The word ‘fresco’ heralds from the Italian for ‘fresh’, which is exactly what characterises this technique of painting. It requires all painting to be done directly onto the damp surface, as in oil when painting wet-on-wet, and the colours and patterns fuse with the intonaco mixture of plaster and lime, to form a durable, long-lasting image. In the Trecento and Quattrocento, this style saw the beginning of its heyday, and due to its inherent need for a dry climate, was unique to the Southern regions, particularly Italy. One ringleader in the development of this style was Giotto di Bondone, with his Paduan Arena Chapel showcasing his profound intellect and skill, particularly in the method of fresco. With a clear focus on the depiction of form and perspective, Giotto proves his worth to patron Enrico Scrovegni and his society, and Dante reinforces this by pointing out in his Divine Comedy that Giotto has eclipsed his predecessor and teacher, Cimabue. Upon the building blocks of competition between artists, Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, commonly known as Masaccio, began to shine with his inventive use of the fresco technique, and it is to him, and more specifically the Florentine Brancacci Chapel, that we look to behold a great example of fresco painting in Early Renaissance Italy. The chapel, commissioned between 1432 and 1435 by the Brancacci family, near the end of Masaccio’s short life, contains the fresco cycle of the legend of St Peter. Because of his early death, and knowledge of patronage, we are aware that Masaccio was not alone in his work on the chapel, with Masolino and Filippino Lippi also greatly contributing to the works now found there. The frescoes that are primarily attributed to Masaccio are Tribute Money, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve, St Peter Healing with his Shadow, and the Distribution of Communal Goods and the Death of Ananias. They shed some light on the use of fresco in this period, instilling in the viewer moral and intellectual awareness, and show a clear influence of both the patron’s and the artist’s motive.
The representation of women in sixteenth-century Italian art with specific focus on Titian's Venus and Adonis
Mythology was frequently used as subject matter during the Renaissance and early Mannerist period due to the ongoing reverence of the Romans and Greeks, and also as a way of escaping from a relatively restrictive ‘devozione’ (religious matter). As the Roman goddess of love and beauty, equivalent to the Greek Aphrodite, the figure of Venus was predominantly depicted in the mask of contemporary good looks, therefore making a commission of a painting depicting her well worth it. This popularity with male patrons made Venus a common subject of artwork, and imbued these works with the outlook of the ‘male gaze’ — a term coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975 to indicate the complex way in which women are presented in the arts as objects of male pleasure, as can be seen most clearly in Edouard Manet’s figure of Olympia. Generally, a figure’s portrayal in the nude allows more experimentalism with the human form by artists, with Titian himself focusing on ‘variare’ (variety) in form. Portrayal in the nude, and the concept of the ‘male gaze’ also hold associations with eroticism. Titian’s Venus and Adonis, or ‘Philip II’s painting’ as it is often called to distinguish it from other similar works, shows a focus on the depiction of form, associations with eroticism, and other, more nuanced connotations. It was commissioned by Philip II of Spain, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as part of a series of poesie (mythological paintings) for an unspecified location in Augsburg. With this commission, Titian assimilated the ideas of poets (hence poesie), particularly Ovid whose Metamorphoses gives the basis for the story, and had the freedom to do, to a certain extent, as he pleased. Now located in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, this work displays political, social, and artistic motives, all of which contribute to its interpretation as an image of Sixteenth-Century Italian art.
‘Whilst the men of the Middle Ages look on the world as a vale of tears…here in this circle of chosen spirits, the doctrine is upheld that the visible world was created by God in love’. With this quote from the closing lines of his book on Renaissance Italy, Art Historian Jacob Burckhardt captures the attitudinal shift that epitomises the Christian Renaissance — the change from Christ as sufferer for humanity to Him as the essence of perfection. This period, as the ‘rinascitá’, or rebirth, of the Classical, was characterised by a rejuvenation of classical elements, including the architectural orders, due to a sharp focus on ‘studia humanitatis’, including Platonism, and the associations humanism had on the visual world. This humanistic approach gave rise to alternative representations of liturgical and domestic buildings and the concept of simplistic representation of mathematical complexity. It is the simple appearance of the building that initially gives rise to the notion of harmony — the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole — but as we delve further into the geometrical and compositional elements we discover the harmony that is presented in the individual components and the ways in which they produce concord. Donato Bramante in his 1502 work of San Pietro in Montorio’s Tempietto, commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, shows a magnificent example of this focus on antiquity, proportion and simplicity, an example that highlights the development of the Renaissance in Rome. Further North, Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, an intellectual endorser of Bramante, generated many of his own responses to the period, the contradictory elements of which can most vividly be seen in Il Redentore. This later church, built between 1577 and 1592, reflects notions of harmony in its characteristic elements, but shows the adaptations to the ‘Late Renaissance’ philosophy, with a renewed sense of originality.
Tempietto is a component of Bramante’s larger church in the Chiesa di San Pietro in Montorio, overlooking the eastern slope of Gianicolo Hill. Surrounded by the cloisters of the church, it sits perfectly in the centre of a little courtyard, atop the sacred site of Saint Peter’s martyrdom on the cross. The temple is peripteral, with a colonnade of sixteen Roman Doric columns, modelled on the Temple of Vesta on the acropolis in Tivoli, and the Temple of Hercules Victor near the River Tiber in Rome, which was likely direct inspiration on Bramante’s doorstep during his extensive studies of the remnants of ancient architecture. The Tempietto columns are unfluted and have a base, distinguishing them from Greek Doric columns as are found on the Parthenon in Athens. Corinthian was the order used for both of the classical temples, and Bramante’s choice of Doric plays a big role in the depiction of harmony.