High Renaissance

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Raphael's frescos in the Raphael Rooms of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, also commissioned by Pope Julius II Raffael Stanza della Segnatura.jpg
Raphael's frescos in the Raphael Rooms of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, also commissioned by Pope Julius II
The Creation of Adam, a scene from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling (c. 1508-1512), commissioned by Pope Julius II God2-Sistine Chapel.png
The Creation of Adam , a scene from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling (c. 1508–1512), commissioned by Pope Julius II
The Last Supper, mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci The Last Supper Leonardo Da Vinci - High Resolution.jpg
The Last Supper , mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci

In art history, the High Renaissance was a short period of the most exceptional artistic production in the Italian states, particularly Rome, capital of the Papal States, and in Florence, during the Italian Renaissance. Most art historians state that the High Renaissance started around 1495 or 1500 and ended in 1520 with the death of Raphael, although some say the High Renaissance ended about 1525, or in 1527 with the Sack of Rome by the army of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, or about 1530. The best-known exponents of painting, sculpture and architecture of the High Renaissance include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante. In recent years, the use of the term has been frequently criticized by some academic art historians for oversimplifying artistic developments, ignoring historical context, and focusing only on a few iconic works. [1]


Origin of term

The term High Renaissance was first used by Jacob Burckhardt in German (Hochrenaissance) in 1855 and has its origins in the "High Style" of painting and sculpture of the time period around the early 16th century described by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in 1764. [2] Extending the general rubric of Renaissance culture, the visual arts of the High Renaissance were marked by a renewed emphasis upon the classical tradition, the expansion of networks of patronage, and a gradual attenuation of figural forms into the style later termed Mannerism.

Time period

Alexander Raunch in The Art of the High Renaissance and Mannerism in Rome and Central Italy, 2007, [3] states the High Renaissance began in 1490, while Marilyn Stokstad in Art History, 2008, states it began in the 1490s. [4] Frederick Hartt states that Leonardo's The Last Supper , the painting of which began in 1495 and concluded in 1498, makes a complete break with the Early Renaissance and created the world in which Michelangelo and Raphael worked, [5] while Christoph Luitpold Frommel, in his 2012 article "Bramante and the Origins of the High Renaissance," states The Last Supper is the first High Renaissance work but adds that the peak period of the High Renaissance was actually 1505 to 1513. [6] David Piper in The Illustrated History of Art, 1991, also cites The Last Supper writing the work announced the High Renaissance and was one of the most influential paintings of the High Renaissance, but contradictorily states that the High Renaissance began just after 1500. [7] Burchkardt stated the High Renaissance started at the close of the 15th century, [8] while Franz Kugler, who wrote the first "modern" survey text, Handbook of Art History in 1841, and Hugh Honour and John Fleming in The Visual Arts: A History, 2009, state the High Renaissance started at the beginning of the 16th century. [9] [10] Another seminal work of art which was created in the 1495–1500 timeframe was Michelangelo's Pietà, housed in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, which was executed in 1498–99.

In contrast to most of the other art historians, Manfred Wurdram, in Masterpieces of Western Art, 2007, actually states that the dawn of the High Renaissance was heralded by Leonardo's Adoration of the Magi of 1481, for which only the underpainting was completed. [11]

As far as the end of the High Renaissance is concerned Hartt, Frommel, Piper, Wundrum, and Winkelman all state that the High Renaissance ended in 1520 with the death of Raphael. Honour and Fleming stated the High Renaissance was the first quarter of the 16th century meaning it would have ended in 1525. By contrast, Luigi Lanzi, in his History of Italian Painting, 1795–96, stated it ended with the Sack of Rome in 1527, [12] when several artists were killed and many other dispersed from Rome, and Stokstad agrees. Raunch asserts that 1530 has been considered to be the end of the High Renaissance. Hartt adds that 1520 to 1530 was a transition period between the High Renaissance and Mannerism. Traditionally, the end of the High Renaissance in Florence is seen as marked by the end of the Republic of Florence and the beginning of the Duchy of Florence in 1532.


Bramante's Tempietto, designed 1502, San Pietro in Montorio, Rome Tempietto05.jpg
Bramante's Tempietto, designed 1502, San Pietro in Montorio, Rome

High Renaissance style in architecture conventionally begins with Donato Bramante, whose Tempietto at S. Pietro in Montorio at Rome was begun in 1510. The Tempietto, signifies a full-scale revival of ancient Roman commemorative architecture. David Watkin writes that the Tempietto, like Raphael's works in the Vatican (1509–11), "is an attempt at reconciling Christian and humanist ideals". [13]


The High Renaissance of painting was the culmination of the varied means of expression [14] and various advances in painting technique, such as linear perspective, [15] the realistic depiction of both physical [16] and psychological features, [17] and the manipulation of light and darkness, including tone contrast, sfumato (softening the transition between colours) and chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark), [18] in a single unifying style [19] which expressed total compositional order, balance and harmony. [20] In particular, the individual parts of the painting had a complex but balanced and well-knit relationship to the whole. [21]

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503-05/07) in the Louvre Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF retouched.jpg
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503–05/07) in the Louvre

Painting of the High Renaissance is considered to be the absolute zenith of western painting [22] and achieved the balancing and reconciliation, in harmony, of contradictory and seemingly mutually exclusive artistic positions, such as real versus ideal, movement versus rest, freedom versus law, space versus plane, and line versus colour. [23] The High Renaissance was traditionally viewed as a great explosion of creative genius, following a model of art history first proposed by the Florentine Giorgio Vasari.

The paintings in the Vatican by Michelangelo and Raphael are said by some scholars such as Stephen Freedberg to represent the culmination of High Renaissance style in painting, because of the ambitious scale of these works, coupled with the complexity of their composition, closely observed human figures, and pointed iconographic and decorative references to classical antiquity, can be viewed as emblematic of the High Renaissance. [24]

Even relatively minor painters of the period, such as Fra Bartolomeo and Mariotto Albertinelli, produced works that are still lauded for the harmony of their design and their technique. The elongated proportions and exaggerated poses in the late works of Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto and Correggio prefigure so-called Mannerism, as the style of the later Renaissance is referred to in art history.[ citation needed ]

The serene mood and luminous colours of paintings by Giorgione and early Titian exemplify High Renaissance style as practiced in Venice. Other recognizable pieces of this period include Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Raphael's The School of Athens . Raphael's fresco, set beneath an arch, is a virtuoso work of perspective, composition and disegno .

In more recent years, art historians have characterised the High Renaissance as a movement as opposed to a period, one amongst several different experimental attitudes towards art in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. This movement is variously characterised as conservative, [25] as reflecting new attitudes towards beauty, [26] a deliberate process of synthesising eclectic models, linked to fashions in literary culture, [27] and reflecting new preoccupations with interpretation and meaning . [28]

Michelangelo's Pieta, 1498-99. Michelangelo's Pieta 5450 cropncleaned edit.jpg
Michelangelo's Pietà , 1498–99.


High Renaissance sculpture, as exemplified by Michelangelo's Pietà and the iconic David , is characterized by an "ideal" balance between stillness and movement. High Renaissance sculpture was normally commissioned by the public and the state, this becoming more popular for sculpture is an expensive art form. Sculpture was often used to decorate or embellish architecture, normally within courtyards where others were able to study and admire the commissioned art work. Wealthy individuals like cardinals, rulers, and bankers were the more likely private patrons along with very wealthy families; Pope Julius II also patronized many artists. During the High Renaissance there was the development of small scale statuettes for private patrons, the creation of busts and tombs also developing. The subject matter related to sculpture was mostly religious but also with a significant strand of classical individuals in the form of tomb sculpture and paintings as well as ceilings of cathedrals.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mannerism</span> Style of European art

Mannerism, which may also be known as Late Renaissance, is a style in European art that emerged in the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520, spreading by about 1530 and lasting until about the end of the 16th century in Italy, when the Baroque style largely replaced it. Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michelangelo</span> Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet (1475–1564)

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known as Michelangelo, was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance. Born in the Republic of Florence, his work was inspired by models from classical antiquity and had a lasting influence on Western art. Michelangelo's creative abilities and mastery in a range of artistic arenas define him as an archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and elder contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci. Given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches, and reminiscences, Michelangelo is one of the best-documented artists of the 16th century. He was lauded by contemporary biographers as the most accomplished artist of his era.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Renaissance architecture</span> 14th–16th-centuries European architecture

Renaissance architecture is the European architecture of the period between the early 15th and early 16th centuries in different regions, demonstrating a conscious revival and development of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and material culture. Stylistically, Renaissance architecture followed Gothic architecture and was succeeded by Baroque architecture. Developed first in Florence, with Filippo Brunelleschi as one of its innovators, the Renaissance style quickly spread to other Italian cities. The style was carried to Spain, France, Germany, England, Russia and other parts of Europe at different dates and with varying degrees of impact.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Raphael</span> Italian painter and architect (1483–1520)

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Together with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Donato Bramante</span> Italian architect and painter (1444–1514)

Donato Bramante, born as Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio and also known as Bramante Lazzari, was an Italian architect and painter. He introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, where his plan for St. Peter's Basilica formed the basis of design executed by Michelangelo. His Tempietto marked the beginning of the High Renaissance in Rome (1502) when Pope Julius II appointed him to build a sanctuary over the spot where Peter was martyred.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Renaissance art</span> Visual arts produced during the European Renaissance

Renaissance art is the painting, sculpture, and decorative arts of the period of European history known as the Renaissance, which emerged as a distinct style in Italy in about AD 1400, in parallel with developments which occurred in philosophy, literature, music, science, and technology. Renaissance art took as its foundation the art of Classical antiquity, perceived as the noblest of ancient traditions, but transformed that tradition by absorbing recent developments in the art of Northern Europe and by applying contemporary scientific knowledge. Along with Renaissance humanist philosophy, it spread throughout Europe, affecting both artists and their patrons with the development of new techniques and new artistic sensibilities. For art historians, Renaissance art marks the transition of Europe from the medieval period to the Early Modern age.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palazzo Farnese</span> Palazzo in Rome, Italy

Palazzo Farnese or Farnese Palace is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome. Owned by the Italian Republic, it was given to the French government in 1936 for a period of 99 years, and currently serves as the French embassy in Italy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Italian Renaissance</span> Italian cultural movement from the 14th to 17th-century

The Italian Renaissance was a period in Italian history covering the 15th and 16th centuries. The period is known for the initial development of the broader Renaissance culture that spread across Europe and marked the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. Proponents of a "long Renaissance" argue that it started around the year 1300 and lasted until about 1600. In some fields, a Proto-Renaissance, beginning around 1250, is typically accepted. The French word renaissance means 'rebirth', and defines the period as one of cultural revival and renewed interest in classical antiquity after the centuries during what Renaissance humanists labelled as the "Dark Ages". The Renaissance author Giorgio Vasari used the term rinascita 'rebirth' in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in 1550, but the concept became widespread only in the 19th century, after the work of scholars such as Jules Michelet and Jacob Burckhardt.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Italian art</span>

Since ancient times, Greeks, Etruscans and Celts have inhabited the south, centre and north of the Italian peninsula respectively. The very numerous rock drawings in Valcamonica are as old as 8,000 BC, and there are rich remains of Etruscan art from thousands of tombs, as well as rich remains from the Greek colonies at Paestum, Agrigento and elsewhere. Ancient Rome finally emerged as the dominant Italian and European power. The Roman remains in Italy are of extraordinary richness, from the grand Imperial monuments of Rome itself to the survival of exceptionally preserved ordinary buildings in Pompeii and neighbouring sites. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, in the Middle Ages Italy, especially the north, remained an important centre, not only of the Carolingian art and Ottonian art of the Holy Roman Emperors, but for the Byzantine art of Ravenna and other sites.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">San Pietro in Montorio</span> Church in Rome, Italy

San Pietro in Montorio is a church in Rome, Italy, which includes in its courtyard the Tempietto, a small commemorative martyrium (tomb) built by Donato Bramante.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cinquecento</span> The 16th century as a period of Italian art, architecture, or literature

The cultural and artistic events of Italy during the period 1500 to 1599 are collectively referred to as the Cinquecento, from the Italian for the number 500, in turn from millecinquecento, which is Italian for the year 1500. Cinquecento encompasses the styles and events of the High Italian Renaissance, Mannerism and some early exponents of the Baroque-style.

Frederick Hartt (1914–1991) was an Italian Renaissance scholar, author and professor of art history. His books include History of Italian Renaissance Art, Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (two volumes), Michelangelo , The Sistine Chapel and The Renaissance in Italy and Spain . He was also involved with cataloging and repatriating art work looted and stolen by the Third Reich during World War II.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Art patronage of Julius II</span>

Pope Julius II, commissioned a series of highly influential art and architecture projects in the Vatican. The painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo and of various rooms by Raphael in the Apostolic Palace are considered among the masterworks that mark the High Renaissance in Rome. His decision to rebuild St Peter's led to the construction of the present basilica.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Florentine painting</span> Naturalistic painting style developed in the 14th century Florence

Florentine painting or the Florentine School refers to artists in, from, or influenced by the naturalistic style developed in Florence in the 14th century, largely through the efforts of Giotto di Bondone, and in the 15th century the leading school of Western painting. Some of the best known painters of the earlier Florentine School are Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, the Ghirlandaio family, Masolino, and Masaccio.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Italian Renaissance painting</span> Art movement

Italian Renaissance painting is the painting of the period beginning in the late 13th century and flourishing from the early 15th to late 16th centuries, occurring in the Italian Peninsula, which was at that time divided into many political states, some independent but others controlled by external powers. The painters of Renaissance Italy, although often attached to particular courts and with loyalties to particular towns, nonetheless wandered the length and breadth of Italy, often occupying a diplomatic status and disseminating artistic and philosophical ideas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry II style</span>

The Henry II style was the chief artistic movement of the sixteenth century in France, part of Northern Mannerism. It came immediately after High Renaissance and was largely the product of Italian influences. Francis I and his daughter-in-law, Catherine de' Medici, had imported to France a number of Italian artists of Raphael's or Michelangelo's school; the Frenchmen who followed them in working in the Mannerist idiom. Besides the work of Italians in France, many Frenchman picked up Italianisms while studying art in Italy during the middle of the century. The Henry II style, though named after Henry II of France, in fact lasted from about 1530 until 1590 under five French monarchs, their queens, and their mistresses.


Counter-Maniera or Counter-Mannerism is a term in art history for a trend identified by some art historians in 16th-century Italian painting that forms a sub-category or phase of Mannerism, the dominant movement in Italian art between about 1530 and 1590. Counter-Maniera or Counter-Mannerism reacted against the artificiality of the second generation of Mannerist painters in the second half of the 16th century. It was in part due to artists wishing to follow the vague prescriptions for clarity and simplicity in art issued by the Council of Trent in its final session in 1563, and represented a rejection of the distortions and artificiality of high Mannerist style, and a partial return to the classicism and balance of High Renaissance art, with "clarity in formal order and legibility in content".

This is an alphabetical index of articles related to the Renaissance.

David Edward Hemsoll FSA is a British art and architectural historian, specialising in Renaissance art and architecture, especially that of Rome, Florence, and Venice. He has published numerous catalogue essays and books that address architectural theory and the methodology of architectural design. He is currently (2020) Senior Lecturer in the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies at the University of Birmingham.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Italian Renaissance sculpture</span>

Italian Renaissance sculpture was an important part of the art of the Italian Renaissance, in the early stages arguably representing the leading edge. The example of Ancient Roman sculpture hung very heavily over it, both in terms of style and the uses to which sculpture was put. In complete contrast to painting, there were many surviving Roman sculptures around Italy, above all in Rome, and new ones were being excavated all the time, and keenly collected. Apart from a handful of major figures, especially Michelangelo and Donatello, it is today less well-known than Italian Renaissance painting, but this was not the case at the time.


  1. Marcia Hall, "Classicism, Mannerism and the relflike Style" in The Cambridge Companion to Raphael, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 224.
  2. Jill Burke, "Inventing the High Renaissance from Winckelmann to Wikipedia: an introductory essay Archived 2015-09-23 at the Wayback Machine ", in: Id., Rethinking the High Renaissance: Culture and the Visual Arts in Early Sixteenth-century Rome Archived 2014-11-08 at the Wayback Machine , Ashgate, 2012
  3. Alexander Raunch "Painting of the High Renaissance and Mannerism in Rome and Central Italy" in The Italian Renaissance: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, Konemann, Cologne, 1995. Pg. 308
  4. Marilyn Stokstad Art History, Third Edition, Pearson Education Inc., New Jersey, 2008, Pg 659.
  5. Frederick Hartt, A History of Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture; Harry N. Abrams Incorporated, New York, 1985, pg. 601
  6. Christoph Luitpold Frommel, "Bramante and the Origins of the High Renaissance" in Rethinking the High Renaissance: The Culture of the Visual Arts in Early Sixteenth-Century Rome, Jill Burke, ed. Ashgate Publishing, Oxan, UK, 2002, pg. 172.
  7. David Piper, The Illustrated History of Art, Crescent Books, New York, 1991, pg. 129
  8. Jacob Burchhardt, Cinerone 1841.
  9. Franz Kugler Handbook of Art History 1841; Franz Kugler Handbook of Art History 1841.
  10. Hugh Honour and John Flemming,The Visual Arts: A History, 7th edition, Laurence King Publishing Ltd., Great Britain, 2009, pg. 466
  11. Mandred Wundrum, "Renaissance and Mannerism" in Masterpieces of Western Art, Tashen, 2007.
  12. Luigi Lanzi,History of Italian Painting, 1795–96.
  13. D. Watkin, A History of Western Architecture, 4th ed., Watson Guptill (2005) p. 224.
  14. Manfred Wundrum "Renaissance and Mannerism" in Masterpieces of Western Art, Tashen, 2007. Page 147
  15. Alexander Raunch "Painting of the High Renaissance and Mannerism in Rome and Central Italy" in The Italian Renaissance: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, Konemann, Cologne, 1995. Pg. 308; Wundrum Pg. 147
  16. Frederick Hartt and David G. Wilkins, History of Italian Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, 2003.
  17. Raunch pg. 309
  18. Wundrum pg. 148; Hartt and Wilkins
  19. Wundrum pg. 147; Hartt and Wilkins
  20. Frederick Hartt, A History of Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture; Harry N. Abrams Incorporated, New York, 1985, pg. 601; Wundrum pg. 147; Marilyn Stokstad Art History, Third Edition, Pearson Education Inc., New Jersey, 2008. Pg 659
  21. Stokstad, Pg. 659
  22. Wundrum pg. 145
  23. Wundrum pg. 147
  24. Stephen Freedberg, _Painting of the High Renaissance in Rome and Florence, 2 vols., Cambridge MA; Harvard University Press
  25. Alexander Nagel, "Experiments in Art and Reform in Italy in the Early Sixteenth Century", in Kenneth Gouwens and Sheryl E. Reiss eds., The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture, Ashgate 2005, 385–409
  26. Elizabeth Cropper, "The Place of Beauty in the High Renaissance and its Displacement in the History of Art", in Alvin Vos ed., Place and Displacement in the Renaissance, 1995, 159–205
  27. David Hemsoll, 'The conception and design of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling: 'wishing to shed a little light upon the whole rather than mentioning the parts', in Jill Burke ed., Rethinking the High Renaissance, Ashgate, 2012
  28. Jill Burke, 'Meaning and Crisis in the Early Sixteenth Century: Interpreting Leonardo's Lion', Oxford Art Journal, 29, 2006, 77–91