Renaissance Painting

In the 14th century, the world saw the most dynamic and revolutionary period of art and culture- the Renaissance era. Renaissance was a golden age of incredible artwork and classical learning. This era of innovations and developments spanned over three centuries.

While we have heard much about the Renaissance Age, let's explore the significant features of the Renaissance’s art history.

What Was The Renaissance Era?

Renaissance was a crucial development stage in the history of Europe. The Renaissance arose due to the crisis of the Middle Ages and the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The situation caused political instability, the collapse of human society, and religious disruptions.

The crisis paved the way for the rebirth of society. Renaissance, derived from the Italian word ‘Rinascimento,’ meaning the revival of humanity. The world, especially Europe, saw artistic, philosophical, and technological breakthroughs during that era.

The Renaissance movement affected the masses between the 14th-17th century. The rediscovery started in Florence, Italy, and gradually spread throughout Europe. Some of the greatest artists, authors, poets, scientists, etc., emerged during this age.

The art of the Italian Renaissance rekindled people's interest in art and culture. There was an explosion in the production of compositions, models, and other fine arts. Diverse fields saw developments, discoveries, inventions, and explorations.

Renaissance Era


Credit: ThoughtCo

What Does Renaissance Art Mean?

The Renaissance was a period of extraordinary and countless works of art. The artists reinvented the ancient Greek and Roman art ideas and added more to them creatively. They were open to changing their thinking and experimenting in new ways.

Renaissance artists wanted to make artwork and sculptures that showed real people and life events. Paintings were more concerned with the meaning of life and contemporary events. Artisans concentrated on the model’s expressions, postures, and gestures to create magnificent works of art.

In their paintings, artists wanted to reflect the beautiful relationship between humans and nature. They worked on creating realistic artwork giving attention to color, perspective, proportions, etc.

Catholic churches, patrons, or wealthy people commissioned most Renaissance paintings. This allowed the artists to work on and develop exemplary art methods. Thus, Renaissance emerged as a period of evolution and influential impact.

Top 7 Characteristics of Renaissance Art

The significant characteristics of Renaissance art are as follows:

1) Ressurection of Humanism

During the medieval ages, the stature of religion was higher than humanity. Middle-age artwork represented humans as dull, firm, and unemotional. The paintings focused on biblical themes and religious stories of churches.

With the rebirth of society, people started having a humanist approach. Renaissance humanism saw humans as the center of the universe and gave them importance. Humanists believed in God but condemned the church's dominance over people. They urged people to educate themselves to change the position of humans in society.

With the spread of humanism in society, artists also started focusing on bringing back human ideals. They created artwork representing human emotions, interactions, and postures. Artists explored various techniques and added human nobility to their paintings.

Renaissance art was more realistic than medieval art. For instance, the faces in Sano di Pietro's medieval painting ‘Madonna and Child with Saints’ lack emotion. In contrast, Leonardo Da Vinci's fa ‘Mona Lisa’ from the Renaissance is lifelike and displays expressions.

Madonna and Child with Saints

Madonna and Child with Saints

Mona Lisa

Credit: Wikipedia

2) Rise of Naturalism

One major feature of Renaissance art was naturalism. Naturalism refers to creating realistic portraits or statues in a natural setting. The artists focused on minute details and aimed to attain accuracy and precision.

Naturalism brought a substantial change in the world’s art history. Artisans planned and executed the brief details of an artwork. They considered the human body a beautiful creation of the universe and worked on it in that context.

Art historians consider Italian painter Leonardo Da Vinci as the Father of Naturalism. He studied around twenty cadavers to understand how muscles lay underneath the skin. He then incorporated his learnings in placing organs, bones, and muscles in his painting.

Likewise, Michelangelo was also a prominent leader who led naturalism in art. He also watched the dissection of corpses to gain knowledge about human anatomy. Renaissance artists also worked on the artwork's size, appearance, and dimensions to give it a natural look.

The best examples of naturalistic artwork are Da Vinci’s ‘ Vitruvian Man’ and Michaelangelo’s statue ‘The David.’

Vitruvian Man

Vitruvian Man

The David

The David

Credit: Wikipedia

3) Artists’ Originality

With the advent of the printing press, for the first time, information was accessible to ordinary citizens. Artists and learners were willing to learn and explore more. They discovered many new painting, drawing, and sculpture techniques and methods. They used their talents to generate new ideas.

Renaissance artists learned to make original artwork. They experimented with light and shadow and included small details to add a specialized touch. They would mark a compelling disappearing point, i.e., objects in fictive space that look farthest to the viewer seeing it.

For example, Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ is a fresco in the Apostolic Palace, the Vatican City. The fresco’s originality and unique art make it prevalent even today.

The School of Athens

The School of Athens

Credit: Wikipedia

4) Classical Era of Romans and Greeks

During the Renaissance, Roman, and Greek culture influenced artists and scholars. Classic antiques became a source of creativity and innovation, and they valued and reinvented them.

The revelation of Roman and Greek paintings motivated people. Coins, gems, medals, and literary texts allowed creative adaptations. People were enthusiastic about rediscovering and implementing the age-old culture. Moral philosophies and poetry also gained significance.

The statue of ‘Laocoon and his Sons,’ excavated in 1506 in Rome, is the perfect example of an ancient statue.

Laocoon and his Sons

Credit: Wikipedia

5) Secularism in Renaissance Art

Secularism emphasizes the importance of society's economic, social, and political activities. People in medieval civilization believed in an afterlife. Humans thought life on earth was an ordeal one must overcome before going to heaven.

People's perspectives started changing with the opening of new opportunities. New possibilities encouraged them to take an interest in earthly delights, and they started viewing life on Earth as worth living.

This material change was visible in the famous Renaissance paintings. Medieval artists did not pay heed to the realistic elements of life and focused just on the glory of God. Renaissance artists began focusing on human life and nature.

However, people still believed in God and often used religious themes to inspire paintings. The difference was they started giving equal importance to worldly affairs and opposed the dominance of catholic leaders on them.

The best examples of secular art are:

  • ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo Da Vinci portrays Jesus with his twelve apostles and their complex emotions and perspectives.
  • ‘Arnolfini Marriage ’ by Jack Ann Eyck is a progressive portrait of a couple. The picture has a beautifully used mirror for showing space and geometric perception.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper

Arnolfini Marriage

Arnolfini Marriage

Credit: Wikipedia

6) Discovery of Linear Perspective

A significant characteristic that emerged during the Renaissance era was the linear perspective. Renaissance artists wanted to create realistic and lifelike paintings. They wished to make their artwork more expressive and give flat spaces more depth.

Filippo Brunelleschi was the first artist and architect to reinvent linear perspective. He created the foundation for drawing based on the mathematical concept of straight lines converging into a single point.

With the evolution of art, more and more artists started using linear perspectives. They understood the concepts of orthogonal, horizon lines, and the vanishing point. It was a reliable method that helped them make captivating and lifelike pictures.

Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were the early masters of linear perspective. Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi is his study of linear perspective. Albrecht Durer’s The Draughtsman of the Lute is his study of creating depth on two-dimension surfaces.

Filippo Brunelleschi

Filippo Brunelleschi - Linear Perspective

The Draughtsman of the Lute

The Draughtsman of the Lute

Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi

Credit: Wikipedia

6) Three Stages of Renaissance Art

The Renaissance era saw three stages of art:

● Early Renaissance

During the Early Renaissance, artists started rejecting Byzantine and Medieval painting styles. With the revolutionary change, artists also wanted to experiment with new things.

The early artists showed interest in humanism and realistic three-dimension artwork. The first-generation Renaissance artists were Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, and Masaccio.

The principal artists were flagbearers’ of progress and development. They wanted to bring evolution into the art world by understanding human beings.

● High Renaissance

The High Renaissance period began from 1490 till 1527. The fundamentals of early Renaissance art influenced people to create outstanding paintings. Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci formed the High Renaissance holy trinity.

People started learning and implementing new techniques and ideas into their artwork. In this stage, art peaked as artists produced exceptional art in different fields.

● Late Renaissance

Mannerism, also known as the late Renaissance era, began around 1520 and lasted until the early 17th century. The high Renaissance artwork serves as inspiration for artists of the late Renaissance.

The works of the late Renaissance influenced Baroque and impressionist paintings. Some celebrated artists of the late Renaissance are Angolo Bronzino, Caravaggio, Jacopa da Pontormo, etc.

Famous Artists of the Renaissance Period

Renaissance experienced the rise of some prolific painters, sculptors, and artists. Let's read about some of the noted artists that brought a dynamic change to art history.

1) Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci is indeed one of the most celebrated and famous artists of the Renaissance age. Da Vinci made notable and unparalleled contributions to art, science, astronomy, and technology.

Born in 1452, Da Vinci gained fame as a painter because of his remarkable contributions to art history. Da Vinci became a well-known artist of the high-renaissance period with his ability to create engaging and aesthetic artwork.

The precision of his paintings ‘ The Mona Lisa,’ ‘The Last Supper,’ ‘Virgin of the Rocks,’ etc., received the viewer's appreciation. His exploration of techniques like proportion and expressionism helped create dynamic artwork.

Apart from his valuable contribution to art, Leonardo da Vinci's study of anatomy, astronomy, etc., made him a universal genius. With his technical skills, he drew the first-ever model of a flying machine and an aerial screw.

Leonardo da Vinci, regarded as one of history's greatest thinkers, continues to inspire many people.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci

Flying Machine

Flying Machine

Aerial Screw

Aerial Screw

Credit: Wikipedia

2) Sandro Botticelli

One of the pillars of the early Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli was an esteemed artist of Italy. Like the other Renaissance artists, he was also keen on rediscovering ancient ideals and bringing a change in the art world.

Botticelli’s paintings focused mainly on creating religious scenes and classical mythology. His religious altarpieces were the most famous among the audience. He had mastered combining figures to create a harmonious and balanced composition.

Sandro Botticelli integrated colors and perspective to reinterpret a mythical or religious depiction. His creative usage of pigments and refined brush strokes brought life to his artwork. His notable works of art are ‘The Birth of Venus,’ ‘Primavera,’ ‘Venus and Mars,’ etc.

Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli

Venus and Mars

Venus and Mars

Credit: Wikipedia

3) Michelangelo

Michelangelo, called the Renaissance Man, was an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect. He became famous because of his incredible artwork during the High Renaissance.

Inspired by classical antiquity, Michelangelo created paintings that influenced Western art. He exhibited creativity and talent when painting Genesis on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. His altarpiece, ‘The Last Judgment’ for Sistine Chapel, was praised and appreciated.

The famous sculptures of ‘David’ and ‘Pieta’ showcase Michelangelo's detailed and precise work. As an architect, he has even designed the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Even after many centuries, Michelangelo inspires and amazes young artists worldwide.





St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

Credit: Encylopedia Britannica

4) Giotto di Bondone

An Italian painter of the early Renaissance, Giotto di Bondone was the forefather of artistic change. Bondone emerged as a significant artist during the initial stage of the Renaissance. His inspiration from humanism helped him create lifelike religious paintings with a touch of humanity.

Bondone’s artwork contrasted the lifeless, flat, and void Christian paintings. A progressive artist, he studied linear perspective and pictorial space before painting a picture. His realistic artwork brought people closer to God as they could resonate with it.

Some of the best paintings of Bondone are ‘Kiss of Judas,’ ‘Cruxification,’ ‘Lamentation,’ ‘ Fresco Cycle in Scrovegni Chapel,’ etc.

Giotto di Bondone

Giotto di Bondone



Credit: Wikipedia

5) Raphael

Along with Leonardo and Michaelangelo, Raphael made the holy trinity of high Renaissance artists. Raphael, an Italian painter and architect, was the master of creating balance and harmony in his paintings.

Though Raphael lived a short life of 37 years, he created numerous paintings, frescos, and prints in it. His work contained religious scenes as the Pope and Catholic churches commissioned them. Within a short span, Raphael gained popularity among the masses, and his friendly attitude catalyzed it.

His paintings realistically depicted emotions with a vivid color theme, so people appreciated it. Some of his outstanding contributions are ‘The School of Athens,’ ‘The Transfiguration,’ ‘Crowning of the Virgin,’ etc.



Crowning of the Virgin

Crowning of the Virgin

Credit: Wikipedia

6) Jan Van Eyck

Dutch artist Jan Van Eyck was a well-known and celebrated painter of the early 15th century. Known as the father of oil paintings, he used oil paints to add naturalistic and detailed spaces to his artwork.

Jan Van Eyck was famous for making secular and religious paintings. He believed in the concept of secularism and showcased it in his paintings. His advanced level of realism was visible in paintings with reflective metals and flowy fabrics.

Jan Van Eyck's works were influential for the other Renaissance artist. Some of Eyck’s recognized works are ‘The Ghent Altarpiece,’ ‘The Arnolfini Portrait,’ and ‘Man in Red Turban.’



The Ghent Altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece

Credit: NPR

6) Albrecht Durer

The significant contribution of Albrecht Durer during the Renaissance period was wood engraving. Durer, a German painter and wood engraver, revolutionized the idea behind wood engraving.

Albrecht Durer showcased his versatility by painting classic masterpieces. Religious topics and self-portraits were prevalent in his artwork. Later, he studied scientific issues and wrote writings about human proportions.

Albrecht Durer was one of the first non-Italians to use the ideals of the Italian Renaissance.

Credit: Wikipedia

7) Caravaggio

Caravaggio, recognized as a high Renaissance artist, was essential in transforming art. He combined the techniques of his forerunners with innovations to give art a new face.

Caravaggio observed his subject's physical and emotional condition before painting them on canvas. He studied human behavior and personality and added that knowledge to his artwork. His paintings were famous for creating figures with realistic emotions and dramatic lighting.

People distinguished Caravaggio’s paintings for having some violent or mysterious subject matter. He approached biblical representations with an untried perspective. The new approach toward colors, subjects, and patterns inspired many young artists worldwide.

Caravaggio’s work was a turning point in art history. It influenced the Baroque and Impressionist Painting styles. The best works of Caravaggio are ‘Medusa,’ ‘David with the Head of Goliath,’ The Judith Beheading,’ and more.





Credit: Wikipedia

Top 10 Most Famous Paintings of Renaissance

1) The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello

One of the most impressive war artworks, ‘ The Battle of San Romana,’ is a series of three paintings representing the battle fought between Florentine and Siene. Paolo Uccello created this classic masterpiece of early Renaissance art.

Paolo painted The Battle of San Romana between 1435 to 1460 to commemorate the victory of Florentine armies over Sienese forces in 1432. Uccello’s bold and experimental use of linear perspective to create an illusion of depth in the painting made it recognized among people.

The three wooden panel paintings with egg tempera depict three different times of the day. Paolo Uccello even used chiaroscuro to create contrasting light and shadow in the artwork. The depiction of the action-packed war scene with broken lances and dead soldiers gives the viewers a perspective.

This set of paintings is available in three renowned art galleries:

  • The National Gallery, London
  • The Uffizi Gallery, Florence
  • The Louvre Museum, Paris.

Paolo Uccello

The Uffizi Gallery

The Louvre Museum

Credit: Wikipedia

2) Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci

‘Annunciation,’ one of the early works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, has its basis in the Christian themes taken from the holy gospel. The painting depicts the scene when the angel Gabriel came to Virgin Mary to announce that she would give birth to Jesus Christ.

The Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci created the painting between 1472 and 1475 on a poplar panel with tempera. He naturally tried to combine traditional and religious themes. The composition of ‘Annunciation’ follows an old style wherein the angel sits on the left, and Virgin Mary is on the right. Virgin Mary sits composedly, reading a book, whereas the angel kneels with elegant wings beside him.

The setup is the courtyard of a Renaissance palace with a vast landscape of trees and plants. Da Vinci used the sfumato technique to paint the backdrop as it softens the transition between colors and lightens the boundaries. The viewers imagine the continuous flowing wind and mist in the atmosphere.

The painting also shows minute precision with the clothes' realistic folds and the angel Gabriel's shadow on the grass. Yet, some imperfections and flaws appear when analyzed. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, houses ‘Annunciation’ by Leonardo da Vinci.

Renaissance palace

Credit: Wikipedia

3) The Last Judgment by Michaelangelo

In the Sistine Chapel of Vatican City, Michelangelo, the most famous Renaissance artist, painted ‘The Last Judgment.’ In 1536, Pope Clement VII commissioned Michaelangelo to paint a fresco on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Twenty-five years after completing the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, he returned to the same place to paint ‘The Last Judgment.’ The fresco depicts the second coming of Christ and the final judgment by God for humanity. He took four years to complete the task and had to hurry up because of the constantly drying plaster wall.

Michelangelo painted the fresco in a more monochromatic tone than the ceiling fresco. Skin and the sky were the colors that stood out the most. Although the fresco's subject was familiar, what made it unique was the 300 naked bodies of people and angels present in it. Later, the artist partially covered them.

Every subject in the fresco was realistic and three-dimensional. Michelangelo also used the foreshortening technique to appear the objects from a different angle than they were. The message that ‘The Last Judgment’ wanted to convey was the dominance of good over evil and heaven over hell.


Credit: Wikipedia

4) The Kiss of Judas by Giotto Di Bondone

‘The Kiss of Judas’ is a famous Renaissance painting by Giotto Di Bondone. Through his artwork, Giotto tries to depict the incident that led to the arrest of Jesus Christ. Also known as Betrayal of Christ, ‘The Kiss of Judas’ Giotto painted as a fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel of Italy.

According to the Synoptic Gospels, Judas, a disciple of Jesus, betrayed him by kissing him on the cheek. The kiss was the indicator of who Jesus was, leading to the arrest and execution of Christ by the police force of Sanhedrin.

Giotto Di Bondone painted ‘The Kiss Of Judas’ in 1306, inspiring budding artists. The creation marked the emergence of the early Renaissance. ‘The Kiss of Judas’ brought a wave of artistic revolution and marked the end of the medieval painting style.

Giotto’s ‘The Kiss of Judas expressively captured the dramatic confrontation scene. He depicted Jesus and Judas' facial expressions so accurately that the audience required no words to understand them.

Thus most people consider this fresco an emotional, iconic, and modern work of art.

Giotto Di Bondone

Credit: Artwork Only

5) The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio

‘The Entombment of Christ’ by Caravaggio is one of the most famous altarpieces of the Renaissance period. Created from 1603 to 1604, it is a classic masterpiece of mourning and suffering.

The painting’s composition consists of six members, including the dead Jesus Christ. St. John the Evangelist supports the upper half of the body, while St. Nicodemus carries the lower half. The are three women depicted in the painting. The Virgin Mary, an elderly nun; Mary Magdalene, the female follower of Christ; and Mary of Clopas, the sister of the Virgin Mary.

Caravaggio, through his artwork, wanted to depict the scene before the burying of Jesus Christ in the tomb. People discussed the picture as an allegory of life and death. Above are the living beings, and below is the tomb. What separates us from the grave is Jesus. People believed that having faith in Christ could help them avoid death and lead them straight to heaven.

‘The Entombment of Christ’ was initially hung in the chapel of Santa Maria in Vallicella from 1604 to 1797. However, officials confiscated and removed it from all Roman churches. Fortunately, in 1816, it returned to Vatican City, and now Vatican Pinacoteca houses it.

The Entombment of Christ

Credit: Wikipedia

6) The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Created during the late 15th century, ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli is among the most famous artworks. The classical mythology painting depicts the birth of the Goddess of love and beauty, Venus.

The composition shows a grown and naked Venus emerging from the giant scallop at the seashore of Cyprus. It also depicts how Venus, a pure and mature woman, uses her hair strands to cover her naked body in honor.

Zephyr, Aura, and Hora of Spring—traditional figures from mythology—are also depicted in the painting. They represent nature and surround Venus when she arrives on the shore.

Sandro Botticelli has worked on the precision and accuracy of the painting. However, it became controversial as nude images differed from
conservative art and were against Christian values.

Art historians assume Botticelli commissioned ‘The Birth of Venus’ for the Medici family. They also believe this painting symbolizes the rebirth of civilization and new hope. Today, ‘The Birth of Venus’ is in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence, Italy.

Ufizzi Gallery

Credit: Ufizzi Gallery

7) Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci

‘Virgin of the Rocks’ is a classic masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci. There are two versions of this Renaissance painting- one solely made by Da Vinci and another by Da Vinci and other artists. The original version hangs in the Louvre Museum, Paris; the other is in National Gallery, London.

The painting depicts Mother Mary, child Jesus, infant John the Baptist, and an angel sitting on a rock. Also known as ‘Madonna of the Rocks,’ Leonardo da Vinci made this Renaissance painting between 1483-85.

Da Vinci created this oil painting with sfumato and chiaroscuro techniques on large wooden panels. The revolutionary method of using light and shadow to outline the characters turned this artwork into an iconic painting.

Louvre Museum Version

Louvre Museum Version

Credit: Wikipedia

8) The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

‘The Creation of Adam,’ by Michelangelo, depicts the biblical representation of the creation of man. This fresco, painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, shows Genesis’s events in chronology.

‘The Creation of Adam’ portrays God giving Adam life through a finger touch. The elderly white-bearded man with a robe around his body represents God. The muscular nude man in a languid pose represents Adam. The fresco illustrates God surrounded by angels and Adam lying on the earth’s edge.

This Renaissance painting is famous for its complex composition and humane touch. It was a meaningful reminder for people to believe in the greatness of the Almighty. Through the years, many artists tried replicating and imitating it. Hence, ‘The Creation of Adam’ is one of the most copied religious paintings worldwide.

Renaissance painting

Credit: WikiArt

9) The Sistine Madonna by Raphael

Raphael, one of the most famous Renaissance artists, painted his iconic painting, ‘The Sistine Madonna,’ in 1513-14. Pope Julius II commissioned this holy painting for the San Sisto church in Piacenza.

Raphael’s last work, ‘The Sistine Madonna,’ represents Madonna holding baby Jesus in her arms. The sky and two saints surrounding her depict heaven. It became the most discussed painting because of its two cherubs. People argued that tiny cherubs represented humans' urge to escape from the earth.

Art historians regard ‘The Sistine Madonna’ as the most religious painting. The reason behind this is the representation of God and human's relationship. Old Master’s Picture Gallery in Dresden, Germany, houses this classic masterpiece.

The Sistine Madonna

Credit: The Sistine Madonna

10) La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

‘La Primavera’ by Sandro Botticelli is one of the iconic paintings of Western art. Created between 1477-82, ‘La Primavera’ is one of the earliest masterpieces of Botticelli. ‘Primavera’s classical mythology theme brought a shift in artworks. Sandro Botticelli took a groundbreaking step by creating a Goddess Venus painting.

‘La Primavera’ depicts mythological figures with Goddess Venus standing in the center. The Roman Goddes Venus and Cupid in the painting show love, desire, and beauty. The painting celebrates the allegory of spring. The most prominent themes in this artwork are love, marriage, and fertility.

Many art historians claim ‘La Primavera’ is the most controversial painting. The painting’s mysterious subject matter makes it controversial though admirable. The Uffizi Gallery of Florence, Italy, preserves this Renaissance painting.

Goddess Venus

Credit: Wikimedia Conman


In conclusion, the Renaissance period contributed countless works to the world. The Renaissance, indeed, is the most celebrated movement in the world history. The Renaissance paintings’ remarkable impact continues to inspire people to date.

Embrace the Renaissance with your own portrait today.

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