What Are the Characteristics of the Renaissance Art Styles?

Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist of the Renaissance period.

Understanding the characteristics of Renaissance art styles will make it possible to develop a deeper consideration and appreciation for the artwork. Artists of this time were concerned with different ways to create three-dimensional forms and add greater emotional impact to their paintings. The Renaissance art movement that spread through Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries has left a lasting impression on artists.


Renaissance art gave high priority to a conceptualization called perception. Perception is the relationship between points on a grid; it places objects so that they appear along a vanishing point, creating three-dimensional drawings. One method of accomplishing this is to create buildings as if they were receding into the painting, as in Masolino’s painting from the year 1425, "St. Peter Healing a Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha.” Two buildings appear adjacent to each other with the same vanishing point. A vanishing point creates two parallel lines that allow an image to converge upon a single point.


Sfumato is a commonly used technique that appears frequently in Renaissance art. The technique creates a contrast between light and dark portions of the painting. The “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci, depicts this concept perfectly with the dark shadows that shade parts of her face. This technique lends a degree of emotional realism to the work and allows the artist to create an impression “in the manner of smoke,” according to da Vinci.


Artists of the Renaissance developed a technique referred to as foreshortening to create the illusion that an object was smaller than it actually was. An example of foreshortening, illustrated by using the image of a simple box, is possible. A three-dimensional box in which the edges are straight up and down does not create foreshortening; however, by angling the lines outwards to a small degree the box will appear shorter, even if the lines of the non-foreshortened box and the foreshortened box are the same lengths.


Casual observers may confuse chiaroscuro with sfumato, since both techniques employ light and dark contrasts; however, with chiaroscuro the technique applies to the entire composition to create a sense of volume. For example, the edge of a woman’s leg, darkened on the sides against a dark background, creates a three-dimensional form to provide contrast and volume. A major distinction between sfumato and chiaroscuro is the intent behind the shading: emotional realism versus volume and contrast.


"A History of Western Art"; Laurie Schneider Adams; 2008
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