Leonardo and the Reinassance

When in 1436 Leon Battista Alberti wrote the second edition of his treatise on painting "in the Tuscan language" and dedicated it to Filippo Brunelleschi, he acknowledged both the homeland and the main mover of that which was already being called "rinascenza." And today, like in Alberti's time, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio and Leonardo da Vinci are considered the originators of the Renaissance. That which these artists designed, sculpted, formed or painted was an expression of a new manner of conceiving Man and Nature and the relationship of the microcosm of the one with the macrocosm of the other, as the philosophers and men of letters of the time theorized.

Man, made of soul and body, was placed at the center of the perceptible earthly sphere. There thus arose in him a need to observe, to define and to represent visible and imaginable reality according to empirical-scientific principles, in order to later idealize it or attribute to it symbolic values. All this is revealed by Masaccio in the frescoes in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence (c. 1427), and is revealed equally, but in a different language, by Jan van Eyck in his polyptych the Adoration of the Lamb (1432). The dates are close; one is Florentine, the other Flemish. The homo novo of the Renaissance, whether a member of the lay bourgeoisie, interested above all in attaining economic standing, or an aristocrat, interested in giving a more modern face to his estates, continually measured himself against time, life and death.

In the Renaissance, art was a laissez-passer to eternity for both the patron and the artist, whose position in society gained in prestige as time went on. Mantegna, Alberti, Raphael, Titian and Dürer were court artists who enjoyed uncommon privileges and received tokens of gratitude of all kinds.

The artist had four major concerns: applying perspective in order to represent a three-dimensional subject on a two-dimensional plane; observing nature attentively and with an enquiring eye; studying that history of which Man, having been granted free will, is the protagonist; and finally, rehabilitating the classics.

In their different approaches to the visible, the Italian misura, the Flemish eye for minute detail, and the Swabian expressionism were the alternatives offered by the European Renaissance, and the combinatory solutions were various.

On the other hand, the classical texts, whether literary or figurative, offered an infinity of technical, decorative, iconographic, thematic and philosophical stimuli.

Ancient art, with such masterpieces as the Laocoon, the Belvedere Apollo and the Farnese Hercules rediscovered in Rome during the Renaissance suggested the study of the anatomy and the proportions of the human body: man's body became the measure of all things, even architectural design. The city too had to be made to man's measure and was required to embrace the qualities of beauty and functionality. The Renaissance produced many plans for ideal cities; the realizations, however, were few. Perhaps the best known is that of Pienza, commissioned in 1459 by Enea Silvio Piccolomini, then Pope Pius II, of Bernardo Rossellino.

The Renaissance developed through three fundamental phases: from the Florentine Humanism of the early Quattrocento to the Renaissance proper in the second half of the century, with its center in the refined Laurentian culture, to the Mannerist phase of the early 16th century with its fulcrum set in papal Rome. A clean point of severance with this later so nostalgically remembered modern "Golden Age" came in 1527 with the Sack of Rome. And Luther's voice was already coming in loud and clear.