Renaissance and Reformation the arts
Renaissance and Reformation the arts
The fourteenth century saw the beginning of a revolution that altered European life and systems of thought. The radical series of change in the European culture is what is referred to as the renaissance and reformation period. The renaissance period was characterized by a sudden increase in the diffusion of knowledge occasioned by printing and the development of new practices in the arts, poetry and architecture realized a significant change in the style, and essence of the arts. The Reformation on the other hand was characterized by the religious movement that led to the division of the Catholic Church and a rise of the Protestant church. These two forces had different effects on art. It is through the arts that the true picture of this period is achieved. This era saw European artists becoming more interested in their surroundings. This resulted in the creation of artwork being influenced by this new reawakening in artistic thought that was considered a display “reality” in human daily experiences. Whatever the artistic medium, art was a tool used to portray real life centered on nature and the depiction of people’s true feelings. Art in this sense was aimed at unmasking social reservations by expressing concerns and ideas that thrived within this period.
To begin with, the arts in the renaissance period consisted of various approaches to art. They included painting, sculpture, graphic arts, literature and poetry and finally, music. Art is considered a portrayal of the society. These art forms therefore give a clear picture of the essence in the renaissance period. Sculpture was among the first of the fine arts to reveal Renaissance attributes. One notable sculptor of the renaissance was Donatello who returned to classical techniques of sculpting. Contrapposto and the unsupported nude were features that characterized his sculptures. Donatello’s statue of David was curved out of bronze. It portrays David in the nude. This at the time was seen as a daring move by the Medici family that sanctioned the creation of the sculpture. However, this sculpture was meant to reveal the nature of the Biblical story of David in which he went to battle in the “nude”, to mean that he fought Goliath without proper amour. This reality was also portrayed in other art works such as painting.
In painting, the Renaissance saw painters enhancing realism in their art works by using new techniques in perception thus representing three-dimensional aspects in a more authentic manner. The artists also employed new techniques in the manipulation of light and dark. For example, portraits by Titan (Tiziano Vicellio) evidently used tone contrast. This period witnessed a shift from religious thematic representations that were inherent medieval art. Artists used the human body and natural landscapes as the basis for their paintings. The representation of Renaissance art was undoubtedly inspired by reality. Such inspiration was also shared in other disciplines like science, where discovery was meant to enlighten people about the reality of their world. In this sense, painters were also keen on making true representations of artwork by ensuring their works were almost true representation of reality.
The most admirable works in the Renaissance were referred to as High Renaissance. High Renaissance works included painting created by famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Their representations remain among the most recognized pieces of art in the world. Works such as the Last Supper, The Holy Family, and the Scuola di Atena all have perspective attributes, which have life like representations of people and scenery. Renaissance painters evolved their technique to include mannerism in mid 16th century. The depictions of mannerism included mostly portraits and landscapes. These painting also had little representation of religious themes.
In literature and Poetry, much concentration was placed in translations and the study of classical works by Latin and Greek philosophers. The Latin and the Greek culture were highly respected and admired especially after the Dark Ages that witnessed a lot of turmoil in Europe. However, the Renaissance artists were not going to be limited to classical productions. Many attempted to come up with their own constructions that were influenced by the classical works. Some of the most emulated classical authors from Rome included Horace, Cicero, Virgil and Sallust while among the Greek authors, those mostly emulated by Renaissance artists included the Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and Homer. It is also clear that Renaissance poetry and literature drew major inspiration from new developments in philosophy and science. A humanist figure Francesco Petrarch was and talented poet who published several works in Latin and Italian. He was the first to develop the Italian sonnet. These Italian sonnets were translated into English by Thomas Wyatt who thereby, introduced the sonnet in England. Later, authors such as William Shakespeare and others would apply it in their works.
In music, a riveting musical activity was seen that complemented the capacity and intensity of activity that was witnessed in the other arts. Musicologist have been seen to group trecento, a musical type, as part of the late medieval age. However, this type of music had elements that aligned with the early Renaissance period in significant ways. For example, this music was seen to draw from secular source, the styles and even forms. The music also moved away from the praise of ecclesiastical entities and the noble class. The music also witnessed the rapid development of new techniques. The major forms of music in this age included the caccia, the trecento madrigal and the ballata. From then on, the Renaissance music was influenced by musicians who went into Italy. The mass and the motet were dominant genres of church music. A most famous musician in Italy in the 16th Century was man named Palestrina who was also an important personality of the Roman School. His style was considered smooth and emotionally appealing making him a defining musician of the time.
The conflict between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church presented different worldviews that was inherent in the art that was produced. Religion divided Europe into North and South. In the middle ages, the focus of art was mostly religion that was more symbolic rather than realistic. An example was the use of a halo on saints to symbolize holiness. The Reformation period saw a shift in the kind of art produced by the Protestant church. To counter the art produced by the Protestant Church, the Catholic Church embarked on a counter-reformist agenda to dilute the influence of the Protestant church. The Renaissance made it possible for artists to present images of real man rather than on religious ideology. The advent of Reformation saw figures such as John Calvin and Huldreich Zwingli advocating for iconoclastic ideas that denounced Catholic imagery as being idolatrous and believed that they should be destroyed. However, it is important to note that Protestants it not revolt against all art, just Catholic religious art in which the Catholic faithful revered.
To counter the threat of the Protestant influence and its iconoclastic views, Pope Paul the III, convened a meeting of church elders at Trent. This council reasserted the Catholic dogma and took a more stringent stance against what they termed as heresy. This began a campaign that led to Counter Reformist movement in which the Catholic Church ensured that they clamped down any instance of what they considered heretic. This severe approach saw a stern regulation of Catholic painters in the south to continue painting like in the medieval period. This art greatly contrasted from what was produced in the north by the Protestants.
Actually, the major distinguishing factor between the Reformist and Counter-Reformist Art was distinguished in terms of realism and religious art forms. The Protestants painted scenes depicted in the Bible; however, they maintained a painting approach that showed people performing common day-to-day activities. In other instances, they produced simple scenes from nature. The Reformation period popularized the portrait form especially in the North. The kind of paintings produced by the Protestants bore major differences as compared to the counter-reformist art in Southern Europe. Even though the Catholic paintings were becoming more realistic as compared to medieval art and symbolism had greatly diminished, it was still evident that they did not paint common scenes in the daily life. Instead, they portrayed their art subjects such as matters ideally as human figures and also portrayed Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary as real people. The Catholic painters glorified Catholic traditions, the sacraments and the saints. It is therefore clear that the art works of the south greatly differed from their northern counterparts with regard to the content.
In the Reformation, one other issue that held significance in influencing the different approaches to art was the issue regarding the distinction between sacred forms and the secular forms. It was apparent that the Protestants had come to the realization that this distinction was superficial. God in heaven had created man in His own image and likeness, and that all man’s activity must be done in His glory. In this sense, the Reformists believed that a secular calling was no less honorable than service in the work of God. Creating works that had secular objects was therefore, and acknowledgement of the beauty and the God had bestowed onto the earth’s inhabitants. The Protestants saw this at the “pure and acceptable” purpose of all art forms. The Catholic art forms clearly revealed a different view of what art meant as was portrayed in their art. Counter-Reformation insisted on the importance of having only religious content in art. It can be said that this view was drawn from the middle ages notion of monastic ideals that proposed all aspect of life being devoted to sacred living. This counters the Biblical philosophy that states that all work forms can be used in the glory of God.
The Counter-Reformation and the Reformation art represented two conflicting art forms that portrayed two different worldviews. The assertion in the Protestant worldview presumed that people could approach Christianity confidently by worshiping in spirit and in truth. In contrast, the Catholics asserted the importance of having intermediaries. They were thus ensnared into revering images instead of God alone. The Protestant church also understood the distinction between the secular and sacred objects and integrated the two in religion. The Catholic Church maintained a separatist view between the two. The clash between these two views greatly influenced the thematic content or artistic works in Europe.
In conclusion, the Reformation and the Renaissance periods had significant effects on art. The Renaissance saw a different approach to technique in all art forms. The art produced was much better and inspired by realism. However, the reformation period brought about a distinction in art in terms of religious appeal. While the Reformists in the form of Protestants advocated in realism in art, where art could be used to portray real life, Catholics preferred art to be restricted to religion representations. Both religions embraced Renaissance art, the difference was only evident in the thematic concerns of the same.
Martin, John Jeffries. The Renaissance: Italy and abroad. London: Routledge, 2003.
Mullett, Michael A. The catholic reformation. London: Routledge, 2005.
Nissen, Christopher. Kissing the wild woman: art, beauty, and the reformation of the Italian prose romance in Giulia Bigolina’s Urania. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.
Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: studies in art and poetry. [Whitefish, Mont.]: Kessinger, 2004.
 John Jeffries Martin. The Renaissance: Italy and abroad. (London: Routledge, 2003), 34.