The story of art has shaped over millions of years by not only the artists and nobles of each period but also by religions, wars, kingdoms and all the events in the history . These artists and designers have told the stories of their lives and the events of their societies through their art, which was once drawings of forms and shapes on the walls of caves and the Stonehenge architecture in 2600 B.C.E. The works of these artists one century after another have led to progression, discovery and innovation of new techniques and developments in all fields of art and design. Looking back, it might be fair for one to think that art is really the expression of an artist. We might state that while art can be defined through our interpretation of an artist's expression, to truly understand art and any of the greatest artists of the Western art like Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo of the 16th century, we must first understand the series of events that made the efflorescence of genius possible and led to these greatest masterpieces and achievements in history.
The 16th Century High Renaissance & The Efflorescence of Genius
Looking at the early centuries of the Western art, we can really get a sense of the progression of art throughout the history and what art meant to our ancestors and previous generations like the Greek and Roman art which mostly meant to tell the stories of their gods and heroes in the most beautiful shapes and forms. The relationship of church to art defined the state and extent of art performed and requested from the artists of many centuries as well as wars and kingdoms that shaped the history of not only art but also the people and societies of those times like the five hundred years of the Dark Ages that led to new findings and innovations of the Middle Ages in the 13th century like the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris that proclaimed the glories of heaven and significance of the new achievements and innovations in architecture like the vaulting, pointed arches and flying buttresses.
It was a course of events started gradually during the Gothic period that led to new appreciation and taste for ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture in the 14th century as the means to return back to the glorious days of the past and break free the traditional or medieval ways of the Gothic period. This new taste in art and life defined the start of a new era of the Renaissance and the rebirth (rinascita in Italian) of art and culture and a return to classicism, originated in Florence Italy around 1400. The works of artists like Giotto and architect Brunelleschi and the discoveries from studying the ancient mathematics and architecture strongly influenced and shaped the style of art and architecture during this period and led to some of the most momentous discoveries in the field of art and the perspective drawing.
By the end of the 15th century we arrive to what Italians call the Cinqueccento, the greatest period of Italian art or famously known as High Renaissance. In this period more than ever artists and designers turned to laws of the universe and mathematics of perspective drawing and anatomy of human body to better understand and present human figures and movements and natural scenes in their stories. Artists were no longer looked upon as just craftsmen satisfying the demands and requests of kings and churches. This new position for artists was brought by the new pride and focus of the cities to beautify their architecture and art and create works of lasting fame. Artists started to seek higher status and be perceived as unique and precious gifts. Leonardo da Vinci "Last Supper" and "Mona Lisa" and the Sistine Chapel painted vault and "David" by Michelangelo are among some of the most beautiful and influential pieces of art from this period.
With that, we are now ready to discuss one of the most influential artists of this period whose techniques and skills and understanding of human body shaped the style and innovations of the 16th century and forever changed the world of art, sculpture and architecture. We must emphasize that by no means we can develop the full story of Michelangelo and all the influential and important events of the High Renaissance in this article, nor do we want to. Our hope is to intrigue a sense of curiosity and excitement for you to further develop your taste and knowledge about this very important period in the history of art.
Michelangelo & The Sistine Chapel
Born in 1475, Michlelangelo Buonarroti was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet whose work marks Italian art of the High Renaissance period. The young Michelangelo trained by one of the leading masters of the period, the painter Ghirlandaio. The young Michelangelo however was not quite interested in learning the techniques and painting methods of Ghirlandaio but rather more interested in masters like Giotto and Donatello of the Renaissance period. Michelangelo was fascinated by the motion and movement of human body and the details of the muscles in the works of these masters and the Greek and Roman sculptors. He mastered his studies and discoveries of human body by drawing models and analyzing every muscle and possible movement of human body. His ambition and outstanding memory along with intense interest in mastering the drawings of human body led him to surpass the the techniques and renowned masters of the classical antiquity.
One of his most influential masterpieces is the fresco paintings on the vaulted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican Italy. Pope Julius II ordered Michelangelo to paint the blank vault of the chapel; the walls of the chapel had been decorated mostly by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio covered with stories of Moses and Christ. Michelangelo spent 4 years working alone on a plan for the vault of the chapel. He had to paint the ceiling by lying on his back and yet his phenomenal techniques and skills didn't fail him to show even the smallest details of the bodies and the movement of muscles of his painted figures. The varieties of figures in different movements and angles and the stories painted on the ceiling with all the details and contrast of colors are executed so perfectly and carefully that the ceiling still looks simple and harmonious. Through his intense studies of human body, he was able to sketch a body in any position any form and any angle which played a strong role in giving his paintings a 3-D dimensional value and a realistic presentation of human body like it was never seen before.
This live movement of body and wealth of details can again be seen in his masterpiece of The creation of Adam. The painting greatly expresses the mystery of creation of Adam in such simplicity that the main subject is still the main source of attention and yet every single body is painted with great details. We can truly see his genius talent to make this gesture of creation and the touch of the Divine hand the center and focus of the picture using negative space to his advantage at the time when perhaps every other artist just focused on the object and the scene itself rather than the empty space between them.
Curated and Edited by Aidin Belganeh
Story of Art- Phaidon
The Metropolitan Museum of Art- Michelangelo Exhibition