Roman Renaissance in 15th century

The Renaissance in Rome had a season that goes from the forties of the fifteenth century, up to the peak in the first half of the sixteenth century, when the papal city was the most important place of artistic production of the entire continent, with masters who left an indelible mark in the culture Western figurative such as Michelangelo and Raphael.

The production in Rome in this period of time was almost never based on local artists, but offered to foreign artists a terrain of vast synthesis and comparison in which to put to good use their ambitions and abilities to the best, often receiving extremely vast and prestigious tasks.

The Quattrocento
Historical premise
The fourteenth century, with the absence of the popes during the captivity of Avignon, had been a century of neglect and misery for the city of Rome, which reached its historical minimum in terms of population. With the return of the papacy in Italy, repeatedly postponed due to the poor conditions of the city and the lack of control and security, it was first necessary to strengthen the doctrinal and political aspects of the pontiff. When in 1377 Gregory XIhe had indeed returned to Rome, had found a city in the throes of anarchy because of the struggles between the noble and the popular faction, and in which by now his power was more formal than real. Forty years of instability followed, characterized at the local level by the power conflict between the municipality and the papacy, and at the international level by the great schism of the West between the popes of Rome and Avignon’s antipopes, at the end of which he was elected pope, by mutual agreement between the parties, Martino V of the Colonna family. He succeeded in reducing the city to order, laying the foundations for his rebirth.

Martin V (1417-1431)
Martin V, who was re-established in the Apostolic See in 1420, was the first pope who could deal with a revival of the city also in monumental and artistic terms. In 1423 a jubilee was called to celebrate the city’s rebirth. His plans aimed to restore that prestige to the city, which also had a specific political purpose: by recovering the splendor of Imperial Rome, he also proclaimed his continuer and direct heir.

The first sites to be opened essentially concerned the two poles of the Lateran (with the frescoes – now lost – in the basilica of San Giovanni where Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello worked between 1425 and 1430) and the Vatican, where the papal residence was moved, starting the transformation of the area beyond the Tiber from the peripheral area to an immense construction site.

In the meantime, the city had begun to be a pole of attraction for artists eager to study and confront the classical tradition of its ruins. The oldest news of a journey made by foreign artists to search and study the forms and techniques of ancient Roman art is that of 1402, when Florentines Brunelleschi and Donatello went there, who came back several times to find inspiration for what it was the Renaissance in art.

Pisanello and his assistants also frequently took inspiration from ancient remains, but their approach was essentially cataloging, interested in acquiring the most varied repertoire models to be exploited in different compositions and combinations, without an interest in understanding the essence of ancient art..

The pope, who had stayed in Florence, called Florentine artists, such as Masaccio and Masolino, to participate in his program, even if the innovative contribution of the first was cut short by premature death. In 1443 – 1445 Leon Battista Alberti wrote the Descriptio urbis Romae, where he proposed a system for a geometric arrangement of the city centered on the Capitoline Hill.

In any case it is not yet possible to speak of a “Roman school”, since the interventions of the artists, almost exclusively foreign, were still essentially linked to the respective cultural matrices, without specific contact elements or common addresses.

Eugene IV (1431-1447)

Filarete, tile of the door of San Pietro
Eugenio IV was, like his predecessor, a cultured and refined man, who traveled a lot, knowing the artistic innovations of Florence and other cities and calling renowned artists to decorate Rome. The Council of Basel had sanctioned the defeat of the conciliarist theses and reaffirmed a monarchical structure of the papacy. In the appendix to Florence the centuries-old schism of the East had also been mended, albeit in a very ephemeral way. In this context it was possible to continue the restoration works in the Roman basilicas. In the early forties the humanist Filarete was called, who finished in 1445 the bronze doors of San Pietro, where there is a precocious antiquarian taste linked to the capital and its vestiges.

Shortly thereafter, Fra Angelico arrived in the city, which began a series of large frescoes lost in Saint Peter’s, and Frenchman Jean Fouquet, who witnessed with his presence the nascent interest in Italy of Flemish and Nordic painting in general. Although the term of the pontificate of Eugene IV did not allow to fully implement his plans, Rome began to become that fertile meeting ground between artists of different schools, which would soon result in a common style and, for the first time, definable “Roman “.

Niccolò V (1447-1455)

Urban planning
It was with Niccolò V that the sporadic transformations of his predecessors took on an organic physiognomy, paving the way for ambitious later developments. The city’s reorganization plan focused on five fundamental points:

Restoration of the walls
Restoration or reconstruction of the forty churches in the city
Reset of the village
Extension of St. Peter
Restructuring of the Apostolic Palace
The intent was to obtain a religious citadel on the Vatican hill, outside the secular city that had its fulcrum around the Capitol. This project was indissolubly bound to exalt the power of the Church, unequivocally demonstrating the continuity between Imperial Rome and Christian Rome.

Because of the brevity of the papacy of Niccolò, the ambitious project could not be completed, but it brought together artists from more than one school (especially from Tuscany and Lombardy), who shared interest in antiquity and fascination with the classical remains: this common passion ended up determining, in some way, a certain homogeneity of their works.

The presence of Leon Battista Alberti, although not directly connected to actual construction sites (to which he proved to be very critical), was important to reaffirm the value of the legacy of ancient Rome and its link with the papacy. In 1452 he dedicated to Niccolò V the treatise De re aedificatoria, where the bases for the re-use of the lesson of the ancients were theorized, updated with a rigorous recovery also of elements derived from medieval tradition.

A paradigmatic example of the taste developed in that period in architecture is Palazzo Venezia, started in 1455 incorporating pre-existing constructions. In the project of the Palazzetto courtyard (of which the author is unknown) there are elements taken from Roman architecture, but combined without philological rigor, favoring functionality and rigid adherence to the model. It takes the model of the viridarium and is inspired by the Colosseum in the overlapping architectural orders and in the cornice with a shelf frieze.. But the width of the arches is diminished and simplified, so as not to make them look too imposing compared to the spaces they contain. In real palace (built in 1466) there was a more faithful revival of the ancient models, witnessing a gradual deeper understanding: for example the vestibule was once a lacunar in concrete (taken from the Pantheon and the Basilica of Maxentius) or loggia of the main courtyard has the overlapping orders and the semi-columns leaning on the pillars, as in the Colosseum or in the Teatro di Marcello.

The renovation of the Constantinian basilica of San Pietro was entrusted to Bernardo Rossellino. The project involved the maintenance of the longitudinal body with five naves covering it with cross vaults on pillars that had to incorporate the old columns, while the apse was rebuilt with the enlargement of the transept, the addition of a choir, which was the logical continuation of the nave, and the insertion of a dome at the intersection of the arms. This configuration perhaps influenced in some way the subsequent Bramante project for a total renovation of the building, which in fact preserved what was already built. The works started around 1450, but with the death of the Pope they did not develop further and remained substantially still during the successive pontificates until Julius II, who then decided for a complete reconstruction.

The papal commission exercised an even stronger amalgam action in painting, where tradition did not provide binding models. The renewal of the Apostolic Palace had a first stage in the decoration of the Pope’s private chapel, the Niccolina chapel, to which Beato Angelico worked and aid, including Benozzo Gozzoli. The decoration included stories of St. Lawrence and St. Stephen, which were interpreted by Angelico with a style rich in details, with cultured quotations and more varied motifs, where his “Christian humanism” touches one of its expressive vertices. The scenes are set in majestic architectures, born from suggestions of ancient and early Christian Rome, but not tied to pedestrian references, perhaps mindful of the projects that were already circulating at the papal court for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s. The figures are solid, the calm and solemn gestures, the general tone more aulic than the usual meditative synthesis of the artist.

In view of the Jubilee of 1450, many works were started and the proceeds that guaranteed the celebrations allowed to attract to the city a large number of artists also very different from each other. The pope was not interested in the stylistic homogeneity, in fact he called to work for him the Venetians Vivarini, the Umbrian Bartolomeo di Tommaso and Benedetto Bonfigli, the Tuscan Andrea del Castagno and Piero della Francesca, a Luca called “German”, and perhaps the Flemish Rogier van der Weyden. This wealth of ideas paved the way for the synthesis that, towards the end of the century, led to the creation of a language that was properly “Roman”.

Pius II (1458-1464)
Under Pius II, the humanist Pope, he worked from 1458 to 1459 Piero della Francesca, who left some frescoes in the Apostolic Palace, well documented but now lost, after they were destroyed in the 16th century to make room for Raphael’s first Vatican Rooms.

The Pope’s resources, however, were mainly addressed, in the artistic field, to the reconstruction of Corsignano, his birthplace in the province of Siena, whose name was later changed to Pienza, in his honor.

However, his commission was also ascertained for important Roman works, perhaps no longer existing today, such as the renewal project of the Platea Sancti Petri in front of the Vatican basilica through the construction of a project by Francesco del Borgo della Loggia delle Benedizioni. then not completed, of the stairway in front of the quadriportico and of the statues of San Pietro and San Paolo placed on the same stairway and attributed to the sculptor Paolo Romano.

In this period the problem of the conservation of classical monuments was born, as was Pius II, who authorized the use of the Colosseum’s marble for the construction of the Loggia, and in 1462 issued the bull Cum almam nostra urbem in his dignity and splendor preserve cupiamus that forbade anyone to damage the ancient public buildings.

Paul II (1464-1471)
The pontificate of Paul II is characterized by a certain hostility towards the humanists, so as to abolish the college of the abbreviators and imprison the Platina. However, the research process of Renaissance language continues in continuous relationship with the ancient. The pope himself commissioned the loggia of the blessings of the Basilica of San Marco Evangelista to the Campidoglio, made using bare material probably coming from the Colosseum, and designed using the syntax of ancient architecture with the superimposition of orders and the presence of arches on pillars, framed by a trabeate order, which anticipates the Roman architectures ofBramante of a few decades later.

Sixtus IV (1471-1484)
Sixtus IV, elected pontiff in August 1471, was the ideal continuer of the grandiose projects of Niccolò V. Former professor of theology and general of the Franciscans, shortly after his election he made a gesture with a strong symbolic value, restoring the Campidoglio to the Roman people, where were placed ancient reliefs and bronzes able to pass on the imperial memory, including the Lupa.

He surrounded himself with important humanists, such as Platina or Giovanni Alvise Toscani, and for them he refounded, enriched and expanded the Vatican Library. Pictor papalis was named Melozzo da Forlì, who frescoed one of the emblems of the Roman humanist culture of the time, Sixtus IV nominates Platina prefect of the Vatican library (1477), where the pope is portrayed among his grandchildren in a sumptuous classical architecture. A few years later, for Giuliano della Rovere, Melozzo frescoed the apse of the Basilica of the Santi Apostoli with an Ascension between Apostles and Angels musicians, considered the first fully conscious example of a “sott’in su” perspective.

Pope Sixtus commissioned the Sixtus bridge which, inaugurated for the Jubilee of 1475, was to facilitate access to St. Peter for pilgrims coming from the left bank of the Tiber, hitherto forced to huddle on the Ponte Sant’Angelo with frequent incidents. For the same purpose, it opened a new road (the Via Sistina, today’s Borgo Sant’Angelo) in the Borgo district. He also rebuilt San Vitale in 1475. He sanctioned the first attempt to reorganize the Julian Calendar by Regiomontano and called to RomeJosquin des Prez for his music. His bronze funerary monument, in the Basilica of San Pietro, which looks like a gigantic goldsmith’s box, is by Antonio Pollaiuolo.

The first phase of the Sistine Chapel
The most ambitious and most resonant project of the papacy of Sixtus IV was the reconstruction and decoration of the palatine chapel of the Vatican, which was later named in his honor the Sistine Chapel. The environment was destined to host the most solemn and ceremonious functions of the liturgical calendar of the papal court, for which it must have been a sufficiently sumptuous and monumental frame, able to express the concept of the Majestas papalis to whoever had entered it: the college of cardinals, the generals of the monastic orders, the accredited diplomats, the high papal bureaucracy, the senator and the conservatives of the city of Rome, the patriarchs, bishops and princes and other eminent personalities visiting the city.

The partial demolition of the almost crumbling pre-existing building started in 1477 and the new construction, with the inevitable irregularities, was quickly built under the direction of Giovannino de ‘Dolci. By 1481 it must have already been completed, since it began the fresco decoration.

For those of Pope Sixtus, in those years, Perugino was working, a young and promising Umbrian artist but partly Florentine, author of a lost cycle of frescoes in the Chapel of the Conception, located in the choir of the Vatican Basilica (1479). Satisfied with the result of this first commission, the pope had to give the umbra the fresco decoration of the entire Sistine Chapel, but soon, from 1481, Lorenzo the Magnificent, eager to reconcile with the pope after breaking up with the Pazzi conspiracy, sent the best young “fresco painters” active then on the Florentine scene: Sandro Botticelli,Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli with their respective helpers, some of whom later became well-known names on the art scene.

This team, in a very short time (not much more than a year for almost all of them), dedicated itself to the decoration of the median band of the walls where, under a series of Popes between the windows, there were twelve stories in parallel of the Stories of Moses and of Jesus. The correspondences between the Old and the New Testament symbolized the continuity of the transmission of the divine law from the Tablets of the Law up to the new covenant with men refreshed with the coming of Christ. With the scene of Key Delivery, the passage of power to St. Peter was repeatedand from these, implying, to his successors, that is, to the popes themselves. The pope’s universal power function was then spelled out by other allegorical meanings, such as the scene of the rebel punishment, which recalled the treatment that God could give to those who opposed the authority of his representative on earth, that is, the pope.

The Sistine painters held to common representative conventions in order to make homogeneous work result as the use of the same dimensional scale, rhythmic structure and landscape representation; moreover, they used not only a single color range, but also a multitude of highlights in gold, which made the paintings glow in the flashes of the torches and candles used for lighting. The result shows a wide monumental breath, with many citations of classical architectures (triumphal arches, buildings with a central plan), and a calm and secure rhythm of the scenes, whose narration proceeds smoothly.

The Sistine Chapel thus established, well before Michelangelo’s interventions, the reference point for Renaissance art, setting the key features for the late fifteenth century.

Innocent VIII (1484-1492)
The interventions made by Innocent VIII, pope from 1484 to 1492, appear to be more scarce than those of his predecessor, also because of the loss of the fruits of some of his most illustrious commissions. During his pontificate, however, began that classicist revival, linked to the first golden age of the Roman archaeological discoveries (in those years the “Caves” frescoed by the Domus Aurea were discovered), which was destined to become the binder and the motif of attraction for a heterogeneous quantity of artists.

The early departure of the Sistine painters had generated a certain emptiness on the art scene, which allowed the rapid maturation, with important commissions, of some young assistants of the Sistine masters. These are mainly initiatives related to cardinals, other prelates and other dignitaries of the curia, such as Oliviero Carafa, who commissioned a cycle of frescoes to Filippino Lippi (1488-1493), or Manno Bufalini, financier of a cycle of Pinturicchio (1484-1486 about).

Lippi proved to have learned the lesson of Melozzo, updated with the flourishing of the classicist revival. In this context he elaborated a unique style, characterized by an exorbitant anti-classical vision, where the image is fragmented into an eclectic collection of citations and references to sculpture and the decoration of antiquity, accumulated with an illumited fantasy and lover of whim .

Pinturicchio had a very wide success, which led him to soon become the favorite painter of Della Rovere and Borgia (announcing the great works under Alexander VI), and was also at the service of the Pope, for whom he painted a series of almost entirely lost frescoes in the Loggia del Belvedere, with views of Italian cities seen “bird’s eye”, represented with a quick and compendiary style, as well as the first example of the recovery of the ancient style of landscape painting of the second Pompeian style. In later works, such as the Ceiling of the Semides for Cardinal Domenico Della Rovere, showed a taste capable of recreating old suggestions with an ornate and opulent, almost miniaturistic style.

The archaelogical fashion prompted the pope to ask Francesco II Gonzaga, in 1487, to send what was then considered the most valid interpreter of the ancient style, Andrea Mantegna, back from the extraordinary success of Cesare’s Triumphs. The Paduan painter decorated the Belvedere Chapel with frescoes (1490), then destroyed but remembered as “amenissimi”, which “seem a miniata” with views of towns and villages, fake marble and architectural illusions, festoons, putti, allegories and numerous figures.

Source from Wikipedia