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[…]

Francis Drake’s Circumnavigation of the Globe, 1577-1580

Drake was on an official mission to find a trade route – and a secret mission from Queen Elizabeth to plunder and attack the Spanish. Introduction The English mariner, privateer, and explorer Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596 CE) made his circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580 CE. Only the second man to achieve this feat[…]

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,[…]

Charlemagne’s Educational, Economic, Religious, and Political Reforms

Charlemagne took a serious interest in scholarship, promoting the liberal arts at the court, and encouraging education. Introduction – The Carolingian Renaissance As emperor, Charlemagne stood out for his many reforms—monetary, governmental, military, cultural, and ecclesiastical. He was the main initiator and proponent of the “Carolingian Renaissance,” the first of three medieval renaissances. It was[…]

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,[…]

Jan Baptist Van Helmont: Toxicology in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Van Helmont was an heir of Paracelsus’s thought and movement who went to lengths in later years to distinguish himself. Introduction This article discusses Jan Baptist Van Helmont’s (1579-1644) views on poison in light of his medical alchemy. First, it argues that his approach was fundamentally influenced by the theories of ‘universal poison’ and ‘potent[…]

Types of Patronage in Renaissance Art and Architecture

We often forget that for most of history artists did not simply create art for art’s sake. Introduction When the banker’s guild of Florence commissioned a massive bronze statue of St. Matthew for Orsanmichele—a former grain house turned shrine at the heart of the city—they clearly had their own magnificence in mind. Not only did[…]

A Mathematical Duel in 16th-Century Renaissance Venice

The story of two Renaissance mathematicians whose jealousies, intrigues, and contentious debates led to a discovery. By Fabio Toscano translated Arturo Sangalli Niccolò Tartaglia was an ambitious teacher who possessed a secret formula – the key to unlocking a seemingly unsolvable, two-thousand-year-old mathematical problem. He wrote it down in the form of a poem to[…]

Why Did Michelangelo Use Red Chalk?

The artist used the medium to shape the human form. During his lifetime, Michelangelo likely produced tens of thousands of drawings. But being protective of his ideas, and to give an impression of effortless genius, he destroyed many of them. Today only about 600 drawings by the Renaissance artist survive. A Getty exhibition highlighted 28[…]

The Geometric Landscapes of Lorenz Stoer (1567)

This was intended to be “read” by intarsia workers (artists who inlay sections of wood to decorate floors, walls, and furniture). This article, The Geometric Landscapes of Lorenz Stoer (1567), was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Though these images may[…]

Strangers in the City: The Cosmopolitan Nature of 16th-Century Venice

Othello shows us the cosmopolitan nature of renaissance Venice. Of all Shakespeare’s plays, it is Othello which reflects most vividly the multi-ethnic character of the Mediterranean basin in the 16th century. The Venetian army led by Othello, an African Moor, consists also of a Florentine (Cassio) and perhaps a Spaniard as well: the name ‘Iago’[…]

Exploring the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo, Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, 1508-12, fresco (Vatican, Rome) Michelangelo began to work on the frescoes for Pope Julius II in 1508, replacing a blue ceiling dotted with stars. Visiting the Chapel To any visitor of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, two features become immediately and undeniably apparent: 1) the ceiling is really high up, and[…]

Top Interesting Dissertation Topics on Renaissance

Renaissance is one of the most interesting periods in history. It’s an ever-lasting inspiration for a college paper, since students can choose from countless pieces of art, architecture, and literature to analyze. To understand how a particular point in history was, you’d had to experience it. Publications testify about people and events, but they may[…]

The Renaissance in Spain

During the Renaissance, the Spanish empire also extended throughout Western Europe. Introduction We often think of globalization as a modern phenomenon, but the confluence of cultures we see today was already growing in the Spanish Empire during the 15th and 16th centuries. For instance, dividing screens from Japan were imported to Mexico, where they were[…]

An Introduction to the Northern Renaissance in the Fifteenth Century

Italian art and ideas migrated North from Italy. What Was the Renaissance and Where Did It Happen? The word Renaissance is generally defined as the rebirth of classical antiquity in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Seems simple enough, but the word “Renaissance” is actually fraught with complexity. Scholars argue about exactly when the Renaissance[…]

Animals and Allusions on an Italian Renaissance Basin

An intricate basin features sea creatures, birds, and mythological beasts, which bore a multitude of meanings to the sixteenth-century elite. Introduction Animals are rarely just animals in sixteenth-century Italian art. They may symbolize virtues or signify social status. They can also act as mnemonic devices, prompting viewers to recall other works of art, both visual[…]

Animals in the Art of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci saw in animals the ‘image of the world’. About six months ago I stopped eating meat. I was teaching a graduate course at UCLA that investigated how Italian Renaissance writers conveyed their concepts about the human through writing about the nonhuman – plants, animals, objects, angels, demons, gods and God. As weeks[…]

Behind This Cover Lies a World Treasure

A small and ornate book opens up to reveal one of the great masterpieces of Renaissance manuscript illumination. The exquisite Rothschild Prayer Book, one of a handful of peerless illuminated manuscripts produced at the end of the 15th and the early 16th centuries, will be the centrepiece of an exhibition featuring the collection of media[…]

Renaissance Woman: Isabella d’Este

Despite the restrictions women faced, her art collections demonstrate important renaissance themes. Introduction In European history classes, we often hear about renaissance men: Cosimo de’ Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, and Niccolò Machiavelli. Where were the women? The most famous female patron of the Italian renaissance was Isabella d’Este Gonzaga (1474–1539), marchioness of a territory in[…]

Titian’s ‘Pastoral Concert’: A New Genre in Renaissance Italy

This genre became one of the most important artistic contributions of Renaissance Venice. Farewell, peoples and cities. The countryside will offer delightful displays for my eyes. Jacopo Sannazaro, Elegies, Book 1, Poem II, line 24 I know that then my verses will appear/ unpolished and dark, but I hope that even so/ they will be[…]

Italy’s Erotic Revolution in Renaissance Art Joined the Lusty to the Divine

There was a split between the pure ideal and base reality, between sacred and profane love. In the Sistine Chapel, you look up at Michelangelo’s Last Judgment and see muscular angels hurtling through space, nude or with just a scrap of cloth tight across their buttocks (Figure 1, above). Then after leaving the Vatican, you[…]

Francis Bacon and the Scientific Revolution

Sir Francis Bacon developed a method for philosophers to use in weighing the truthfulness of knowledge. How Do We Know That Something Is True? The word science comes from the latin root scientia, meaning knowledge. But where does the knowledge that makes up science come from? How do you ever really know that something is true? For instance,[…]

The Legacy of the Middle Ages in the Renaissance and Beyond

The European Middle Ages were a time of tremendous creativity and innovation, setting the stage for what was to come. Introduction Today, the period in Europe from about the year 500 through approximately 1500 CE is called the Middle Ages, or the medieval era (the word medieval comes from the Latin medium aevum, literally middle age). But of[…]

The Black Death’s Economic Impact and Contribution to the Renaissance

The Black Death struck in 1348, 1362, 1368, 1381, and continued even into the 18th century. 1348 The Black Death arrived on European shores in 1348. By 1350, the year it retreated, it had felled a quarter to half of the region’s population. In 1362, 1368, and 1381, it struck again—as it would periodically well[…]

The Medici Collecting the Americas

Objects, flora, and fauna from these faraway lands were shipped back to Europe where many people perceived them as exotic items of wonder and fascination. Americana and Cabinets of Curiosities After Christopher Columbus landed on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1492 and the subsequent Spanish invasion and colonization of much of the Americas, material objects, flora,[…]

Leonardo’s Depiction of Mary and Jesus Tells Us about His Religious Beliefs

Leonardo da Vinci emphasized the naturalness of the relationship of Jesus and Mary in his art, while also inviting viewers into a religious message. On the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, Italian academic Francesco Caglioti’s recent claim that a sculpture held at a London museum bears close similarities with the work of the Renaissance genius[…]