The Renaissance is an epoch in the history of culture and art that came up to take the place of medieval culture. This marvelous period started in the 14th century and was nearly over in the 16th. It was the time of intellectual florescence that affected all spheres of life. Politics, philosophy, literature, architecture, and art revived their spirits and were progressing at a remarkably quick pace. Most of the greatest artists who developed the basic concepts of art lived and worked at that time. The Renaissance is an international phenomenon; though, it is generally associated with Italy where it expressed itself in the most striking way. However, the Renaissance was of paramount significance for such countries as the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, England, and France, where it is commonly referred to as the Northern Renaissance.
The Italian Renaissance goes back to the end of the 13th century and is known for its outstanding achievements in all spheres of culture. Literature (Petrarch, Boccaccio), painting (Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci), architecture (Andrea Palladio), and other spheres exercised a dominant influence on Western culture. The Northern Renaissance was of distinctive nature as it started about two centuries later than the Italian one and spread over several European countries. One of its main peculiarities was the convergence of local art in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and other countries with the art of the Italian Renaissance. There was neither synchronism in the development of art in those countries nor unanimity of evolution of different art forms (architecture, sculpture, and applied art were behind painting).
There were some differences in the focus of those two Renaissances. Commerce and trade were better developed in Italy; thus, the living standards were higher there, and more money was spent on art and culture. The elaborate Italian art was mostly focused on the well-to-do, while the Northern Renaissance laid special emphasis on daily life of common people. Moreover, the social changes were to a great extend called forth by Humanism, while the Northern Renaissance art was under the greater influence of medieval works and religion and bore less resemblance to antiquities. Its philosophy was Pantheism. It did not deny God but treated Him as nature. Nature was endued with divine attributes like eternity, infinity, and boundlessness. The adherents of pantheism believed that every part of the world contained a part of God, so they drew a conclusion that even the smallest bit of nature was worth representing. Thus, landscape painting became a separate genre.
Another genre that was developed in the frames of the Northern Renaissance art was a portrait. Italian artists put a man on a pedestal and tried to create an ideal of beauty. The Northern artists in their turn were indifferent to beauty; they set their sights on conveying the character, gaining emotional distinctiveness of an image even if sometimes it was done to the prejudice of the ideal and beauty. The Italian Renaissance art projects itself like sculpture; the figures in the paintings resemble statues. It was not mere chance. Renaissance masters strived for restoring the real character of the world by emphasizing dimension, plasticity, and shape. Moreover, they laid special emphasis on scientific principles of composition, while the Northern artists strived for accentuating color and minute details.
On the whole, there were not only geographical differences between the Italian and the Northern Renaissances. The Italian Renaissance implied actual revival of traditions and monuments of ancient times. Italian philosophers and artists were focused on classical antiquity and humanism, while the representatives of the other kind of Renaissance tended towards religious perception of the world and Gothic medieval thinking. There were also significant differences in subject matter and style of the artists’ works. The Italians gave the preference for symmetrical and balanced forms with clear perspective over minute detail and naturalism the Northern Renaissance representatives chose. Yet, both Renaissances were periods of great cultural and technological changes that had a profound impact on Europe.
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