Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Renaissance Art

I've never seen a good book about Renaissance art come in anything other than a huge size, probably because the art of that period demands large color reproductions that highlight the details of each sculpture, painting and carving. There is a wealth of these books out there, and as wonderful as it is to look at beautiful paintings by Titian, Botticelli and Tintoretto, it takes something special to set an overview of the Renaissance apart from other like books.
Christopher Masters has done a nice job of this. His new book, Renaissance, groups works of art (mostly paintings) by general theme: Love, War, Home, Landscape, City, Birds & Beasts, etc. The section on The Ancient World is very interesting because he displays the Renaissance piece next to the Greek or Roman sculpture from which it was inspired. The famous Roman statue of Laocoon and his sons being attacked by serpents is replicated in the twisting forms in Buonarroti's painting The Sacrifice of Noah from the Sistine Chapel. Masters also shows both the Renaissance and Roman depictions of Spinario ("Thorn Puller"), and points out that the Roman version is probably a copy of an earlier Hellenistic statue, which itself was probably based on an original Greek work. The chain of inspiration moves on through time.
The section on Sacred Themes - a dominant subject of art during the Renaissance - depicts the similarities and differences in the way painters approached the same subject: the Adoration, the Birth of the Virgin, the Crucifixion. You can see the technique maturing over time, but what I found most interesting was the way artists would pluck particular poses and compositions directly from the work of their predecessor's. Was it a flattering imitation, or an attempt to get things right?
The postscript shows how certain paintings from the Renaissance had direct effect on the artists of the 19th century, some of whom directly parodied (Master's word - I think reinterpreted might be a less judgmental term) the paintings of the past. Manet's famous Olympia is taken from Titian's The Venus of Urbino, for instance.
This is a really interesting book, and is very instructive about the way in which Renaissance artists drew from the Classical tradition and further influenced art through the centuries. And there's a lot of pretty paintings, too.

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