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  • Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    A fascinating and highly entertaining look at one of the most important families of the Renaissance era--the Medici.
  • Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)
    Sister Wendy - The Complete Collection (Story of Painting / Grand Tour / Odyssey / Pains of Glass)

    “Sister Wendy Beckett has transformed public appreciation of art through her astonishing knowledge, insight and passion for painting and painters.” This set includes Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Sister Wendy's Odyssey, and Sister Wendy's Grand Tour. Simultaneously delightful and scholarly--this is a must have for anyone interested in art history.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    When British stencil artist Banksy traveled to Los Angeles to work, he came across obscure French filmmaker Thierry Guetta and his badly organized collection of videotapes involving the activities of graffiti artists. Inspired, Banksy assembled them with new footage to create this talked-about documentary, and the result is a mind-boggling and odd film (so strange as to be thought a hoax by some) about outsider artists and the definition of art itself.
  • The Impressionists
    The Impressionists
    A dramatization of the Impressionist movement as seen through the eyes of Claude Monet. Highly entertaining and informative.
  • The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution
    A very personal and revealing look at the personalities that created Impressionism.

Entries in Early Renaissance (26)


Ghiberti: The Gates of Paradise

Lorenzo Ghiberti - Entry into Jerusalem - 1403-24 - Gilded bronze, 52 x 45 cm (inside molding) - Baptistry, Florence, Italy (click photo for larger image)Ghiberti - The Gates of ParadiseThe work featured here is one of the 20 scenes from the life of Christ depicted on the north doors of the Baptistry in Florence. Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) was one of the most important Early Renaissance sculptors; his work and writings formed the basis for much of the style and aims of the later High Renaissance.

Like many of his contemporaries, Ghiberti trained as a goldsmith. His sculpture embodies the lyrical grace and technical perfection associated with that craft, as well as a concern for classical clarity of weight and volume. In 1403, competing against such formidable rivals as Filippo Brunelleschi and Jacopo della Quercia, Ghiberti won his first major commission, the making of the second pair of bronze doors for the baptistery of the cathedral of Florence. He spent more than 20 years completing them, with the help of such students as Donatallo and Paolo Ucello. These artists, as well as Brunelleschi and della Quercia are discussed elsewhere on What About Art?

Michelangelo would later dub the door “The Gates of Paradise” and they have been referred to as such ever since then.


Masolino: A Lyrical and Unfailing Artistry

Masolino - Miracle of the Wheel - 1425-31 - Fresco - Castiglione Chapel, San Clemente, Rome (click photo for larger image)Masolino da Panicale (c. 1383 - c. 1435) was a painter who achieved a compromise between the International Gothic Style and the Early Renaissance style of his own day. He owes his prominence in the history of Florentine art not to his innovations but to his lyrical style and his unfailing artistry. Masolino came from the same district of Tuscany as his younger contemporary Masaccio (1401-1428), with whom his career was closely linked. Trained in a Florentine studio, he appears before 1407 to have been a member of the workshop of famed sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (1381-1455). He worked with Masaccio on the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, which artists from all over traveled to see and study.

The International Gothic Style was prevalent in Europe during the last half of the 14th century and the early years of the 15th century. It grew out of the need for artists to travel from court to court seeking work, following the Black Death. There were features common to European art, in general. In particular, figures were elegant and graceful – and had a certain artificiality. A taste did grow for realism in detail, general setting, and composition. The internationalism of the style owes to the fact that much of the most important work was executed under court patronage, and most European royal families were closely linked by marriage ties. Local idiosyncracies, however, did persist.

In the scene of the Miracle of the Wheel an angel intervenes to stop the torture of Saint Catherine of Alexandria commanded by emperor Maxentius. A secondary scene (upper left) shows the emperor looking down at the interrupted martyrdom from a high loggia. A woman beside him, doubtless Empress Faustina, is leaning over the railing. She, too, had been converted by Catherine.


Donatello: An Artist of Vision and Influence

Donatello - St. Mary Magdalene - c. 1457 - Polychrome wood, height 188 cm - Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, FlorenceDonato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (ca. 1386-1466) was the master of sculpture in marble, wood and bronze during the Early Italian Renaissance. Universally known as Donatello, “he broke ground by introducing new aesthetics in line with the time's flourishing move toward Humanism - a movement that emphasized a departure from medieval scholasticism and favored deep immersion into the humanities, resulting in art that no longer focused solely on the secular realm of religion but explored man's place in the natural world. Donatello's signature lifelike and highly emotional works would place him as one of the most influential artists in 15th century Italy.”

During the Middle Ages and beyond, the person of Mary Magdalene was conflated in western tradition with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed "sinful woman" who anoints Jesus's feet in Luke 7:36-50. This led to a widespread but inaccurate belief that she was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman. This identification of Mary Magdalene was a major controversy in the years leading up to the Reformation and some Protestant leaders rejected it. During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church used Mary Magdalene as a symbol of penance.

In 1969, the identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the "sinful woman" was removed from the General Roman Calendar, but the view of her as a former prostitute has persisted in popular culture. It certainly was the belief held during Donatello’s time.

In the tradition known to the artist, for thirty years Mary fasted, living as a hermit in the wilderness of southern France. Once famed for her beauty, by the end she was wrapped only in her long hair. She was exemplary of the renunciation of a sinful life, exchanging it for repentance, pious remorse and prayer.

It is widely accepted among secular historians that, like Jesus, Mary Magdalene was a real historical figure. Nonetheless, very little is known about her life. She left behind no writings of her own, nor were any works later forged under her name, as was common for the other disciples. She is never mentioned in any of the Pauline epistles or in any of the general epistles. The earliest and most reliable sources about her life are the three Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, which were all written during the first century CE.


Christmas…and Art!

Fra Angelico - Archangel Gabriel Annunciate - 1431-33 - Tempera and gold on panel, 31 x 26 cm - Institute of Arts, Detroit (click photo for larger image)Fra Angelico - Virgin Mary Annunciate - 1431-33 - Tempera and gold on panel, 31 x 26 cm - Institute of Arts, Detroit (click photo for larger image)Throughout December What About Art? will be featuring works centered on the Christmas story—painted by the greatest masters in the history of art. Our first focus will be on the Annunciation, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary of her conception of Christ.

Florentine painter Fra Angelico (ca. 1400-1455) was a Dominican friar, originally named Guido di Pietro. Although in popular tradition he has been seen as “not an artist properly so-called but an inspired saint” (Ruskin), Angelico was in fact a highly professional artist, who was in touch with the most advanced developments in contemporary Florentine art. In later life he travelled extensively for prestigious commissions.

Fra Angelico combined the influence of the elegantly decorative International Gothic style with the more realistic style of such early Renaissance masters as the painter Masaccio and the sculptors Donatello and Ghiberti, all of whom worked in Florence. Fra Angelico's representation of devout facial expressions and his use of color to heighten emotion are particularly effective. You can read more about him on this site.

Two panels at the Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan represent the Annunciation at the moment when the angel Gabriel greets the Virgin. She responds in a gesture of humble acceptance, crossing her arms over her chest. In her right hand she holds a small red bound book. She has marked the place by her finger.

The original provenance and function of these two panels is uncertain. Though they are clearly fragments, it has never been ascertained whether they had been cut out of a larger composition, were the subsidiary part of an altarpiece, or constituted the wings of a diptych.

On another note, What About Art? wish a Happy Hanukkah to all of you celebrating this week!


Sassetta: A Dreamlike Blending of Reality and Unreality

Sassetta - Death of the Heretic on the Bonfire - 1423 - Panel, 24,6 x 38,7 cm - National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (click photo for larger image)Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni) (1394-1450) was perhaps the greatest of the early fifteenth century Sienese painters. He mingles an innate conservatism, especially in his architectural structures, with a delight in the svelte forms of International Gothic figure design, and in the clarity and unity of Renaissance pictorial space. The essentially fourteenth century basis of his style is the dreamlike blending of reality and unreality, and of graceful calm and visionary fervor.