The High Renaissance was a period during the Renaissance movement in Rome when some of the most exceptional artworks were produced. It is believed to have begun in 1490 with Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco– the Last Supper. This period consisted of artworks from Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Paintings, sculptures and architecture are the three broad categories of the artworks of this movement. The “High” in the High Renaissance refers to the time when the Renaissance movement was at its peak. This period is regarded as the golden era of creativity. It ended in 1527 with the Sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V. The High Renaissance was followed by the Mannerism style later on.
Some of the most famous works of the Renaissance such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci are from this period. Renaissance refers to the revival of Greek and Roman styles in art and architecture. This period reintroduced Greek orders and proportions in architectural works. Elements such as the domes were seen again crowning churches and palaces. A lot of this is attributed to the political situation in Europe during that time. The High Renaissance sees principles of classical humanism in paintings and sculptures depicted with great skill.
The High Renaissance style developed in Rome to rival Florentine art. It was partly due to Papal intervention to make Rome the focal point while Florence had been the focal point during the Early Renaissance. As the church was the major patron, this style saw the usage of both classical humanism and Christian art by artists. A combination of both styles, such as the usage of the symmetrical Greek cross in the plan for St. Peter’s Basilica with a dome, as seen in Greek temples, was seen in architecture styles throughout the period.
One of the architects of the High Renaissance period was Donato Bramante. His most popular work was the Tempietto in Rome. The structure consists of a central dome resembling the architecture of Greek temples. He was also commissioned to replace the old St. Peter’s with a new and much larger church. This was designed using Greek orders and proportions similar to Greek temples. Unfortunately, this work was completed much after Bramante’s death. Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were some of the other architects who later worked on this structure.
The High Renaissance brought forth art styles such as the ‘sfumato technique’ used by Leonardo da Vinci. The masterpieces created during this time were revered for their creative depictions and technique. The trinity of the period- Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael – contributed the most in the field of art. Michelangelo, a talented sculptor, painter and architect, was known for his intricate work. He contributed to the design of St. Peter’s Basilica which is one of the most celebrated buildings in Vatican City. The Last Judgement is another one of his masterpieces. This vivid fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel consists of more than 300 figures. Michelangelo’s technical skill is seen in his sculptures David, Pieta and Bacchus, which depict realistic scenes. The sculpture David was made from a single block of marble.
Da Vinci, despite being a generation older than the other two artists, still matched the styles of the time. Using his artistry and his scientific knowledge, Da Vinci depicted his subjects in unique ways. An example of this would be the composition and depiction in his painting The Last Supper, which utilizes studies from human psychology and brings realism to the painting. The painting technique that he used here was unfortunately not successful and led to its early deterioration. Another one of his celebrated masterpieces, the Mona Lisa, shows Da Vinci’s artistic mastery and technique.
The third prominent artist of the High Renaissance was Raphael who was known for his complexity. His paintings spoke of his mastery in the use of perspective and depiction of classical Renaissance forms. One of his most well-known paintings, The School of Athens, utilizes all these principles. The painting is centralized on the theme of philosophy and depicts a few ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. Raphael also took inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci for his composition of the artwork. His use of colour depicts harmony as seen in classical styles. Harmony was the central focus of his works.
The artworks from the High Renaissance period emphasize the use of proportion and composition in their depiction. This differentiates them from artworks in the Renaissance period. The use of oil as a medium for paintings was preferred by artists in this time as it allowed more versatility in technique and was easier to manipulate. In addition to these technical aspects, these paintings and sculptures depict similar scenes in the artist’s own unique perspective giving way for creativity evident in the artwork curated in this period.
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- Britannica. Renaissance. [Online]. (Last updated: 12 August 2021). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Renaissance/The-High-Renaissance [Accessed 11 December 2021].
- Visual Arts Cork. High Renaissance Art. [online]. Available at: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/high-renaissance.htm [Accessed 11 December 2021].