During the Renaissance, art was not only used as decoration in homes and piazzas, focus points of meditation in convents or as learning tools for the illiterate in churches. Art was used to convey certain messages to others. Powerful families and powerful organizations, such as the church or government, used art to convey the message of power, and even superiority, over others. These propagandistic purposes are visible in many of the cities we visited during our Renaissance pilgrimage.
In Rome, we saw the power of the papacy exhibited in the works such as the Sistine Chapel and the collection in the Vatican Museum. Only a powerful organization could acquire the vast numbers treasures of the ancient civilizations and cram them into such a little space that it almost appears as junk in a garage. Only a feared ruler such as the pope could demand the presence of all the best artists of the time to decorate his residence. However, a more obvious use of art as propaganda was in the Palazzo Publico in Siena. The Palazzo was the residence of the rulers in Siena. Due to the usage of the Palazzo, many people circulated the rooms of the governmental palace. The heavily traversed areas were effectively put to use. On one wall, the fresco, Virgin in Majesty by pupil of Duccio, Simone Martini, is used as a reminder to the Nine Governors of Siena that the protection of Mary will only remain as long as they continue to actively and aggressively protect the virtue of justice and the republic of Siena. Across the room is another fresco by Martini is visible. It is of a condottiere and shows the ancient landscape of Siena. It is used to teach and remind those of the struggle Siena had to endure to maintain her republican and just city.
However, the most elaborate propagandistic fresco in the Palazzo Publico is the Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The three-wall fresco shows the effects of Good and Bad Government on the city and in the countryside. When Justice and the Virtues are not tied and suppressed by the evils of Tyranny and the Vices, there is learning taking place, dancing in the street, shops are open and the city is productive. The countryside lives in peace and happiness. Those who are wrong are depicted as being tried and persecuted by the blind Justice and those, which were wronged, are depicted as being restored. On the other hand when Justice is bound and trampled by Tyranny, the countryside lives in horror and the city is unproductive. This fresco is an obvious reminder to the rulers and people of Siena the importance of preserving the values of their republican government.
Again in Florence we saw artistic propaganda used by the government. Beautiful statues were placed, such as the David, outside of the Signoria Palace and in the adjacent loggia. They were used to impress dignitaries and remind the people of the power and wealth of the government. Yet, the Ducal Palace in Venice has a bit more obvious usage of art as political propaganda. For example, in the rooms which were used as meeting rooms for the Doge and the waiting rooms for the Ambassadors, there is a painting which depicts a queen who is placed above the Doge. The Queen is a representative of Venice and she is placed above the Doge who is only a “first among equals”. The painting reminds the viewer that the city is above the ruler. In the Great Council Room, where the noble families met, another painting, The Apotheosis of Veniceby Veronese, is another representation of Venice as a Queen. She represents the glory of Venice and is placed on a cloud above all of the citizens in Venice. Surrounded by the Virtues, she is beautiful and is being crowned by a figure from the heavens. Veronese’s painting again represents the glory of the city. On the back wall of the same room is Tintoretto’s painting, the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. The painting is full of about 2,000 figures and about 400 identifiable portraits. The painting serves to remind the viewers, the noble families of Venice, to remain good and devout in order to maintain the protection of the Virgin over Venice and in order to be among the Chosen in the Last Judgment.
Most of the cities in our Italian Renaissance journey displayed at least one strong example of art being used for propaganda. Whether a specific political message or just a display of power, artists were often commissioned to put their skills to use as campaign poster drawers or promotional billboards constructors. Fortunately, the messages were typically allegorical and the beautiful art can still be enjoyed today.
Essay II: Question 1
The Renaissance was a rebirth of interest in the Classical civilizations of ancient Rome and Greece. Before this re-awakening, which began in Florence, Italy, other parts of Europe art were captivated by a style known as Gothic. Juxtaposed, these two styles are drastically different and the variations can be seen in many of the artistic expressions of Italy.
Architecture is one of the most startling differences in style between the Renaissance and the Gothic period. Gothic style consisted of huge vaulted ceilings, which were perched precariously on stained glass windows and supported by an exoskeleton of flying buttresses. Although the full swing of the Gothic period never reached Italy due to the tastes of the population, some Gothic style of architecture is still present in certain structures. For example, in Orvieto, the Church of Santa Maria of the Stars, or the Orvieto Cathedral, is a prime example of Italian Gothic architecture. The church was begun in the late 13th century and finished 300 years later – well into the Renaissance period. The façade is very ornate with mosaics and reliefs and high vaulted arches typical of the Gothic style. The stripes on the outside are an Etruscan Gothic style. Inside the church, the ceilings are vaulted, ribbed, and come to rest on series of columns. However, as noted above the Gothic style did not fully filtrate into Italian architecture. The presence of flying buttresses is missing as well as the vast stained glass windows for walls.
Comparably, the Renaissance style churches of Brunelleschi in Florence are modular and symmetrical. For example, the San Spirito church and the sacristy in San Lorenzo are sectioned off equally by columns; so much so that in the sacristy there is the tiniest fragment of column in the corners to continue the pattern. In the church, the rounded archways correspond perfectly to the chapels behind them and the aisles are modules of the nave (two squares for the nave and one square for each aisle). In Rome, Renaissance architecture is also characterized by Roman temple-like facades for churches. The Roman Cathedral has a series of columns in the front which support an entablature and then a triangular pediment which looks exactly like the Roman temple ruins.
In painting there are also many other differences between the Gothic style and style of the Renaissance. In the altarpieces, the Gothic subjects were often flat, without perspective, and disproportionate to denote importance. The backgrounds were gold and the frames were gaudy and arched. Remnants of the Gothic style are apparent in the works of the early Renaissance painters such as Cimabue and Giotto. In their altarpieces, the figures such as the Madonna and Child are much larger than the saints around them. The background is gold and only later is Giotto the first to paint the blue skies. The paintings are very symmetrical and figures often float in midair without regard to reality.
During the Renaissance, the emphasis is placed upon reality and perspective. Giotto begins to paint his figures are real. In the Giotto room in the Uffizi, the Madonna holds the Child as if he is a baby and he actually looks like a child instead of a small adult. He paints breasts to depict her as a real woman. Other artists follow suit and perspective is adhered to like the rules of a religion. It is obvious when objects are far away or close even things such as body parts through foreshortening or structures through vanishing points. Folds of fabric such as the ones of Veronese become so real during the Renaissance that one could reach out and touch them. Light is also incorporated into paintings such as in the altarpieces of Titan in Venice. Realism, depth and feeling are the greatest accomplishments of this time.
Despite their close proximity in time, the styles of the Gothic period and of the Renaissance are vastly different. In an area as rich in art history as Italy, it is interesting to see the disparity between the two and the work of the artists who bridged the gap as well as the ones on either side of the divide.
Essay III: Question 1
Before this Interim, I would breeze through the art sections of museums and move quickly to the areas which held my interest, such as the bits about wars, space, or new inventions. I never understood why people took such a long time studying paintings or sculpture. I could tell you whether I thought something was pretty or not and then move quickly to another piece. Art was not my forte and definitely not how I wanted to spend an afternoon.
So why, you ask, did I sign up for this Interim? I wanted to go Italy desperately but I am very fortunate that I got more than just a trip to Italy! The first three days of class were extremely intense and I never thought that I could grasp the concepts or the terms that were quickly being tossed out left and right. There were pilasters here and tempura there and a few church terms thrown in to thoroughly confuse the stunned masses such as myself. But, at the end of the trip and even now discussing the things we saw with my roommate I know so much and can use the terminology correctly that I am now the one who confuses. Yet, the technical jargon is not what made this trip so meaningful it is my new found appreciation for creation.
I believe that I first realized this awe for art and artists as a whole when we were in the Church of San Spirito in Florence. Angelo shared with us that the rules for decoration were strict and that the subject matter for the altarpieces had been confined to only one subject. As I looked around myself, I noticed that the subject matter was everything but singular. Each painting was different. Not just the color but the positions, interpretations, the focus on different details, the lighting, the background, and even the facial expressions were so different. The minds of these artists were so different, creative and brilliant. The turned monotony into beauty just as God created a million plants even though they were all plants or many animals and even many humans.
I can still tell you whether I think a painting is pretty, and I can also tell you a bit about the technical aspect of the painting. But now, I can marvel. I understand why people stop and stare, and that is the most valuable souvenir which I brought home.