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Italy witnesses an explosion of artistic excellence

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During the Renaissance, painters, sculptors, and architects returned to, and revived, the lessons of the classical age. Using inspiration from a glorious past coupled with important new techniques, artists reached a pinnacle of creativity.

Renaissance means "rebirth," lending its name to the momentous upsurge in all branches of the arts. This movement reached a crescendo in the early years of the sixteenth century, the High Renaissance period. The Renaissance centered on an interest in the culture of the classical ancient world. It is no accident that this explosion of creativity occurred in Italy, where Roman architectural remains were a constant reminder of past glories. Many believed that this golden age could be restored. The revival of interest in all things classical was heightened by the rediscovery of ancient texts in the fourteenth century, which, as a result of the invention of printing, became widely available.

Artists were awakened to the wonders of the classical world, and sought not only to emulate them but also to better them, using new techniques, including perspective and oil paint. As ancient statues were unearthed, painters and sculptors mimicked the heroic poses. This in turn gave rise to the study of anatomy, and the nude quickly became a staple feature of Renaissance painting.

For centuries, the Church had been the principal patron of the arts, but now the wealthy ruling families of Italy's city-states were keen to be at the forefront of the latest intellectual trends, and to display their power by dominating artistic patronage. There was a growing tendency toward secular subjects and portraits became important. Biblical scenes remained prominent, often featuring the leading members of society, but patrons also commissioned paintings of mythological subjects for their sumptuous private villas. Some of these were straightforward illustrations of classical texts, while in other cases the legends were used as a pretext for complex, philosophical allegories.

15 School of Athens

Raphael, 1510-1512

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