Masters of Renaissance Art
The original ninja turtles
We all remember those classically handsome, irresistibly green TV heroes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The only thing more impressive than their insatiable appetite for pizza was their decidedly awesome names: Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael.
Obviously, it made tons of sense for the greatest caped crusaders known to reptile kind to be named after mega-famous Italian Renaissance artists who happened to be their own brand of art history hero. And why wouldn't they be? Those Renaissance Masters changed art more in 100 years than anyone had done before—or has since.
We decided to vent our fanboy love by introducing the world at large to the amazing accomplishments of these four masters of Renaissance art.
In this course, you will
- get the scoop on the Renaissance (hey there, humanism!) and what was so special about this Florence place, anyway.
- explore the techniques mastered by our four artists, including sfumato, linear perspective, and contrapposto.
- cover the lives and accomplishments of our greats, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
- examine in depth the greatest works of art of the Renaissance, including the pietas, the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's basilica, and a whole host of Madonnas.
- ponder the tension between classical humanism and religious themes in Renaissance art (you deep art history lover, you!).
Unit 1. The Original Ninja Turtles: Renaissance Masters in a Half Shell
Your complete guide to Donatello, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael and why they're important.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 4: What a Relief
We don't see a lot of bas-relief sculpture around today, a type of sculpture where figures and scenes are slightly raised ("sculpted") out of a flat background. It's not a frequent sight at Pier 1, or the quickie mart, or whatever. We see standing sculptures and paintings, but bas-relief hovers between 3D and 2D, and that confuses people. "Is it a frieze? Is it sculpture? I can't tell!"
Whatever it is, Donatello was its Renaissance master like nobody's business. His title in the heavyweight bas-relief arena is undisputed and, today, we'll see why that is.
To get the scoop on Donnie's mad bas-relief skills, we'll amble down memory lane through an exhibit put on by The Henry Moore Institute in 2004 that showcased some of Donatello's works and other examples of bas-relief. Our guide, Serena Davies, fills us in on what exactly what it was that our purple turtle did differently, and—hint—the "Renaissance spirit" shows up again. We have a hunch that might be a recurring theme, but it's too early to tell.
We could just take Ms. Davies at her word on Donatello's chisel prowess, but frankly, we don't know her. She may write for a respected newspaper, and she seems charming, but we'll hedge our bets and do some of our own digging just to be sure. We'll snuggle up close with two of Donatello's most famous bas-reliefs, The Ascension and The Feast of Herod, to check out for ourselves just how magnificent they are, and by the time we're finished, even Ms. Davies will be impressed. If that is, in fact, her real name.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.4: Donatello's Bas-relief
In the land of bas-relief, Donatello was king. In fact, The Henry Moore Institute produced an entire exhibit about bas-relief in 2004, and Donatello was the star of their show.
Since the institute doesn't still have the show up (hello, it was 10 years ago), read Serena Davies's review from the Telegraph, "Donatello's Depth of Vision," and watch for her tip off about what two "crucial elements" Donatello contributed to the art form.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.4: Get some perspective.
According to the reading, Donatello's major contributions to bas-relief were realistic perspective, or the ability to create an illusion of physical depth when there isn't any, and naturalism, which is the ability to make things look similar to the way they are in reality. Or, you know, nature. Basically, naturalism is something's "real-looking-ness."
But what the heck is bas-relief in the first place? Watch this quick time lapse video on how it works to find out. Spoiler alert: this is a long, complicated process. It took ages, and thousands of teeny, tiny cuts, tweaks, and spackles, and Donnie never had the benefit of time lapse photography. What a trooper.
Davies's review mentions two reliefs of Donatello's that we're focusing on specifically: The Ascension and The Feast of Herod. Donatello's Ascension lives at the Victoria and Albert Museum, while The Feast of Herod is live on location on the Baptismal Font in the cathedral of Siena, Italy. While both are stellar examples of bas-relief, they are far from identical twins. They're more like fraternal twins, or maybe even half-siblings. They're different, is what we're saying.