The Renaissance was a huge cultural movement that took place primarily in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was characterized by a revival of interest in ancient Greek literature, a shift of focus from things spiritual to things secular, the ideas of humanism and individualism, and a growth in hostility towards the Catholic Church and its clergy. During the Renaissance art flourished. Artists took inspiration from great works of ancient Greece and Rome. Three of the major artists were Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
Raphael (1483-1520) was primarily a painter. He painted 50 Madonnas, and several self portraits. His most important work, The School of Athens (painted between 1509 and 1511), portrayed famous philosophers of antiquity. In center of the painting the two great Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, are shown standing side-by-side. Plato is pointing up, in reference to his belief that there exist immaterial “forms” for everything in the universe, and are not part of the physical universe. Aristotle is gesturing towards the earth, because he concerned himself primarily with the physical universe during his career. This work was commissioned by Pope Julius II along with several others to decorate several rooms (now known as the Raphael rooms) in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican. It personified the Renaissance interest in the philosophers of antiquity.
Michelangelo (1475-1564) was another great Renaissance artist who considered himself a marble sculptor above all else, but was very skilled in painting as well. His greatest marble statue, also considered the greatest marble statue, the Pietà, portrayed the dead Christ in the arms of his mother, the Virgin Mary. It is the only work that Michelangelo signed. It was commissioned in 1498 by Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, and is now in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was truly a Renaissance man, and had a huge range of intrests, including art, engineering, architecture, war machinery, science, and others. His work, the Mona Lisa, is probably the best known painting in the world. It was painted between 1503 and 1506, and is said to portray Lisa Gherardini. It is now in the Louvre museum in Paris.
The Renaissance was a time of great artistic development, and saw the creation of many masterpieces. Among the great artists, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci were the most well known. They have made lasting contributions to western civilization that hopefully will be appreciated for many centuries to come.