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Index by Period

High Renaissance in the South
(1500 - 1550)

Many of the West's most legendary artists - Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese - were active during the High Renaissance. They changed not only the direction of Western art but established the modern concept of the artist. Giorgio Vasari, who valued these artists sufficiently to write the first biographies of them, continually referred to their "divinely inspired" talents. His accounts of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael reveal that they dared to regard themselves as equal to their aristocratic patrons by virtue of their genius, a view that seemed to be accepted by even the most wealthy and powerful members of their society. The tolerance granted to these artists also extended to their eccentricities, which were forgiven or explained by their exceptional talents.

Despite their highly individual temperaments and working methods, all the artists of this period were trained in traditional workshops. Innovation was discouraged in favour of tradition in the workshops where the young learned their craft. Yet when they emerged from their training, these great artists channeled what they had learned into something wholly original, personal, and largely inimitable.

Much of their inspiration came from the growing interest in the art of antiquity. For instance, Lorenzo the Magnificent had a marvelous collection in Florence of ancient marble sculpture that the young Michelangelo studied intensively. As more and more ancient works of art were found (the Apollo Belvedere was recovered in 1503, and the Laoco÷n Group in 1506), painters and sculptors flocked to see them and strove not merely to imitate but to rival them. These ancient celebrations of the human figure, together with the optimistic spirit of the early sixteenth century, fostered an unprecedented interest in the figure as art. As individuals rose to prominence in every sphere of human endeavour, the idea that the figure was the true subject of art regained acceptance, though how artists interpreted the figure varied.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


4 January 2002

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