Introduction | Painting | Sculpture | Architecture | The Northern Renaissance | Bibliography


In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, cities like Florence were filled with Renaissance men and their amazing innovations. Perspective could now be done flawlessly. Oil paint was now frequently used and perfected by van Eyck to allow for glowing light in paintings. The rate of drying also allowed for new techniques to be used to better capture realism. A growing amount of people with money were interested in owning and supporting the arts, which meant that these artists were free to create. One such artist was Filippo Brunelleschi. Though he was mainly an architect and engineer, his innovations had a huge impact on painting. In order to make believable sketches before building, he needed to perfect a way of getting perspective just right. He invented what is called one-point linear perspective. This involved objects disappearing eventually at a vanishing point, and appearing smaller and smaller as they receded into the distance. This was a huge improvement on the "fade to blue-grey" technique previously used.
Another very influential artist was Michelangelo, a follower of Neo-platonism. Neo-platonism is a term used to describe later revivals of the religious philosphy founded by Plotinus to teach Plato's views. The most important part of these teachings discussed how humans can attain perfection, happiness and peace on earth, without needing to wait for an afterlife. This is not to say they did not believe in God, as they certainly did. Michelangelo's paintings showed people in often joyful states, instead of all the focus being on mankind's perpetual unhappiness.



Sandro Botticelli
tempera on panel
203 x 314 cm
1482 (Italian Renaissance)
Uffizi, Florence

Subject: This painting shows the coming of Spring. The central figure is Venus, the Roman Goddess of love. Above her is Cupid who appears to be aiming his arrow of love at the Three Graces who are dancing. The Grace to the far right is modelled after Caterina Sforza, the illegitimate child of a Duke of Milan. Beside the Graces is Mercury, the messenger. On the opposite side of the painting is Zaphyrus, the wind God who appears to be an unwanted guest. He grasps a nymph named Chloris who is standing next to the Goddess of Spring herself, Flora. One legend says that Zaphyrus was so taken by the beauty of Chloris that he forcefully forced her to marry him. He later regretted this decision, and in apology he transformed her into Flora. The entire scene takes place in the Garden of Venus, hence her being the central figure. The fruit in the trees is also symbolic of love.

The Artists's Work: The work was commissioned by the Medici family, most likely for 14-year-old Lorenzo. The figures in it are almost life sized, and each is very beautiful. Depicted in an almost nude, classical and idealized way, this painting reminds us of Ancient works of Greece and Rome. However, the realism is such that it is clearly a much more modern piece. This painting has been interpreted in different ways. Some say that it is the Garden of Eden, with Venus representing Eve. Others say that Venus is the Virgin Mary. Others still say that Primavera is a political piece, where each figure represents one of the Italian city-states. It could also simply be an ancient scene, where Venus represents love, Mercury knowledge, etc. The Classical nature of the work appealed to viewers at the time, and it remains one of Botticelli's most famous works to this day.

Reaction: I very much like this work. It is less over-saturated into our culture than other works such as the Birth of Venus, so it feels fresher to me. There are several different parts to this painting, and I like them all. Firstly, Mercury on the left looks stunning. His pose is so realistic! The Graces beside him are the very definition of lovely, and little Cupid adds some mischeif. Venus looks to be the picture of virtue. The right portion of the painting didn't particularly interest me until I read about the story behind it. Knowing that the two women are one and the same adds some interest to the story told by the painting.