What was the Renaissance?



The term Renaissance literally means rebirth and is commonly applied to works from the early-15th to the early-16th centuries. It was an outlook or philosophy rather than a specific technique and was applied to such diverse fields as literature, music, art, philosophy and science. The term ‘Renaissance man’ came to mean a man with a broad range of knowledge, without necessarily being an expert in any specific field, although the archetypal Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, was arguably a genius in many fields. It’s also worth noting that women were, if not quite given equal status with men in the Renaissance world, acknowledged and encouraged to be a part of it.

The Renaissance grew out of a frustration with the Scholastic approach, which had begun as a means of applying intellectual rigour and scientific thought to education and was particularly popular in medicine, the sciences and theology, but had steadily become degraded into a form of pedantry, with emphasis on learning from approved books and being able to repeat information by rote, without necessarily fully understanding it. Renaissance thinkers did not usually concern themselves with the study of logic, but sought to achieve a broad base of knowledge in what today would be called the social sciences and humanities. They would then draw on this knowledge and on their skill at rhetoric and public speaking (or writing) to persuade others of their viewpoint.

Because of this emphasis on breadth of knowledge and exploration, Renaissance art explored a variety of themes, rather than being purely focused on religious topics, although these certainly remained important and are the foundation of many of the masterpieces from the Renaissance period. Renaissance art is characterised by the development of perspective and by new techniques for creating a sense of depth.

Although the Renaissance ultimately gave way to Baroque and then Neoclassicism, it continues to have an influence on artists, right through to the present day. In the early-20th century Renaissance ideas were brought into the modern world through a movement which came to be known as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ and which aimed to use the power of popular culture as well as that of persuasive argument to bring about peaceful change. As the name suggests, this movement had its home in Harlem, New York, but its influence was global and it is still remembered today.

In the modern world of art, it’s probably fair to say that anything goes and today’s generation of artists have an unparalleled choice of themes, media and exhibition outlets, which are simply beyond even the wildest dreams of their ancestors. While some of today’s most promising artists focus on the contemporary world and dream of the future, others are influenced by the ideals and techniques of the original Renaissance movement.

While some works such as Renaissance Boy by Canadian Derra St Denis seek to capture historical accuracy, many are more playful. Minstrel Renaissance Modern by RC DeWinter of the USA, for example, is clearly a modern work, but stays true to the atmosphere of the original period. Others are openly humorous, such as the aptly-titled Comic renaissance by Wyzzy Mane of the UK, while others are more thought-provoking. Renaissance Bathers by Jorge Fern√°ndez Crespo of Cuba and Broken Heel by
Leigh Chorlton also of UK both pay homage to the love of the human form common to the Renaissance artists, but with a playful twist which is completely modern. For those eager to see more, it’s easy to locate Renaissance artwork for sale at Saatchi Online.