Italian and Spanish Renaissance Art

Italian Quattrocento

The early fifteenth century in Florence produced a radical transformation of formal and thematic aspects, as well as the role of art and the artist.

Architecture in the Quattrocento

In this first Renaissance, architecture marks a break with the Middle Ages.

Two fundamental principles emerge: constructive elements borrowed from classical antiquity and the search for spatial unity. Thus, the arch, columns, and pilasters with the classical orders, entablatures, and lacunar decorations are used again.

Spatial unity is achieved with calculated harmony and clarity in the spaces, allowing for the use of different plant models, including centralized and longitudinal plans. Hemispherical and ojival domes are employed. The wall becomes a tectonic feature, always clad in colorful decoration, colored marbles, and ornamental freedom. Animal tracks, plants, and human figures mingle, enriching the Corinthian capitals or combining with anthropomorphic themes. By striking external decorations with colored marble, the windows are transformed into small structures.

Brunelleschi, a complete artist typical of the Renaissance, designed the dome of Florence Cathedral, a work that occupied him almost to the end of his life. This work lays the foundations for Renaissance architecture, establishing a system of proportionality and harmony based on the measure of Man.

Alberti, the second great architect of the Quattrocento, received his training in Rome. Upon reaching Florence, he encountered his true master, Brunelleschi, and worked on the facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella. A typical Renaissance humanist, Alberti was a poet, architect, scholar, and urban planner.

Sculpture in the Quattrocento

The search for truth in the representation of the human body explains the Renaissance interest in studying anatomy. The sense of proportionality is reborn, with a canon that provides the measure of body size at 9-10 heads. The nude gains strength with mythological themes, tilting the representation of nature. Different genres emerge: statues, roundels, reliefs, busts, etc. Materials also vary: marble, terracotta, bronze, stone, plaster, and wood. Figures from this period are numerous, and alongside big names such as Ghiberti and Donatello are artists such as Jacopo della Quercia and Verrocchio.

Ghiberti was a goldsmith, sculptor, art theorist, and architect. He began as a goldsmith but soon became famous for his reliefs on the Baptistery in Florence. He competed with Brunelleschi and shared in the construction of the dome of Florence. A very refined sculptor, it was said that his work appeared not cast but created with a breath. He had a capable assistant, Donatello.

Donatello introduced the popular element into sculpture. A man of the people, he learned his trade by working in shops until he entered Ghiberti’s circle. It is said that he carved the crucifix for Brunelleschi’s Santa Croce and was reproached for having put a farmer on the cross. This represents the contrast between Brunelleschi’s idealizing tendency and Donatello’s realism.

Painting in the Quattrocento

Painting is concerned with the visual representation of Nature and finds its inspiration in Antiquity. There is a constant concern with perspective, with experiments that will lead to geometric or linear perspective. There is an interest in naturalistic representation, particularly in a classical idealized naturalism. Harmony in the works is usually achieved through a triangular composition, the harmonious use of clear light, and overhead lighting. Topics vary: religious or allegorical. Techniques are also varied: fresco, oil, tempera.

Notable painters include Masaccio, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, and Fra Angelico. Others include Mantegna and Uccello.

Italian Cinquecento

Cinquecento refers to the second cycle of rebirth in Italy. During this period, certain specific aspects of the early Renaissance remained, such as the interest in classical antiquity and an anthropocentric model. The scientific nature of art is enhanced.

Sculpture in the Cinquecento

The classic sense of the Quattrocento continues, with balance and harmony as conservative themes. There is a close symbiosis between religious motives and mythology. There is a constant search for movement, agitation, composition, and monumentality, which find their final synthesis in the early works of Michelangelo.

Architecture in the Cinquecento

In architecture, the construction of new palaces, with greater magnificence than in the previous century, is emphasized. New churches seek a different approach to the centralization of their plans. The work of the new Vatican is a milestone.

Andrea Palladio is a prominent architect of this period.

Painting in the Cinquecento

Sixteenth-century painting is in full conquest of classicism. Painting reaches a level of incomprehensible fullness thanks to the coincidence of talents like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. The chronology of this period is reduced to the early sixteenth century, in Rome, the capital of art, as well as in Venice, where a peculiar school of painting arises, begun by Giorgione and continued by Titian.

Leonardo da Vinci’s notable works include The Mona Lisa, The Virgin of the Rocks, and The Last Supper.

Raphael’s notable work includes The Disputation of the Sacrament.


Mannerism is a relatively recent term, as this art was not recognized until well into the 20th century. Vasari had previously differentiated a high and low Renaissance to distinguish earlier and later works of Michelangelo, considering the latter period as decadent. The name Mannerism is taken from the Italian word “manner”, which refers to a personal and spiritual form with a deep sense of understanding art. Its chronology begins with the latest works of Raphael and the first of Michelangelo, which should be considered the starting point of a personal rupture with the classical language. Despite the importance of Michelangelo in the development of the new style, there was also an initial Mannerism in Florence, even older than that in Rome, represented by Pontormo and Rosso. From that time on, Italian art of the 16th century sought: tension versus classical equilibrium, volumetry versus facility, expressiveness versus idealism, pressure on the extent of space, homogeneous light versus the vivid, intense chromaticism versus the mild, restlessness, and surprise.

Michelangelo’s notable works include: in architecture, the staircase of the Laurentian Library; in sculpture, The Pietà and Moses; in painting, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Other Italian Mannerists include Cellini in sculpture and Tintoretto in painting.

Architecture in Spain

Gothic architecture undergoes a decorative enrichment process in the last years of the 15th century. The work of the class of mercy is very thorough, increasing the decoration that covers all surfaces. Buildings commissioned by the Mendoza family begin to introduce elements of Italian Quattrocento architecture. The influence of Italian developments and knowledge of new motifs means that the new language begins to cover the buildings, without abandoning Gothic organization. The overload of ornamentation, which made the buildings seem wrought by the chisel of a goldsmith, served to coin the term Plateresque to describe this period. Civil architecture is highlighted, with centers of learning like the University of Salamanca. In religious architecture, the facade of the convent of San Esteban is noteworthy. Proportion now seeks balance and the solution to structural problems that did not concern regular and symmetrical Gothic plants. Arches and barrel vaults are used, decorated with moldings. Decorative elements include columns. The end result allows for balanced, sober, and monumental buildings. In civil architecture, the Monterrey Palace, a work by Hontañón, stands out. During the reign of Philip II, the construction of El Escorial is an example of austerity.

Painting in Spain

The influence of Flemish painting in Spain extends well into the sixteenth century. The realism of the compositions, clarity, and attention to detail were greatly appreciated, as they served to convey a message of religious content. When Italian innovations arrive, the subject of religion remains. The Church accounts for most of the clientele. Mythological painting is reduced to very specific circles connected with the royal family and high nobility. The portrait appears closely linked to the most influential figures. In the last years of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century, Italian Quattrocento influences begin to be received in Spain. In Valencia, the first works to accuse the Italian label use Renaissance architectures, grotesques, anatomy, and balanced compositions. In Castile, Pedro Berruguete combines Hispano-Flemish forms with the manifestation of such prominent issues as perspective. The dissemination of Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s work marks the work that is produced in Spain. Juan de Juanes in Valencia takes the models of Raphael, while in Castile, Berruguete follows Mannerist painting. During the reign of Philip II, the imposing monarch’s tastes oriented works of Flemish and Italian origin. Other painters from Italy, such as El Greco, arrived and participated in the decoration of El Escorial.

Sculpture in Spain

Spanish Renaissance sculpture is a merger between the Gothic tradition and Italian developments. Faced with the elegance and sensuality of the European Mannerist forms and mythological, religious sculpture is here the most demanded. wood, used since the medieval period for its low cost and quality plastic, the material par excellence. plicromar could, which gave color to the sculpture and a greater sense of reality. Some artists use the mud to turn polychrome with results similar to those d wood. on the tombstones worked bronze and stone. walls and ceilings are covered with ornamental motifs and scenes of plaster. The sculpture is rarely public or monumental, focuses on religion. in the early sixteenth century sculptors working in Spain some Italians who moved the forms of Renaissance classicism.

Ordonez and Diego de Siloam fully Renaissance sculpture, elegant, and going on the strength of the great masters.

Berruguete: his sculpture is characterized by an acute sense of expressiveness, in the purest looking Mannerism movement.

Juan de Juni’s Friends fomras are large, monumental and natural face.

Gaspar Becerra MA forms of matter