Survey of Renaissance Paintings

The quantity of famous Renaissance paintings – and the genius of their creators – remain a marvel in the history of art.  This cultural movement, which roughly spanned the 14th to 17th centuries, brought a resurgence of interest in Greco-Roman culture. Renaissance paintings explored themes in perspective, mythology and anatomy, among others.

Caravaggio.  The Conversion of St. Paul.  Oil on canvas, ca. 1601.  7'6" by 5'7".  Cerasi Chapel Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

Caravaggio.  The Conversion of St. Paul.  Oil on canvas, ca. 1601.  7’6″ by 5’7″.  Cerasi Chapel Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

Here are blog posts about Renaissance paintings which exemplify the era – and justify its fame (listed in painters’ birth order):

1. van Eyck, Jan. With only 25 Renaissance paintings attributed to him, the work of Jan van Eyck is nonetheless hugely influential. Learn some of the most recent thinking about who is in, and what is portrayed, in Arnolfini Portrait. Explore the incomparable Renaissance altarpiece, Ghent Altarpiece, made by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, and the most famous artwork in it, Adoration of the Lamb.

2. Uccello, Paolo. In the Battle of San Romano triptych, one of the glories of Renaissance art, Paolo Uccello introduces linear, or one point, perspective. Battle of San Romano hangs in three discrete art museums, which barely detracts from its majesty.

3. Piero della Francesca. One of the most famous painters of the Italian Renaissance.  Period.

4. Mantegna, Andrea. Although Mantegna shunned two new painting advances of Renaissance art – linear perspective and oil paint –  his Dead Christ is nonetheless one of the most highly esteemed Renaissance paintings.

5. Botticelli, Sandro Primavera One of the leading painters of the Early Renaissance (1400-1500), Botticelli studied with – and surpassed – another well known Renaissance painter, Fra Filipo Lippi. Tragically, many Botticelli paintings were destroyed in the infamous  Bonfire of the Vanities of 1497. Primavera and Birth of Venus are arguably the best known Botticelli paintings.

6. Leonardo.  Who isn’t in awe of Leonardo da Vinci’s contributions to Renaissance art?

7.  Durer, Albrecht. Trained as a goldsmith, painter, woodcutter and in stained glass design, Albrecht Durer was the best print-maker of the High Renaissance and an accomplished painter, as seen in one of Durer’s most famous paintings, Four Apostles.

8. Michelangelo. Explore four Michelangelo paintings (and learn about the only one in the U.S.).  Read about two possible new Michelangelo paintingsCrucifixion with the Madonna and St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness.

9. Giorgione. Although only six Renaissance paintings are definitively attributed to Giorgione, he nonetheless had an enduring impact on the history of painting.  Learn about one of these six, Three Philosophers.

10. Raphael. Considered one of the most brilliant Raphael paintings, Sistine Madonna is often most recognized for its two impish putti.  None other than Fyodor Dostoevsky swooned at their beauty.

11. Titian Titian paintings (like Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas) dominated Renaissance art for good reason.

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio). Rape of Europa, 1560-62.  Oil on canvas, 178 x 205 cm. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts

Titian. Rape of Europa, 1560-62.  Oil on canvas, 70″ x 81″. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts

Explore more Titian paintings such as:

Bacchus and Ariadne;

Assumption of the Virgin;

Man with a Glove

Rape of Europaand

Pope Paul III and His Grandson.

12. Anguissola, Sofonisba. One of the most outstanding female painters of the Italian Renaissance, Anguissola’s father believed girls deserved the same education as boys.  After being apprenticed to two Renaissance painters, Sofonisba Anguissola, at the age of 15 (in 1547!), became renowned for portraiture, as seen in Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain.

13. Fontana, Lavinia. Now becoming more widely recognized in the history of painting, Fontana was a portraitist for two popes, had eleven children… and employed her husband as studio assistant.  In one of the best known Lavinia Fontana paintingsPortrait of a Noblewoman, she shows her brilliance as a portraitist.  She also created memorable altarpieces and mythological paintings.

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1620.  Oil on canvas, 78" x 64".  Uffizi, Florence.

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1620.  Oil on canvas, 78″ x 64″.  Uffizi, Florence.

14. Caravaggio.  The bad boy of Renaissance art (and creator of some of the most remarkable Renaissance paintings).

With present-day, international adulation of Caravaggio paintings, it’s hard to believe he dwelled in obscurity for three centuries.  Believe it. Read about other (now) famous paintings by Caravaggio:

15. Rubens, Peter Paul. The most extensive collection of Rubens paintings outside Paris is in Sarasota, Florida.  Learn about four of these Rubens paintings (and this outstanding art museum).

Gentileschi, Artemisia, The first female painter in the Italian Academy of Design, Gentileschi was illiterate but is legendary in Renaissance art. Her confidence is revealed in Judith Beheading Holofernes, which challenged comparison to Caravaggio’s version of the same subject, and in Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.

17. Velazquez. Having been stood up by Pope Innocent X, Velazquez painted his servant, Juan de Pareja, while he waited for the Pope to receive him. Juan de Pareja is one of the most poignant Velazquez paintings, while his portrait of the Pope is… just a portrait. Compare Juan with Pope Innocent X.

Diego Velazquez.  Juan de Pareja, 1648.  Oil on canvas, 32" by 27 1/2".  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  Purchase, Fletcher Fund, Rogers Fund, and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton deGroot.

Diego Velazquez.  Juan de Pareja, 1648.  Oil on canvas, 32″ by 27 1/2″.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

18. Rembrandt. Rembrandt painted more than 50 self-portraits but none surpasses Self-Portrait at an Early Age (1628), completed when Rembrandt was 22 years old.  Explore this and three other influential Rembrandt paintings from one of the indisputable masters of the Dutch Golden Age.

And don’t overlook Night Watch, inarguably one of the most brilliant of all Rembrandt paintings.

19. Leyster, Judith. The first woman to be inducted into the Guild of St. Luke, the Haarlem painter’s guild,Judith Leyster was a talented portrait and genre painter.

20. Kauffmann, Angelica. This child prodigy was fluent in four languages… and refused to work in the “lesser” genres of painting that were considered acceptable to women.  Angelica Kauffmann was one of the 36 founders of the Royal Academy of Art, and was as financially successful as her male peers.

Want to explore art history, up close and personal?

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  • an art historian’s introductory essay to the work
  • key facts about the masterpiece.

In other words, the perfect introduction to 250 of the most famous paintings in Western art history.

All at your fingertips.  Let exploration begin!

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