paul Rubens of Flanders was one of the greatest of the painters who adopted the baroque style. He skillfully combined realism and classical style. Rubens was also influenced by the Venetian technique of painting in thick oils.
The “Elevation of the Cross” shows Rubens' baroque style. This painting is a highly emotional religious scene. Several half-naked bodies strain to lift Jesus into the cross as spectators look on in sorrow and fear. Rubens intensified the feeling of action and struggle by drawing his composition in diagonal lines. He further heightened the picture's lights appeal by painting the highlights in thick masses of pigment and the dark colors in semitransparent brownish glazes. The painting shows Rubens' remarkable ability in drawing the studio and employed many assistants, of whom Anton Van Dyck was the most famous. Diego Velkazquez, who painted at the Spanish court, was another master of baroque. Both Van Dyck and Velazquez gained their greatest fame as portrait painters. Their portraits showed rulers in aristocratic poses. Such portraits were intended to display the vertues and dignity of the rulers. This type of elegant portrait is called a state portrait, and became popular during the 1600's. Anyhow, Velazquez' portraits seem more like personal pictures from a family album than paintings advertising the rulers.
Dutch painting. By the late 1600's, the Netherlands had become one of the world's major commercial and colonial powers. As the country gained wealth, the Dutch people became interested in luxury goods, including works of art. They liked almost any subject that
reminded them of their own comfortable middle-class lives. Dutch painters developed a distinct style during the baroque period. Many Dutch artists specialized in painting specific subjects, such as domestic scenes or tavern scenes. Painting that deals with such ordinary, everyday subjects is called genre painting.
Jan Vermeer probably ranks as the greatest Dutch genre painter of the 1600's. Vermeer and other Dutch genre artists painted small pictures, most of which had smooth, glazed surfaces. Vermeer, a master of painting interior scenes, usually portrayed women working at quiet household tasks. His art i