Renaissance art consists of the visual, sculptural and stylistic creative works of European artists during the Renaissance, generally defined as the era between the 15th and early 17th centuries. The majority of Renaissance art flourished in Italy during this time period, but the artistic techniques of the Renaissance made their way to France, Germany and the rest of Europe. The two primary goals of Renaissance artists were the expansion of artistic expression beyond solely religious scenes and of realistic artistic expression.
A combination of factors during the Renaissance contributed to artistic interest beyond religious scenes. The wealth of the Medici family in Florence allowed them to become the first major patrons of the arts outside the Catholic Church. As wealth in Europe increased, other rich individuals also became artistic patrons, allowing artists to focus on pursuits of their choosing. In addition, the rise of Humanism--a focus on earthly as opposed to spiritual pursuits--created a culture in which realistic or fantastical scenes were viewed with favor.
The Renaissance also saw the rise of realistic art, in stark contrast to the more simplistic and stylized artistic styles of the past. Renaissance Humanism contributed to artists examining perspective and three-dimensional techniques, studying human anatomy and depicting individuals in every day scenes. The "Mona Lisa," by Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the most famous examples of Renaissance art, depicting a deceptively simple seated figure with a detailed backdrop of a realistic landscape.
Links to Classical Sensibilities
The Renaissance saw a rise of interest in Classical Greek and Roman texts and artistic styles. Art, architecture and scholarly study, along with civil and religious ceremonies throughout Europe, sought to mimic Classical styles and attitudes. In addition, new modes of travel allowed artists and scholars to perform archaeological expeditions to ancient ruins and bring back first-hand knowledge of Classical ideals. The Classical focus on life on Earth, rather than religious experiences, heavily influenced Renaissance artists.
Famous Renaissance Artists
The first major Renaissance artist was Giotto. He lived prior to what most historians consider the start of the Renaissance, but nevertheless painted realistic and grounded scenes. Later artists would expand on the work he began. Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the most famous Renaissance artist and created such pieces as the "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper." Michelangelo was a famed painter, sculpture and architect and his statue of David remains famous throughout the world. Michelangelo also painted the dome at St. Peter's church in Rome and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.