When the Renaissance began in the 14th century, art began to take on a different level of expression as time passed by. The 16th century marked a period where the Renaissance was believed to have reached its peak in Renaissance art. This period was known as the High Renaissance and lasted from 1500 to 1527.
The period involved a shift in artistic style and objectives as well as a shift to Rome and the Papal court. The church continued to be the greatest patron of the arts, where they had reached the peak of its influence in Rome. Famous artists working for the church during the time started painting works of art that contained similar characteristics of the Early Renaissance, only much more improved. One of the main characteristics of paintings was the construction of ideal harmony and balance.
The artists that became famously known in the High Renaissance had worked on their advancements in the artistic styles and techniques from the earlier Renaissance. By looking back at how they achieved this, I will use Correggio’s Virgin and Child with Young St. John the Baptist to see how ideal harmony balance was specifically constructed.
From the Early Renaissance to the High Renaissance
The fourteenth century marked a painful transition from the medieval period to the world of the Renaissance. Its beginning was burdened with disaster and racked by war which had led many people to produce changes about the European society. Moving in towards the Renaissance, new stirrings such as realistically portrayed art were brought in, including the significance of the unique talents and potential of many individuals. Florence became a place for talented artists and the power of the banking families played a large part in the patronage of the arts. Artists began signing their works and producing art that was turned away from the religious subject to a depiction of the natural world. Advancement in artist’s work included representation of perspective, use of space by making it look uncluttered, a clear focal point, unity, clarity, and use of muted colors.
However, this representation was not enough for the great artists of the High Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo revealed not only the complete mastery of the earlier advancements in the Renaissance, but also represented ideal qualities and harmonious compositions. If the artists of the Early Renaissance in Florence had created and worked hard to introduce the techniques and styles of Renaissance art, then these artists were responsible for taking art to a level of noble expression by mastering those techniques. Art took in a toll in becoming more geometrically precise, more realistic, mathematically accurate, subjects showed more signs of emotion and movement, and more detailed backgrounds were present. It was Pope Julius II who commissioned such artists to produce fine pieces of art carrying these characteristics.
The Switch of Power Leading Into the High Renaissance
The sixteenth century shifted to Rome and to the court of Pope Julius II. Pope Julius II had appreciated the fine arts. He had hired many leading Italian artists to Rome to produce projects such as the Sistine Chapel and frescoes such as the School of Athens.
If it wasn’t for his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Julius’ career would not have risen. Known as Guiliano della Rovere before becoming pope, he had become Cardinal Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. From this, he became wealthy and received many benefices. When Sixtus died in 1484, Guiliano had a slim chance of becoming pope, however he was responsible for Innocent VIII’s promotion to the Cardinalate. After Innocent VIII’s death, it was then that Guiliano was destined to become pope. The Cardinals resented him and instead elected Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia in 1492 who then became Alexander VI in the papacy. Guiliano’s and Alexander VI were known to be enemies, and for his safety, he avoided Rome during his papacy but not for long when Alexander VI passed away in 1503.
The Cardinals then elected Pius III, whom was known as Guiliano’s successor. For a short period of time, Pius III held the throne and died 26 days shortly after being elected. Guiliano was now determined to become pope and he had fought to extend the reach of the papacy by leading an army into Umbria, Italy under Pope Sixtus IV. Finally, on November 28, 1503, Guilano’s aspiration to become pope was official. Because of Sixtus’ influence, Julius II had also played a large part in the patronage of the arts. His appreciation in fine arts led him to commission two well known artists, Raphael Sanzio and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Both very talented, each of them were individually known for their use in the different techniques they utilized in their work.
Michelangelo was more of a sculptor than he was a painter. Lorenzo de Medici in the school for sculptors established him just when he was thirteen. He was called by Pope Julius II in 1505 to create a monumental tomb for him. His most famous work was The Sistine Chapel in which he had painted over 300 human figures. The organization of it consisted of four large triangles at the corner, eight triangular spaces in the outer border and nine central panels, which were all bounded together by the figures.
Stylistic Feature: The Use of Harmony and Balance
Alberti, a theorist and architect once quoted that “Everything that Nature produces is regulated by the law of harmony, and her chief concern is that everything should be perfect. Without harmony, this could hardly be achieved, for the critical sympathy of the parts would be lost.” The logic of creating harmony and balance is to ensure that the parts of a painting carry on a balanced proportion within the whole of the painting.
He was the leading painter of the Renaissance and was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II in 1508. Julius had him commissioned to decorate the papal apartments in the Vatican. Raphael creatively painted paintings and frescoes that conveyed this balance and also a sense of peace and beauty.
For example, in his painting of Madonna of the Meadow, you can clearly see the depth through the use of color and proportion. The background, middle ground, and foreground provide the details of the painting. Although not fully detailed in the background, it does depict a lot more once you get to the middle ground. Details in the landscape are a lot closer. You can see the use of colors of the landscape. The different shades of green balance out the three dimensional look of the land. As you get to the front, Madonna is first noticed because of her large figure. The three figures are arranged in a pyramid shape to create a balanced space and clear focal point. The soft lines and delicate color of Madonna portrays the representation of beauty and perfection. The figures of the two children convey sweetness and warmth from their faces.
Harmony and Balance Portrayed in Corregio’s Work
In Correggio’s Virgin and Child with Young St. John the Baptist, Correggio concentrates on three biblical figures, especially between the two children. St. John’s and Christ’s body expression gives you a sense of a playful mood between the two. The angle in which St. John is in portrays him looking at Jesus as if he is in awe to what Jesus has to say to him. Jesus looks downward at St. John as if consoling him. Notice how Mary the Virgin, Christ, and John appear in a stable shape of a pyramid to create a balanced and believe space. This pyramidal configuration suggests a kind of harmonious and symmetrical composition. Mary is the largest figure in the piece and her pose is twisted gently, suggesting a shifted balance in it. Her arms, which seem to form a triangle, are softly embracing the two children. Her triangular form of the arms creates an enclosure between all three subjects.
Although the High Renaissance only lasted for a brief period, Italy flourished in one of the most creative forms in the history of art. The period was associated with the careers of Michelangelo and Raphael. Artist’s personal style had become valued for their technical advancements in the works of earlier Renaissance characteristics in which no challenge was too great. Patronage of the arts was greatly influenced by the papacy in which artists were called to create valued work that expressed religious and social themes. The Early Renaissance started a new sense of pride and nationalism where it led to developments in art while the High Renaissance was the pinnacle of that period.