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        What is it?

      • Renaissance (Fr., or Ital. Rinascimento, rebirth)   Usually defined as the 'revivial of art and letters under the influence of classical models in the 14th-16th century' (OED). As early as 1550 Vasari used the word rinascita to describe this rebirth, which he believed to have culminated in his own days, but it probably received the wide currency it now has from Jacob Burckhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, first published in 1860. In the visual arts the term is now used with some care, if any degree of precision is desired. It is obvious that the influence of classical models is not easy to distinguish in Italy, where the classical tradition is virtually unbroken, and a term which can be made to cover Giotto at one end and Tintoretto at the other is too vague to be useful in any discussion of style (the case was once even worse in English architectural history, where 'Renaissance' used to be made to cover Elizabethan buildings, Wren and the Adam brothers). It is generally agreed that Giotto may be said to have begun the Renaissance in the other sense, that of according a new dignity to man and his works, but that the classical ideals hardly came into play before the first years of the i5th century, when the humanist ideals of Alberti were indistinguishable from those of Masaccio, Brunelleschi and Donatello, and, to a lesser extent, Ghiberti. The period from c.1420 to 1500 is therefore now generally called the Early Renaissance and the term High Renaissance is reserved for the tiny span of time when a pure, classical, balanced harmony was attained, and when artists of the first rank were in absolute control of their techniques, able to render anything they wanted with the maximum of fidelity to nature. It is this mastery of technique which, with the elimination of superfluous detail, is one of the distinguishing marks between Early and High Renaissance. The High Renaissance lasted from c.1500 to about 1527, the date of the Sack of Rome, and it includes the earlier works of Michelangelo, all the Roman works of Raphael, and most of Leonardo's work. The later work of Michelangelo is dedicated to different ideals, and the style of the period 1530/1600 is now generally known as Mannerism, while the style of the 17th century, in accordance with yet other ideals, is Baroque. All these have a passion for classical models as a distinguishing mark, so that the Renaissance style must also have the classical qualities of serenity and harmony alities which were lost sight of in the period of the Counter-Reformation, or the Thirty Years War.

      • Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)

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