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Renaissance masterpieces

From icon to painting

The Eastern Roman Byzantine art of icons is reflected in the mosaics of Ravenna and many early frescoes. The figure of Christ is one of the most common motifs. Christ is represented either with a triumphant or suffering face.

These iconic representations appear very schematic, almost abstract. They have nothing to do with the lifelike depiction of the human being, as it will be created in the Renaissance. The figures of the saints appear motionless and rigid, there is no sense of space due to the two-dimensional painting style.

Tuscan painters such as Cimabue, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto stand on the threshold of the Renaissance. In her partly monumental pictures, such as the famous Our Lady paintings in the Uffizi, the static, immobile arrangement of the figures still reigns.

But on closer inspection, the features of the Madonnas appear softer, more human, less woodcut-like. There is movement in painting - the icon becomes a painting.

Even at the beginning of the Renaissance, biblical events dominate art and spiritual figures dominate the motif. Art as materialized beauty is made for the greater glory of God. It is not yet in profane and private spaces, only the church is the place where people can find art.

Simone Martini's "Annunciation" is a single festival made of gold leaf. Its precious appearance must have aroused great astonishment among contemporaries. In the foreground, the Archangel Gabriel presents the fearful Mary with a white lily, the background is pure, shining gold.

From gold to space

With the beginning of the early Renaissance (around 1400 to 1500), the visual arts changed rapidly. It becomes realistic, more plastic, more three-dimensional. The gold splendor gives way, rooms emerge, landscapes are depicted with photographic accuracy.

People are always the subject of studies. Man begins to depict himself and his time, he puts himself in the center, celebrates himself.

Florence is the focal point of artistic innovation. Donatello creates sculptural masterpieces that are reminiscent of ancient Roman models.

Ghiberti's figurative art even emerges vividly from the paintings, golden half-reliefs adorn the portals of the Florentine Baptistery. The astonished Florentines reverently call them the gates of paradise. Ghiberti created a monument for himself: he immortalized his own bronze portrait in the moldings of the relief panels.

The discovery of the central perspective

The Dominican monk Fra Angelico enchants people with his light and innocent-looking images of saints and delights his confreres in the Florentine convent of San Marco, as he attaches its own fresco in each monk's cell.

Brunelleschi completes the Florentine Cathedral with the long-awaited dome, a technical masterpiece. His greatest pioneering achievement, however, is the discovery of the central perspective, which Masaccio implements with a groundbreaking image.

When the Florentines entered the Santa Maria Novella church in the middle of the 15th century, they could hardly believe their eyes. On the right choir wall there is a fresco showing the crucifixion scene in a plastic Renaissance vault.

In contrast to the two-dimensional pictures, Masaccio created a deep space with the help of the central perspective with a vault that appears to narrow towards the rear. The incredulously amazed Florentines have the impression that someone has punched a hole in the church wall and added a chapel.

People paint people

Filippo Lippi is also making a name for itself. His picture shows a beautiful Mother of God with the newborn baby Jesus. The figures shown seem to be living people, they look so vivid.

On closer inspection, the Florentines are surprised to find something else: the delicate, radiantly beautiful young woman is dressed in a fashionable manner. She appears much more like a Florentine of rank than the Jewish mother of Jesus from Roman times.

The boundaries become blurred, and figures and figures of public life suddenly appear alongside the biblical motifs. Portrait painting begins. Painters and sculptors try to surpass each other in the beauty, power, elegance and splendor of their paintings; their representations become lavish feasts for the senses.

Unlike today, there were hardly any pictures back then. Overstimulation was a foreign concept, statues seldom and paintings only to be seen in churches.

Art heyday

When the heyday of the era, the High Renaissance, began (end of the 15th century to around 1520), the artists saw themselves as craftsmen and at the same time as individualists who boasted of their unique works of art. Many are true all-rounders and masters of their field in several areas.

Michelangelo, for example, creates masterpieces as a painter, sculptor, architect and poet. Leonardo da Vinci is a painter, anatomist, engineer and inventor. The most famous of them - like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci - are highly paid superstars of their time, working exclusively for rulers and popes.

In Rome, Bramante designed the St. Peter's Church, Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, Raphael illustrated the stamps in the Vatican, Michelangelo created the world-famous frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

The art should overwhelm the viewer, the pictures should shine with splendor, statues should almost come to life in their power and movement, as if they were not made of marble or bronze, but real.

Sandro Botticelli, enthusiastically celebrated by the Medici, sets monuments to the most beautiful women of Florence in his large-format paintings "Spring" and "The Birth of Venus". The nude of the Roman goddess of love Venus, who is driven ashore in a shell, has an erotic charisma that was previously only known from ancient depictions.