The Renaissance was officially born in Florence, a city that is often referred to as its cradle. This new figurative language, also linked to a different way of thinking about man and the world, began with local culture and humanism, which had already been brought to the fore by people like Francesco Petrarca or Coluccio Salutati. The news, proposed in the early fifteenth century by masters such as Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, were not immediately accepted by the client, indeed remained at least for twenty years a minority and largely misunderstood artistic fact, in the face of the now dominant international Gothic.
Later the Renaissance became the most appreciated figurative language and began to be transmitted to other Italian courts (first of all the papal one of Rome) and then European, thanks to the movements of the artists.
The cycle of the Florentine Renaissance, after the beginnings of the first twenty years of the fifteenth century, spread with enthusiasm until the middle of the century, with experiments based on a technical-practical approach; the second phase took place at the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent, from about 1450 until his death in 1492, and was characterized by a more intellectualistic arrangement of conquests. A third phase is dominated by the personality of Girolamo Savonarola, which deeply marks many artists convincing them to rethink their choices. The last phase, datable between 1490 and 1520, is called “mature” Renaissance, and sees the presence in Florence of three absolute genes of art, which influenced the generations to come:Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Raffaello Sanzio.
For the next period we talk about Mannerism.
In the Florence of the early sixteenth century, however, many other artists moved, often contributors of alternative styles and contents that, despite the high quality content, however, sometimes fell into the void.
Among these, Piero di Cosimo stands out, the last great artist of the Florentine art, from Filippo Lippi to Botticelli and Ghirlandaio. Piero, who owes his nickname to his master Cosimo Rosselli, was an ingenious artist endowed with extreme imagination, capable of creating singular and bizarre works. It is a famous example of the series of stories of primitive humanity, born as espaliers and today divided among the major museums in the world.
In sculpture the only alternative to Michelangelo seems to be that of Andrea Sansovino, creator of slender and vibrant forms, and then of his student Jacopo. Other sculptors, although very active and requested, did not renew their repertoire, referring to the fifteenth century tradition, like Benedetto da Rovezzano.
In architecture in sacred buildings dominate the studies on buildings with a central plan, carried out by Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, while in private construction Baccio d’Agnolo imports classicist models to the Roman (Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni), being first intensely criticized and only later understood and imitated.
At least three were the essential elements of the new style:
Formulation of the rules of the linear centric perspective, which organized the space together;
Attention to man as an individual, both in physiognomy and anatomy and in the representation of emotions
Repudiation of decorative elements and return to essentiality.
Among these the most characteristic was certainly that of linear centric perspective, built according to a mathematical-geometric and measurable method, developed at the beginning of the century by Filippo Brunelleschi. The ease of application, which did not require geometric knowledge of particular refinement, was one of the key factors in the success of the method, which was adopted by the shops with a certain elasticity and with not always orthodox ways.
The linear centric perspective is only one way of representing reality, but its character was particularly consonant with the mentality of Renaissance man, since it gave rise to a rational order of space, according to criteria established by the artists themselves. If on the one hand the presence of mathematical rules made the perspective an objective matter, on the other the choices that determined these rules were of a perfectly subjective nature, such as the position of the vanishing point, the distance from the viewer, the height of the horizon. Ultimately, the Renaissance perspective is nothing more than a representative convention, which today is so deeply rooted as to appear natural, even if some nineteenth-century movements such as cubism, have shown how it is just an illusion.
Social and cultural context
The cultural and scientific renewal began in the last decades of the fourteenth century and in the early fifteenth century in Florence and was rooted in the rediscovery of the classics, started already in the fourteenth century by Francesco Petrarca and other scholars. In their works man began to be the central argument rather than God (the Canzoniere di Petrarca and the Decameron of Boccaccio are a clear example).
At the beginning of the century the city artists were poised on two main choices: adherence to the international gothic style or a more rigorous recovery of the classical ways, for others always echoed in Florentine art since the twelfth century. Each artist dedicated himself, more or less consciously, to one of the two roads, even though the one that prevailed was the second. It is wrong, however, to imagine an advanced triumphant Renaissance language that proceeds against a sclerotic and dying culture, as set by a historiography now outdated: the late Gothicit was a lively language like never before, which in some countries was appreciated well beyond the fifteenth century, and the new Florentine proposal was initially only an alternative of a clear minority, unheard and misunderstood for the last twenty years in Florence itself, as demonstrated by for example the success in those years of artists such as Gentile da Fabriano or Lorenzo Ghiberti.
The “rebirth” succeeded in having an extraordinarily wide diffusion and continuity, from which there emerged a new perception of man and the world, where the individual is able to self-determine and cultivate his own abilities, with which he can win the Luck (in the Latin sense, “fate”) and dominate nature by modifying it. Also important is the associated life, which acquires a particularly positive value linked to dialectics, to the exchange of opinions and information, to comparison.
This new concept spread with enthusiasm, but, based on the strength of individuals, it was not without hard and distressing sides, unknown in the reassuring medieval system. To the certainties of the Ptolemaic world, the uncertainties of the unknown were substituted, the fickle Fortuna alternated with the faith in Providence, and the responsibility of self-determination entailed the anguish of doubt, of error, of failure. This downside, more suffering and frightening, came back every time the fragile economic, social and political equilibrium failed, taking away support for ideals.
The new themes were in any case the heritage of a small elite, which enjoyed an education designed for a future in public offices. The ideals of the humanists, however, were shared by the greater share of bourgeois mercantile and artisan society, above all because they were reflected effectively in everyday life, under the banner of pragmatism, individualism, competitiveness, the legitimacy of wealth and exaltation. of active life. The artists were also participants in these values, even if they did not have an education that could compete with that of the literati; nevertheless, thanks also to the opportune collaborations and to the great technical skills learned in the field, their works aroused a wide interest at all levels, eliminating the elitist differences because they are easier to use than literature, rigorously still written in Latin.
The crisis of the third decade of the 16th century
The new generations of painters can not ignore the comparison with the great and their works left in the city: Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael necessarily make school, but there are also tendencies to overcome their example, putting the accent on other characteristics, until almost to exasperate them. It is the dawn of Mannerism.
After a four-year break, caused by the taking of votes for personal upheaval linked to the events of Savonarola, Fra Bartolomeo resumed painting in 1504. Initially influenced by Cosimo Rosselli, his teacher, and from the circle of Ghirlandaio, he oriented himself towards a severe and essential conception of the sacred images, opening himself to the suggestions of the “great”, in particular of Raphael with whom he had a personal friendship in the years of his Florentine stay.
A trip to Venice enriched his palette, as can be seen from works such as the altarpiece of the Eternal in glory between the saints Maddalena and Catherine of Siena (1508), of austere and composed eloquence. In the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena (1511), the scheme of the Madonna del Baldacchino by Raphael was resumed, increasing the monumentality of the figures and varying more the attitudes of the characters.
The opportunity of a trip to Rome allowed him to see the works of Michelangelo and Raphael at the Vatican, which, according to Vasari, left him troubled: since then his style has turned in on himself, diminishing the vigor and the innovative enthusiasm.
Andrea del Sarto
Also for Andrea del Sarto the starting point were the works of the three “geniuses” in Florence, despite the formation in the workshop of Piero di Cosimo. Experimenter of new iconographies and different techniques, he gave his first evidence of value in the Chiostrino of the Vows of the Santissima Annunziata and in the cloister of Scalzo in Florence, the latter led to monochrome. The modernity of his language soon became a point of reference for a group of artists, peers or younger, such as Franciabigio, Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, which over the years ten formed a real school called “dell’Annunziata”, as opposed to the school “of San Marco ” by Fra Bartolomeo and Mariotto Albertinelli, with the most solemn and paused stylistic accents.
His excellent drawing ability allowed him to reconcile even apparently distant cues, such as Leonardo’s nuanced, the plastic prominence of Michelangelo and Raphael’s classicism, in the name of an impeccable execution and at the same time very free and loose in modeling, which it is worth the nickname of painter “without mistakes”.
Around 1515 he took part in the decoration of the Borgherini Bridal Chamber, with lively narrative schemes, followed in 1517 by his masterpiece, the Madonna delle Arpie, with diaphanous colors and skilfully measured monumentality, without resorting to the anatomical forcing of his younger colleagues..
In 1518 – 1519 he moved to the court of Francis I of France, where he lost the great opportunity for “nostalgia and neglect”, as Luciano Berti pointed out. Back in Florence he deepened the dialogue with Pontormo and Rosso, refining the executive subtleties and the treatment of color, which now becomes shimmering and transparent, with daring and dissonant combinations. With the Madonna in glory with four saints for Poppi, of 1530, he closed his career, anticipating devotional motives of the second half of the century.
Unlike Andrea del Sarto, his pupil Pontormo started a systematic work of renewal of the traditional compositional schemes, almost unprejudiced, as seen in his tables for the Borgherini Bridal Chamber: much more complex than in his colleagues is in fact the spatial organization and narrative of the episodes, like Joseph in Egypt. Even more innovative is the Pala Pucci (1518), where the typical structure of the sacred conversation is upset, with the arrangement of the figures along diagonal lines, with loaded expressions that continue the search for “affections” initiated by Leonardo.
In 1521 he created a bucolic scene from the classic idealization in the lunette of Vertumno and Pomona in the Medici villa of Poggio a Caiano and from 1522 to 1525 he lived at the Certosa, where he was the author of a series of lunettes inspired by the engravings by Albrecht Dürer. The choice of the Nordic model, although now very popular throughout northern Italy, assumed in this case also a meaning of controversial rupture towards the Florentine Renaissance tradition, as well as a veiled appreciation to the new ideas of reform that came from Germany, as was not lacking to criticize the “Counter-Reformation” Giorgio Vasari.
An irreconcilable fracture with the past is recorded in the decoration of the Capponi Chapel in Santa Felicita in Florence, especially in the altarpiece with the Transport of Christ to the tomb (1526-1528): devoid of environmental references, exhibition, with a palette of diaphanous and enamelled shades, eleven characters in an ambiguous space, where the fluctuating and weightless effect of many figures is combined with emphatic gestures and tense expressions. The result is a very fine intellectualism, enigmatic and subtly sought after. Similar effects are confirmed in the Visitation of Carmignano, a little later (1528-1529).
His complex personality, especially during the enterprise of the lost frescoes in the apse of San Lorenzo, in which the comparison with Michelangelo and the desire to overcome it became almost an obsession, became ever more introverted and tormented, making it the prototype melancholic and solitary artist.
Also a pupil of Andrea del Sarto, Rosso Fiorentino shared the artistic formative journey with the almost contemporary Pontormo, until in 1523 he left Florence for Rome. Involved in all the innovations of those years, he also undertook a profound renewal of tradition, addressing an original recovery of the expressive, almost caricatural deformation, recalling hints that can be found in the works of Filippino Lippi and Piero di Cosimo. His masterpiece is the Deposition from the Cross in the civic Pinacoteca of Volterra(1521), where in a compositional system played on an interweaving of lines almost paradoxical (like the double direction of the stairs resting on the cross), numerous characters with forced expressions perform convulsive and agitated gestures.
Michelangelo in San Lorenzo
In 1515 the solemn visit of Pope Leo X (Giovanni de ‘Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent) in his hometown marked the restoration of full Medici dominion after the Republican parenthesis, the penultimate one. The creation of large ephemeral apparatuses saw the participation of the best active artists in the city, including Jacopo Sansovino and Andrea del Sarto, who were responsible for the construction of an ephemeral façade for the unfinished cathedral. This enterprise hit the pontiff who, shortly thereafter, banned a competition to realize another unfinished facade, that of the church patreonata by the Medici, San Lorenzo. Collected some projects (among others by Giuliano da Sangallo, Raphael, Jacopo and Andrea Sansovino), the pope finally chose that of Michelangelo, characterized by a rectangular elevation not related to the salient shape of the church’s nave, which it was more like the profane models hitherto built rather than the churches. The project, which also included a vast sculptural apparatus in both marble and bronze, was commissioned at the end of 1517, but a series of choices and events (mainly related to problems with the quarries chosen for the stone supply) slowed down the work and at the same time made the costs rise.
In 1519 Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, the Pope’s nephew, tragically disappeared, on whose shoulders the hopes of the dynastic success of the Medici in central Italy weighed, especially after the disappearance of the other scion Giuliano, duke of Nemour. These events led the pope rather to promote another business in the complex Laurentia, or the creation of a funeral chapel, known as the New Sacristy, which was always charged Michelangelo. Already in 1520, a letter from the artist, together with the regret for the sacking of the great enterprise of the façade, recalls how the studies for the funerary chapel had already been started. Of analogous and symmetrical shape to the correspondentOld Sacristy of Brunelleschi, made a century before ever for the Medici, the new chapel was designed to accommodate both the tombs of the two dukes, which of the two “magnificent” Lorenzo and Giuliano, respectively father and uncle of the Pope. At first, Michelangelo presented a project with a central plan, which reworked the outline of the first idea for the tomb of Julius II; a certain narrowness of space made then lean towards a solution with the funeral monuments resting on the walls. Architecturally, the scheme of the walls deviates from the Brunelleschi model for the insertion of the windows in an intermediate space between the lower wall and the lancetons below the dome, and with a memory of more dense and articulated members with greater freedom, under the banner of a vibrant vertical momentum, which ends in the classic-style coffered cupola, in place of the umbrella vault. The tombs, more than leaning against each other, dynamically relate to the walls, with the statues accommodated by niches taking up the shape of the niches above the doors and windows.
A first suspension of the work occurred at the death of the Pope (1521), and again, despite the recovery with the election of Clement VII, at the century Giulio de ‘Medici, a second arrest with the sack of Rome (1527) and the the last republican establishment in Florence, which saw the artist himself deeply involved. With the siege of Florence in the resumption of the city by the Medici (1530), Michelangelo was forced to resume the project for the disputed clients, and he devoted himself to it with almost frantic impetus until his final departure for Rome, in 1534. Thus he created the statues of the two dukes, purposely classical and ideal, with no interest in the given portraiture, and fourAllegories of Time, expansive figures of the Night, of the Day, of the Twilight and of the Aurora, complemantari for theme and pose, in addition to the Medici Madonna. The general theme is that of the Medici dynasty’s survival over the passage of time and the comfort offered by the religion (the Madonna) to which the eyes of the two dukes are addressed forever. The river statues of trousseau, the bronze reliefs and the frescoes that probably were supposed to document the lunettes were never realized.
From 1524 the work on the sacristy intertwined with those of another great project in San Lorenzo, that of the Medicea Laurenziana library, commissioned by Clement VII. The reading room, resuming that of Michelozzo in San Marco, has a longitudinal development and a conspicuous windows on both sides, without however resorting to the division into aisles. here too the walls and the specular ceiling and floor design create a rhythmic geometric scan of the space. This contrasts with the violent plastic contrasts and the strong vertical impetus of the vestibule.
Michelangelo’s architectures in San Lorenzo had an enormous influence on the artistic culture of the period because, as Vasari also recalled, they introduced the theme of “licenses” into classical architectural language.
Source from Wikipedia