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Old Masters (1400-1759) is a period in the history of art which includes a number of movements, from the Renaissance to the Venetian School (1450-c.1750).

The Renaissance

The Renaissance is a movement born through cultural enlightenment. Heralding from Italy in the 15th century and spreading throughout Europe, the Renaissance is epitomised by polymaths such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Cultural change and growth came distinctively through the migration of fleeing scholars of all kinds, particularly to Italy, following the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans. Consequently this marked the end of the Roman-Byzantine Empire.

This migratory influx, of an intelligent and intellectual culture, superiorly versed in the lore of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, can be pinpointed as a key factor to the birth of the Renaissance. It supplemented peoples’ growing nostalgia for better means of living and education, following the difficulties in Europe of the previous century.

An intellectual demand arose in its wake; classical literature, politics, philosophy, religion, art and science had an impetus unlike before in the emergence of Europe from the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages. Europe had been ravaged by the Great Famine (1315-1317) and the Black Death, cutting its population by half, as well as by the Jacquerie, the Peasants’ Revolt and the Hundred Years’ War. This realisation of peoples’ mortality was a contributing factor to the pious subject matter that typifies Renaissance Art and to the interest of secular and religious learning.

Its epicentre was the City of Florence, whence it spread to the rest of Italy. Florence was controlled by the powerful Medici Family, themselves pivotal patrons to the arts. Issuing vast numbers of commissions they supported the artists of the city, many of whom were born in Tuscany; Da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo, for example.

Artistic Style: Moving away from ornamentation and rigidity in art, particularly the popular Gothic style, with a deep interest in portraying naturalistic scenes. Artists employed new techniques such as a vanishing point, strong perspective and chiaroscuro for greater realism. Perfection of linear perspective was a distinguishing factor.

Key Artists & Figures: Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446); Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455); Donatello (1386-1466); Sandro Botticelli (c.1445-1510); Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472); Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519); Michelangelo (1475-1564); Raphael (1483-1520); Machiavell (1469-1527); Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574); Galileo (1564-1642).

Key Works: Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel; Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus; Leonardo's iconic Mona Lisa, c. 1503-5.

Venetian School (1450-c.1750)

Similar to Florence, Venice was a Republic with an empire that controlled significant amounts of land around Italy. Wealth had come through a strong trading economy, in particular with Constantinople; however the fall of the latter did not mar the city’s power. Combined with a stable political environment and the aforementioned well established naval trade routes, Venice was perfect for a thriving artistic community.

Influenced by the oil paintings of the Northern Renaissance, artists such as Titian (c. 1488/1490-1576) perfected the Venetian Schools affinity with the interplay of light and colour, achieving a distinctive mood particularly in portraiture that, along with delineation in painting, differentiated it from the style of its Florentine rivals. Along with Giorgione (c.1477/8-1510), they were the founders of the Venetian School, leading on from the early masters of the Vivarini and Bellini Families.

Venetian Painting was taken further in the 17th and 18th Centuries by later masters such as Tiepolo, with his religious, mythological and classical architectural scenes. While Canaletto, Guardi and Bellotto contributed greatly to the city’s grand portfolio with their much celebrated panoramic views of Venice, capturing the stereotypical images of the cities’ waterways and bridges.

Artistic Style: Subject matter included portraiture, classical landscapes and both religious and mythological topics. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries the iconic panoramic views of Venice dominated artists’ canvases. Colour was employed in a particularly thoughtful way, artists employing warm tones, paying keen attention to their relative hues under direct light.

Key Artists & Figures: The Bellini Family - Jacopo Bellini (c.1396-c.1470), Gentile Bellini (c.1429-1507), Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516); The Vivarini Family - Antonio Vivarini (c.1440-1480), Bartolomeo Vivarini (c.1432-c.1499), Luigi Vivarini; Giorgione (c.1477/8-1510); Titian (c.1488/1490-1576); Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770); Canaletto (1697-1768); Francesco Guardi (1712-1793); Bernardo Bellotto (ca.1721-1780).