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High Renaissance in Italy
The majority of the work produced during this period was during the 16 th century. The High Renaissance
artists continued the revival of Humanist ideals. The quest for greater realism in the form and space was
finally freed of the Early Renaissance’s mathematical and sometimes dominant perspectives.
Leonardo da Vinci
Virgin of the Rocks
La Joconde
Da Vinci’s works are exemplary of a technique called sfumato, a smoke-like haze that shrouds the
composition. He carries the technique of chirascuro, the creation of forms using light and shadow. Typical
of da Vinci’s work are his fantastical backgrounds. In La Joconde (The Mona Lisa), da Vinci adopts a
three-quarter view of the sitter rather than the usual Italian preference for strict profile.
Last Supper 1495-98
Del Castagno, Last Supper
The comparison of two interpretations of the Last Supper demonstrates the High Renaissance reconciliation
of subject to the setting. Da Vinci’s is mathematical, but does not dominate the composition like Del
Bramante, Tempieto
High Renaissance architects, concerned with rational harmony and mathematical balance, gravitated to the
central-plan church, despite its affiliation with Roman and Greek pagan structures. The High Renaissance
architect considered the circle to be a symbol of perfection and appropriate to equate with God. Many
consider Bramante’s Tempietto to be the quintessential High Renaissance example of balanced, rational
Bramante’s designs for New Saint Peter’s
The revival of Classical architecture can be seen in Bramante’s design for New St. Peter’s. The plan is a
variation of a central-plan structure. This design will be changed many times during the course of St.
Peter’s construction. Note the hemispherical dome of Bramante’s will be replaced by Michelangelo’s
ogival dome (similar to Florence cathedral).
450 BCE
The fascination with the ancient world of the Renaissance is exemplified in Michelangelo’s David. Over 14
feet tall, Michelangelo revived the tradition of the monumental nude in sculpture. Instead of adhering to a
ratio of perfect proportions like Polykleitos, Michelangelo believed that the artist could exaggerate the
human form to communicate an idea or emotion as seen in his David. This characteristic separates
Michelangelo from most High Renaissance artists.
Tomb of Pope Julius II (Michelangelo)
Tomb of Pope Julius II
A major figure in the High Renaissance, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to design an elaborate
tomb for himself to be placed in the newly remodeled Saint Peter’s. The images above are from the
severely scaled-down tomb that is actually in San Pietro in Vincoli. The sculpture of Moses follows
Michelangelo’s style of exaggeration. Note how the legs and body of the old prophet are massive and if he
were to stand, he would tower over the average man.
Tomb of Pope Julius II Continued
Dying Slave
Bound Slave
These two slave sculptures were two of the original 28 figures for Pope Julius’ tomb. The slaves are
believed to represent the Neoplatonic belief that the human body holds the soul captured and through art,
music and education, the soul is able to escape the confines of the body and be reunited with God. This is
appropriate given Julius desire to be known moreover as a great humanist.
Sistine Chapel (Michelangelo)
Sistine Chapel
The ceiling of the Sistine chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius II. At first Michelangelo refused,
claiming that he was a sculptor not a painter. This preference is evidenced in the development of the human
form and the fact that the background is rendered as a simple environment to showcase his sculpturesque
forms. Michelangelo was able to translate the three-dimensional quality of sculpture into painting like no
one before.
Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo as Architect
Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to reconfigure the plaza at the top of Capitoline Hill
(Campidoglio). The pope wanted to bring a feeling of grandeur to the already existing buildings on the
south and east (Palace of the Conservators and the Palace of the Senators). These buildings formed an 80
degree angle, already creating design difficulties. Michelangelo applied the organic qualities and
proportions of the human torso to the plan. The result is the addition of a third building (Museo
Capiotolino) placed at the same angle as the Palace of the Palace of the Senators. The building facades
were reconfigured in order to bring harmony to the trapezoidal square. At the center is the original statue of
Marcus Aurelius.
Revised Plan of Saint Peter’s
Revised Elevation of St. Peter’s
The last commission Michelangelo executed for Pope Paul III was the redesign of Bramante’s original plan
for new St. Peter’s. The complex plan was simplified by Michelangelo and the hemispherical dome
originally proposed was changed to resemble the great ogival dome of Florence’s cathedral,
Michelangelo’s most favorite structure.
Raphael, School of Athens
1 Plato
2 Socrates
3 Diogenes
4 Euclid
5 Ptolemy
6 Raphael
7 Heraclitus
8 Pythagoras
9 Apollo
10 Socartes
11 Minerva
Pope Julius commissioned Raphael to paint the walls of the Stanza della Segnatura (Papal Library) in the
Papal apartments. Each wall exhibited a different scholarly theme: Theology, Law, Poetry and Philosophy
(pictured here as the School of Athens). The desire to be considered a great humanist, Julius was pleased
that Raphael placed the meeting of the greatest thinkers from all disciplines in an unfinished Saint Peter’s,
asserting that the Catholic Church (and himself) is the center for all learning and above all, humanist ideals.
Raphael, Madonna and Child
Raphael, Madonna, Jesus
and John the Baptist
ca 1505
Giotto, Madonna Enthroned
Raphael is noted for his kinder, gentler Madonnas. The Gothic Queen of Heaven has evolved into an
approachable, young and beautiful woman. Note the remarkable change in rendering perspective and the
human form in just 200 years.
The Venetian School
Titian, The Assumption of the Virgin 1516
At the same time the artists of the High Renaissance were working in Rome, the city of Venice was in the
midst of developing their own style of High Renaissance art. The Venetian school is characterized by
brilliant color and dramatic settings; typified by Titian’s Assumption. The greatest artists of the Venetian
school are undoubtedly Giovanni Bellini and Titian.
Bellini, San Zaccaria Altarpiece 1505
Titian , Madonna of the Pesaro Family 1519
The Mannerists departed from the Renaissance ideals of the other Renaissance artists (more so than
Michelangelo. Mannerism connotes in the manner of, recalling the sculpturesque forms of Michelangelo,
da Vinci, etc. What typifies Mannerism is the way in which the artist manipulates the figure through
distortion, elongation, setting them in ambiguous, crowded spaces. This disorienting type is composition is
made even more jarring by the bright colors.
The quintessential Mannerist painting is the Descent From the Cross by Japopo da Pontormo, 1525-28.
Mannerist Sculpture
In sculpture, the elongated figure is still a factor in some works, the desire of the Mannerist sculptor was to
break from but the serene, balanced sculptures of the High Renaissance. This work by da Bologna is the
first work to be viewed from all sides because of its writing movement, reminiscent of the Hellenistic
Da Bologna, Abduction of the Sabine Women
Mannerist Architecture
Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Te
Mannerist architecture can be thought of as Classical architecture rearranged. The Classical vocabulary is
present; the elements are used in manners that would insult the Greeks.
Other 16th Century Styles
Tintoretto, Last Supper
da Vinci, Last Supper
The turbulent, dramatically-lit compositions of Venetian Tintoretto can be contrasted with the calm,
rational subjects of da Vinci.
Paolo Veronese, Weddning at Cana
Veronese, Christ in the House of Levy
The dramatic architectural backdrop of Venice provided some of the settings for Veronese’s complex
Andrea Palladio
Andrea Palladio, Villa Rotunda
Palladio’s architecture has probably had the most influence of on architecture of England and the United
States. Taking the Renaissance’s fascination with domed space, Palladio designed one of the most
influences structures in Western architecture. With the Pantheon in Rome as its obvious model, Palladio
integrated four Classical porches looking out over the Venetian countryside.
Palladio’s Inspiration
Pantheon, Rome 118-125
Palladio’s Influence
Thomas Jefferson, Monticello