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Art History Resources on the Web

Art History Resources on the Web Professor Chris Witcombe of the Art department at Sweet Briar College has perhaps the best organized gateway to art history sites on the Web. His directory is chock-full of useful and regularly updated links and is divided into the following categories: Prehistoric Art, Ancient Near East, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Art in Early Europe, 15th-Century Renaissance Art, 16th-Century Renaissance Art, 17th-Century Baroque Art, Baroque Art, 18th-Century Art, 19th-Century Art, 20th-Century Art, 21st-Century Art and Prints & Photography. He also includes a list of museums and galleries and research resources. Professor Witcombe has also produced an exhibition exploring the perception of Art and the identity of the artist through history an in contemporary society, entitled


What is Art .... ?.... What is an Artist?

the Renaissance and the Rise of the Artist

FIRST PART of a TWO-PART ESSAY on ART & ARTISTS in the RENAISSANCE



               The period of the Renaissance (14th and 16th centuries) brought with it many important changes in the social and cultural position of the artist. Over the course of the period there is a steady rise in the status of the painter, sculptor, and architect and a growing sympathy expressed for the visual arts.
               Painters and sculptors made a concerted effort to extricate themselves from their medieval heritage and to distinguish themselves from mere craftsmen.
               At the beginning of the Renaissance, painters and sculptors were still regarded as members of the artisan class, and occupied a low rung on the social ladder. A shift begins to occur in the 14th century when painting, sculpture, and architecture began to form a group separate from the mechanical arts. In the 15th century, the training of a painter was expected to include knowledge of mathematical perspective, optics, geometry, and anatomy.
               A major development in the Renaissance is the new emphasis on the realistic description of figures and objects in painting and sculpture. The call to "imitate nature" involved an almost scientific examination of optical phenomena. In order to make figures and objects appear three-dimensional, forms were "modeled" employing the optical principles of light and shade. These correctly rendered three-dimensional figures and objects were placed in a three-dimensional illusionistic space created through the newly developed device of linear perspective.
               The knowledge and use of scientific methods placed painting and sculpture on a new basis that was intellectual, theoretical, literary, and scientific. Painters and sculptors could now claim that their profession required intellectual ability and knowledge. This permitted the claim that they were superior to mere craftsmen, and that painting and sculpture should be recognized as liberal arts.
               Painters and sculptors also argued that they stood equal to poets; poetry and rhetoric, of course, were accepted as liberal arts. Part of the basis for this claim was the notion that painting and poetry were "sister arts", a concept the Renaissance developed from Horace"s dictum Ut pictura poesis ("as a painting, so a poem"), and Simonides" description of painting as muta poesis ("silent poetry") and poetry as pictura loquens ("painting that speaks").
               It is through this association with the poets that the concept of the "artist" as we know it begins to emerge.
               During the Renaissance the revival of Plato and Platonism helped spread the notion of the divine inspiration of the poet, which Plato compared with that of the religious prophet. According to Plato, poets and musicians, prophets, were divinely inspired (a term originally meaning to breathe or blow into, and now understood as meaning to be filled with supernatural power or energy) and infused with enthusiasm ("en-theism" meaning possessed by a god, supernatural inspiration, prophetic or poetic frenzy).
               In effect, the gods inspired, or spoke through, poets and musicians in same way god also spoke through prophets: to prophesy is to utter with divine inspiration.
               The ancients believed that poets and prophets were inspired by a tutelary deity or attendant spirit, which the Romans called genius, that communicated to the world through chosen individuals. In the Renaissance, the source of inspiration became identified not with some pagan god or antique muse but with God himself.
               It was at this time that artists such as Michelangelo began to be described by their contemporaries as "divine". At the same time there emerged the important of the artist as creator, a word formerly reserved for God alone.
               This link with the divine immeasurable enhanced the status of the artist.
               In the 16th century the new image emerges of the artist as genius, giving to eccentric behaviour, or even slightly mad. The artist also appears as an intellectual given to abnormal modes of thought, and regarded as an inspired and special individual.
               At the same time, the artist"s work was regarded as unique and imbued with the artist"s divinely-inspired creativitiy; in certain cases, an artist"s work became the object the object of special pilgrimage and reverence. This attitude has perhaps grown over the centuries.


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