© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

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!).

Course Breakdown

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!"

"How did he get up there? Hey, wait! Come back!"

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.

  • Course Length: 4 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Course Type: Short Course
  • Category:
    • Humanities
    • High School

Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?

Courses Tutorial