Leading Figures of the Renaissance

From the 14th through the 16th centuries, Europe crackled with energy. Introduction The period in Europe known as the Renaissance began in Italy around 1300. From the 14th through the 16th centuries, Europe crackled with energy. Trade and commerce boomed. Cities grew. Artists and writers experimented with their crafts and created wonderful works of art[…]

Florence: The Cradle of the Renaissance

Exploring the Italian city-state of Florence to learn about a number of advances made there during the Renaissance. Introduction Florence is located on the Arno River, just north of central Italy. The city is often called the “cradle of the Renaissance.” Between 1300 and 1600, it was home to some of the greatest artists and[…]

Stone and Concrete in Ancient Italo-Roman Building Techniques

The masonry techniques discussed here cover a broad chronological range from the second millennium B.C.E. to Late Antiquity. Introduction Building techniques represent an important means through which to study and understand ancient structures. The building technique chosen for a given project can indirectly provide a good deal of information about the building itself, in terms[…]

Marine Life in Ancient Mediterranean Art

Throughout the history of the ancient Mediterranean artists were always keen to express their appreciation of the bounty of the sea. Marine life of all kinds, real and imagined, was frequently depicted on frescoes, pottery, mosaics and coins. Here are 24 images with a sea theme from the Bronze Age to the 3rd century CE, encompassing Egyptian, Minoan, Mycenaean,[…]

William Strickland and Greek Temple Architecture in the Early United States

In the architectural void of a new nation, he borrowed from ancient Athens to express America’s democratic ethos. President Andrew Jackson took a keen interest in the construction of the federal mint in Philadelphia, a grand, columned edifice, inspired by the temples of ancient Greece, that opened in 1833. Jackson was not a man known for his appreciation of cultural and artistic pursuits.[…]

Magna Ecclesia: A History of the Hagia Sophia

The aesthetic qualities of a geometric design are what most concern the twentieth-century work on Hagia Sophia. Introduction Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, constructed 532-537 CE, continues to be revered as one of the most important structures in the world. Hagia Sophia (Greek Ἁγία Σοφία, for ‘Holy Wisdom’) was designed to be the major basilica of the[…]

Art and Science in Renaissance Italy

The increased study of plants for artistic purposes during the Renaissance led to the development of the modern field of botany. Early Renaissance Italy witnessed a remarkable flowering of the arts and sciences. Humanist scholars looked to medieval libraries to discover works from the past, which they copied, studied and developed in new ways. They[…]

Alberti’s Late Medieval Revolution in Painting

Alberti’s De Pictura (On Painting, 1435) was the first theoretical text written about art in Europe. Introduction In a fresco (water-based pigment applied to fresh moist plaster) high on one wall of the Sistine Chapel, the aged Saint Peter kneels as he humbly accepts the keys of heaven from Jesus Christ standing before him. These[…]

Illuminating the Carolingian Era: The Artistic Diversity of Charlemagne’s Renaissance

These luxurious manuscripts were written and illuminated between the late eighth century and the first quarter of the ninth century. Abstract Comparing information from the ancient texts about the illumination of the manuscripts to the analysis of the components used to create colour in illuminations sheds interesting light. Our research team studied several manuscripts from[…]

Horse Power: An Unbridled Selection of Horses in Getty Museum’s Art Collections

Humans have been making art about horses longer than we have been riding them. Introduction From the 17,000-year-old cave paintings at Lascaux to that iconic ‘80s Trapper Keeper, humans have been making art about horses longer than we have been riding them. Art featuring horses is so prominent in the Getty’s collections that this is[…]

Magical Seals in a Medieval English Book of Hours

A prayer book including ‘seals’ that offered supernatural protection. In addition to containing the daily cycle of prayer, Books of Hours sometimes include magical spells or incantations, reflecting their lay owners’ concerns over physical and spiritual dangers. Stowe MS 16, a Book of Hours produced in London shortly before 1410, is an interesting example. This[…]

Illuminating the Natural World in Medieval Manuscripts

Throughout the history of the book, scribes and artists have incorporated nature into their creations. Flowers are blooming in Los Angeles, and although we are spending much more time at home than usual, many of us are finding opportunities to be outside in nature at a safe distance from others. As manuscript curators, we have[…]

Experimenting with Natural Dyes to Learn More about Ancient Life

Studies of painting materials from the ancient world have revealed a very sophisticated use of natural dyes as colorful pigments. The onions, avocados, and herbs sat in the fridge, neatly packed in baggies that disguised their colorful potential. Each of these unsuspecting items could be used to dye fabrics. I am a conservator of ancient[…]

Indigenous Artists Use Technology to Tell Stories about Their Ancestral Lands

The stories of four groups of Indigenous artists using technology and art to tell their communities’ stories. By Demi Guo Introduction Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun does not use email or text. In the Coastal Salish communities from which he hails, he has been known as a painter and a dancer since the 1980s. Yet, he has[…]

Ancient Rome’s Wealthy Cities of Oplontis, Stabiae, and Boscoreale

While the Vesuvian eruption was devastating, and many lives were lost, it preserved a moment in Roman history. Introduction More than 2,000 years ago, extremely wealthy Romans lived on the sunny shores of the Bay of Naples at Pompeii and in opulent villas nearby, unconcerned about Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), Augustus[…]

An Introduction to the Bestiary, a Book of Beasts in the Medieval World

Some bestiary descriptions explained a creature’s Christian significance while others focused on physical characteristics. Introduction The bestiary — the medieval book of beasts — was among the most popular illuminated texts in northern Europe during the Middle Ages (about 500–1500). Medieval Christians understood every element of the world as a manifestation of God, and bestiaries[…]

Sex, Power, and Violence in the Renaissance Nude

Visual access to real women’s bodies was strictly policed in the Renaissance, particularly in Italy. The relationship between art, gender, and power goes back centuries; it didn’t start with #MeToo. Cultural production, such as novels, paintings, or films, does not merely reflect the ideas of a single artist or a patron—it articulates and reflects the norms[…]

Black Figures in Classical Greek Art

Museum and academic scholars are key players in the fight for contextualized and equitable perspectives of black people in antiquity. In ancient Greece, men often escaped their daily grind to socialize at a symposium, or formalized drinking party. In the symposium, revelers indulged in numerous leisure activities centered around the consumption of wine. Among the[…]

Education, Religion, Art, and Geography during the European Renaissance

Looking at developments that shaped culture during the period. Introduction Few historical concepts have such powerful resonance as the Renaissance. Usually used to describe the rediscovery of classical Roman and Greek culture in the late 1300s and 1400s and the great pan-European flowering in art, architecture, literature, science, music, philosophy and politics that this inspired,[…]

Damnatio and Creatio Memoriae: Memory Sanctions as Creative Processes in the 4th Century

How ancient emperors used oratory, ceremony, and triumphal architecture to memorialize their fallen enemies. Introduction Damnatio memoriae, the ill-defined group of processes that we often now refer to by the term ‘memory sanctions’, is generally thought of in wholly negative terms. It is imagined as a process of destruction, of erasure, and of silence. Yet[…]

Damnatio Memoriae: Sanctions against Memory in Ancient Rome

Many emperors were raised to gods after death, but just as many received the opposite – officially erased from memory. Condemning Memory Damnatio memoriae is a term we use to describe a Roman phenomenon in which the government condemned the memory of a person who was seen as a tyrant, traitor, or other sort of[…]

Guido Mazzoni and Portrayals of Grief in Renaissance Art

In renaissance Italy, displays of grief were expected to be moderated. Why Mourning Matters A life-size, terracotta (a type of earthenware) sculpture group shows seven biblical figures gathered around the dead body of Jesus Christ. Created in the 1480s for Duke Ercole d’Este of Ferrara, Guido Mazzoni’s sculpture group also includes the duke and his[…]

Female Artists in the Renaissance

Women have always been artists, even famed artists. So why were many forgotten? Recovering Forgotten Masters When Renaissance painter Plautilla Nelli got her first solo exhibit at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery in 2017, some art historians asked . . . Plautilla who??  Despite being a celebrated artist in sixteenth-century Florence, Nelli had been forgotten by art[…]

Introduction to Gender in Renaissance Italy

Internal virtues, including gender characteristics, were believed to be communicated through outward appearance. Ideal Representative of Masculinity and Femininity In a pair of portraits painted by the Venetian artist Titian (see above), the Duke and Duchess of Urbino are presented as ideal representatives of their sexes. Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere, the great mercenary captain,[…]

Mosaics and Microcosm: Iconography in Ancient Byzantine Monasteries

Byzantine texts interpreted the domed church as a microcosm – a three-dimensional image of the cosmos. Ecstatic Motion The city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire since its foundation by Constantine in 330 C.E., was roiled by the Iconoclastic Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries. Emperors, bishops, and many others debated[…]

Prints and Printmakers in Colonial New Spain

Religious orthodoxy was critical during this period of the Counter Reformation and was enforced by the Inquisition in Mexico City. Introduction One of the earliest representations of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe, today patroness of the Americas and an important symbol of Mexican national and religious identity, is an engraving printed in 1608. The engraving[…]

Ancient Chinese Calligraphy

The brushwork of calligraphy, its philosophy, and materials would influence Chinese painting styles. Introduction Calligraphy established itself as the most important ancient Chinese art form alongside painting, first coming to the fore during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). All educated men and some court women were expected to be proficient at it,[…]