Florence is the Tuscany region’s capital city, a historic economic hub and the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Flourishing as a banking city, Florence gave rise to dynamic means of financial innovation such as a bill of exchange and double-entry bookkeeping systems. The success of Florence’s banking systems gave rise to prominent merchant-class families such as the Medicis, who patronized the creation of many styles of art which led to the Italian Renaissance. The prosperity of the city during the Italian Renaissance paved the way for the rise of many styles of Florence art and architecture.
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The Italian Renaissance
Beginning in the 14th Century and continuing until the 17th Century, The Italian Renaissance marked the transition from the Middle Ages to Modernity. Beginning in the city of Florence, The Italian Renaissance saw achievements in art, architecture and sculpture.
The Medici Family’s Role in the Italian Renaissance
The result of Florence’s prosperity due to trade and banking, the patronage of the Medici family spurred the proliferation of artistic achievement in Florence. The Medici family’s sponsorship of many styles of Florence art began with Cosimo de’ Medici, the patriarch of Florence’s first family, and continued with his son Piero and grandson Lorenzo. The Medici sponsorship of the Italian Renaissance saw the funding of the rebuilding of important landmarks such as the Convent of San Marco and the protection and patronage of artists such as Fra Filippo Lippi and Paolo Uccello.
Florence Art Styles
Florence’s role as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance paved the way for the proliferation of different styles of art. This newfound patronage also saw the survival and preservation of pre-Renaissance forms of art, many of them inspiring later movements. These styles are reflected in the architecture of many of Florence’s present-day landmarks and in the works of art that decorate the halls of the Uffizi and Accademia galleries.
A pre-Renaissance style, Romanesque was the dominant style of in Northern Italy beginning in the 7th Century. Characteristics of the Romanesque style include less-opulent external decorations with more emphasis on internal frescoes and mosaics. The Tuscan style of Romanesque architecture included two-toned marble decorations. The Florence Baptistry is the most prominent example of Romanesque architecture in the city of Florence. A two-color marble exterior typical of Romanesque architecture characterizes the building’s façade. The inside of the Baptistry features elaborate mosaics covering the interior dome.
Gothic architecture followed Romanesque architecture and predated Renaissance architecture. Characteristics of Gothic style in architecture include flying buttresses, height, cross-shaped floor plans, towers and elaborate sculptures. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or Florence Cathedral, completed in 1436, is a prominent example of Gothic style in Florence.
The proliferation of Renaissance art happened partially as a result of Humanism. Humanism was an intellectual movement that embraced the study of grammar, philosophy, rhetoric, history and poetry as the focus of tapping into humanity’s undiscovered potential for achievement. Humanist art in Florence emerged through the vehicle of Early Renaissance sculpture. Artists such as Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti were Humanism’s leading artists, with Donatello’s bronze David sculpture becoming an iconic piece of Humanist artwork.
The balance between perspective and light characterize Italian Humanist paintings. A feeling of depth in Renaissance paintings was achieved through the use of perspective, as seen in Paolo Uccello’s The Battle of San Romano.
Linear perspective is the system of using a flat surface to create depth as an optical illusion. Filippo Brunelleschi is believed to be the creator of linear perspective as an art style. Linear perspective is composed of parallel lines, a horizontal line and a vanishing point. Brunelleschi innovated a means for discovering depth in paintings by applying a singular vanishing point to a canvas. He experimented on this by using mirrors to sketch The Florence Baptistry in perspective. Donatello’s relief sculpture St. George Killing the Dragon and Masaccio’s painting The Holy Trinity are early examples of linear perspective.
Mannerism is a Late Renaissance art style characterized by an emphasis on asymmetry and disproportionate figures. This style emerged in response to the crisis that young artists faced during the Renaissance faced with all painting techniques seeming to be perfected. Younger artists during the Renaissance began experimenting with disproportion and asymmetry in their works as a means of perfecting an untapped style. Examples of Mannerist works of art in Florence include Parmigianino’s Madonna of the Long Neck, which is featured in the Uffizi Gallery.
Characterizations of light, shadow, dramatic and theatrical effects comprise baroque art. Buildings with baroque characteristics usually contain elaborate frescoes, wide open spaces and numerous angel sculptures. Italian Baroque painting emerged in the 16th Century and continued through the mid 18th Century. Some examples of baroque artwork in Florence include the façade of the San Filippo Neri church, the Church of Saints Michael and Gaetano and Luca Giordano Room in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Florence is home to many historic forms of art readily displayed on the exterior of landmark buildings and inside the halls of its many art galleries. Experience Florence for yourself and see the blend of art styles that comprise this historic Renaissance capital. Embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through art history in the flesh with The Roman Guy!
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