The Renaissance, which took place between the 14th and 17th centuries, was a period of cultural and artistic flourishing across Europe.
Nowadays, the era is mostly famous for its art, which includes some of the most iconic and beautiful pieces of all time. The introduction of linear perspective indeed changed art greatly during the Renaissance, allowing a new aesthetic in paintings and frescoes of the period.
In general, the Renaissance was a revolution in realism, with artists and sculptors developing new techniques to make their works more lifelike than ever before.
You can get a great overview of the most important Renaissance artists and concepts by studying with Brainscape’s award-winning Knowledge Rehab app, which includes cultural literacy flashcards for dozens of other topics that you should know well in today's society.
But in this post we’re only going to highlight four of the most famous Renaissance artists. If you want to avoid looking a fool at your next museum visit, this is who you need to know in Renaissance art. (And before you ask: yes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were named after the most famous Italian artists from the Renaissance.)
Here are the 4 most famous renaissance artists you should know.
1. Leonardo da Vinci
Born April 15th, 1452, died May 2nd, 1519 (age 67)
Leonardo da Vinci is probably the best-known Renaissance artist, famous for his masterworks The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. The classic “Renaissance man,” da Vinci was not only an artist but also an inventor, scientist, architect, engineer, and more.
His innovative techniques included layering of paints, precise attention to light, shadow, and human form, and a detailed eye for expression and gesture—the last of which has led to endless speculation over the impassive face of the Mona Lisa. His famous sketch known as The Vitruvian Man is shown above.
Born March 6th, 1475, died February 18th, 1564 (age 88)
One of da Vinci’s contemporaries and perhaps his challenger for the title of greatest Renaissance artist was Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Born 13 years after da Vinci, Michelangelo followed in his footsteps as a Renaissance man. He was an accomplished artist, poet, architect, and engineer.
Michelangelo's best-known work is probably the sculpture David, which was completed in the opening years of the 16th century. The nearly 15-foot David depicts the biblical figure of David in white marble from the quarry at Miseglia. Other famous works by Michelangelo include the statue Pietà and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Born spring 1483, died April 6th, 1520 (age 37)
Alongside da Vinci and Michelangelo, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, more commonly known as simply Raphael, is known as the third of the great master artists of Renaissance Italy. He was born in 1483, and his works were extremely influential even during his lifetime.
While Raphael only lived to the age of 37, he nevertheless produced a huge number of works including paintings, frescoes, prints, and more. One of his most famous works is The School of Athens, shown at the top of this article. It is a classic example of Renaissance art and culture in general, as the culture of the period frequently referenced Roman and Greek antiquity.
Born c. 1386, died December 13th, 1466 (approx. age 80)
Born in Florence, Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, or Donatello, hailed from the period now known as the early Renaissance and preceded the others mentioned here. Donatello worked mainly as a sculptor, and the realism he was able to create marked a stark break from the stiff, un-lifelike statuary common in the Middle Ages.
One of his most famous works depicts Saint Mark and was completed in 1413 for a church in Florence where it can still be viewed today. According to legend, Donatello modified the proportions of the statue, making the head and shoulders larger to compensate for its final elevated position.
When the statue was first revealed (at ground level), Donatello’s employers protested and the sculptor agreed to make adjustments. Then, the legend goes, he waited 15 days without making any modifications (during which time the statue was raised to its final position). His employers were satisfied: the proportions looked right.
Learn more about famous Renaissance artists and world history
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