16th Century notes

PERSONAL NOTE:  Catholic cult – symbolised by Law in Hans Holbein’s Allegory of the Old and New Testaments (p. 464 WHA) contrasted by Protestant belief in salvation by faith and grace – difference between Catholic and Protestant …. Note of differences in faiths for me as a Catholic.  Contrasts in the work underline the differences between the old Roman Catholic faith and the new Lutheran faith.


  • Major event of 16th Century was religious reform …. Protestant Reformation called into question the teachings and practise of the Catholic Church and traditions ‘and assumptions underlying European culture including the visual arts’ (p. 457 WHA).
  • Invention of printing major factor in fame of the arts but also of the writings of the reformation – becomes international issue starting with Martin Luther (1483-1546) who caused irreversible split in the church.
  • Protestant Reformation confirmed the beliefs of the humanists with extolling of the importance of the individual and sceptical on medieval theology – studied scriptures with Classical scholarship.
  • Luther combined hostility to ecclesiastical hierarchy with yearning for personal religion – resulted in theology of justification by faith which is main difference between Protestant and Catholics and point where they parted company – burden on right or wrong is in essence played on individual conscience not what the church tells you.
  • Social beliefs in sickness played a part in art (see Grunewald in Style) – seen as punishment for sin by some but as act of grace that could restore health of the soul by others.
  • New urban culture in Germany appeared after devastation of the Black Death and recovery of industry and trade as a consequence. Wood carving commissioned by rich merchants, councils, guilds and lay confraternities more than clergy.
  • Riemenschneider (wood carver and mayor of Wurzburg) supported peasants in Peasants War of 1524-6 although not Protestant. After peasant’s war patronage for sculpting declined forcing some to emigrate (Hans Holbein the Younger became court artist to Henry VIII) or at least one became a soldier.
  • Religious art in secular buildings increased … in case of The Four Apostles by Durer presented to the city council in gratitude for a peaceful outcome to the city after a religious crisis when it had accepted Lutheranism (p. 464-465 WHA).
  • First quarter of 16th Century unsettled in Italy due to war and political stress – Florence went from republicanism to autocratic rule by the Medici. Northern Europe twice invaded by France, Papacy struggled with extending power and Rome sacked in 1527 by Germany and Spanish mercenaries.
  • Medici regained control of Florence in 1512 and a Medici pope elected in 1513 and thereby the family controlled the Papal States and were rulers of central Italy.
  • Medici’s expelled at time of Rome’s sacking and Florence proclaimed itself a republic.
  • Counter-Reformation sponsored by Pope Paul III (1534-49) – tried to steady church by investigating ‘ecclesiastical abuses, sanctioning Society of Jesus and convoking Council of Trent’ (p. 483 WHA) – one result was rules for religious music and art.
  • Nudity in art began to be seen as indecent because of pagan and Neoplatonic past … the latter was heretical. Michelangelo denounced in inventor of ‘filthiness who cared more for art than for devotion’ (p. 484 WHA) and loin cloths added to the figures in Sistine Chapel added after his death! Sistine Chapel ceiling had been seen after Counter-Reformation as Protestantism.
  • St Peter’s – Bramante had designed the church originally but funds ran out (sale of indulgences resulted in Luther’s protest) and Michelangelo 40 years later was appointed architect.
  • Venice remained richer in 16th Century than any other city in Italy – resisted political/economic domination and retained nominal republic (oligarch) system of government. Patronage not dominated by the church for the arts but state/private patronage considerable due to wish to display power and prosperity by the wealthy families.
  • Giorgione style pictures developed new type of works – that of small easel pictures that were done specifically for private collectors (known later as cabinet pictures) – only done in Venice where patrons were rich enough to afford them.
  • Medici regained control of Florence in 1512 and a Medici pope elected in 1513 and thereby the family controlled the Papal States and were rulers of central Italy.
  • Medici’s expelled at time of Rome’s sacking and Florence proclaimed itself a republic.
  • Venetian patricians turned to farmers to keep independence economically from the north and consequentially started a demand for villas and estates – Palladio was able to meet this demand as a professional independent architect in a dignified style.
  • Spain in last quarter of 16th Century was leading power of Europe with dominions from Netherlands to Peru – 1571 won battle at Lapanto against the Turkish fleet which was major victory for Christendom – Spain also promoted the Counter Reformation and the Church strongly – most Catholic mystics of the 16th Century were Spanish including St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross.


  • Artists took their place with the great intellectual minds of the 16th Century – major feature with all the top artists being Italian except for Durer. Printed accounts of their works and careers enabled this change. Patrons included popes and kings who competed to collect their works – massive patronage.
  • Change to status resulted from Alberti’s treatise that architecture, painting and sculpture could be liberal arts… knowledge and practice (non-professional) of visual arts was ‘universal man’ but Leonardo, an artist, had become ‘universal man’ as he was a scientist and thinker and Michelangelo a poet but both known with Raphael and Titian as top artists.
  • Makers of retables independent artists in social standing and organisation – emergence of the wood carvers marked start of large-scale independent sculpture in northern Europe – sculpture independent of architecture.
  • Wood-carvers were in middle rank of society and members of guilds with voices on city councils – one Tilman Riemenschneider became mayor of Wurzburg in 1520-1. Independence resulted in competitiveness amongst carvers and styles developed as a result of self-expression.
  • Demand for portraits in Protestant countries – including ones of Erasmus and Luther (Lucas Cranach the Elder does perfect example) … most prominent forms of art in Protestant countries in 16th century except for satirical prints.
  • Rome under Pope Julius II (1503-13) became centre of European art again briefly before it was sacked in 1527 who evicted the Pope from the Vatican.
  • Michelangelo worked on the Sistine Chapel at same time as Raphael worked on the Vatican – first time 2 such works painted in close proximity.
  • Despite lure of Pope and Charles V Titian chose to retain his independency and with help of the writer Pietro Aretino enabled himself to be the most sought after painter in Europe and with the freedom to paint for whom he wished and indeed what he wished – he was the first artist to have this freedom.
  • Counter Reformation had direct effect on what was deemed appropriate for religious or secular art.


  • New techniques of pictorial representation.
  • Innovations in drawing started with da Vinci and his anatomical drawings done from dissection of corpses and his belief in first hand experiences.
  • Da Vinci tried new medium for his famous Last Supper but proved not to be durable – although figures set in pictorial space as common with Florentine precedents the figures are done more precisely and newly animatedly. All unnecessary detail dispensed with and expressions and gestures identify the individuals. Importantly no halos but light shining directly on Christ – da Vinci made the scene a human tragedy and in doing so deepened its spirituality.
  • Da Vinci also studied plants and combined with studies of anatomy this lead to new constructions of design in his works – no ends or beginnings and pyramid style of pictorial representation that he effectively invented … extensive use of chiaroscuro (light and dark), sfumato (soft blending of colours) plus aerial perspective … distant mountains in Virgin and Child with St Anne are a misty blue haze as opposed to brighter colours used in the 15th
  • Use of light became crucial and for me a defining feature in development …
  • Contrapposto principle applied – one part of the body twists in opposite direct to another and both defines natural positions and gives a sense of movement too whilst balancing the figures to give a sense of harmony and equilibrium.
  • Problems of combining naturalism with contrived solved … Father Bartolommeo one such artist to do so.
  • Harmonious unity developed – both inspired architects and painters.
  • Use of colour contrasts developing which created animation and harmony.
  • Relationship between figures and architectural setting was huge innovation in Disputa by Raphael in the Stanza della Signatura in the Vatican – the space is much larger than before but doesn’t overwhelm the viewer either.
  • Vault of Sistine chapel created problems for painting with curved surfaces – Michelangelo solved this by imagining the surfaces were architectural structures and treating the curves as continuations of the walls … he may have had advice off theologians but maintained the Pope gave him the freedom to do as he wished. In between the imaginary structures he painted the figures in the correct hierarchy. Chapel became monument to the artist and his intellect …. Full description of the painting in WHA p 477- 481 and worthy of personal note is his use of colour.
  • Michelangelo process of making full-scale models which assistants roughly carved for him to finish was process used by sculptors for next 4 centuries.
  • Michelangelo was prepared to defy laws of perspective in Sistine Chapel to give a more powerful effect to the painting.
  • Giorgio da Castelfranco (Giorgione c. 1476/8-1510) first artist to ‘exploit luminous effects of the new Venetian technique of painting on canvas (rather than panel)’ (p. 488 WHA) and also with oil pigments that were no longer mixed with hard resins but new flexible ones – result was improved brushwork and better richer colours. Giorgione also worked directly on the canvas rather from sketches and modified the work as he progressed.
  • Raphael invented a relaxed ¾ length and ¾ face pose for his portraits which Titian later developed with use of colours to create form and textures plus pictorial techniques.
  • Way Titian finished his paintings with adding highlights or harmonizing colours and similar was new technique and attitude in painting – effectively ‘established the autonomy of the picture as an equivalent – not a mere imitation of the real world’ (p. 492 WHA).
  • Architects in Italy solved problem of turning a Classical temple into a church in Venice – work of Andrea Palladio on the S Georgio Maggiore – divided 2 temple fronts and interlocked them so church had a nave and lower side aisles. Façade united with interior and two orders (Doric and Ionic) are used in same way.
  • Mathematical ratios used in the design of villas of Venetian estates that stemmed from the ancient Greeks and used by Palladio and contemporaries for ‘harmoniously proportioned’ buildings – became instinctively the Western idea of well-proportioned buildings.
  • Corregio had skill in depicting figures to be seen from below – sotto in su – new standard of illusion.
  • Contrapposto developed to obtain continuous spiral movement in art and seen in statuettes by Giovanni Bologna (1529-1608) with his continuous 3-dimensional forms – latter designed for niches and so exaggerated movement of the hips or curve of the torso compensated for the restrictions (in niche originally mechanism so it did in fact rotate)>


  • Italian Renaissance art only gradually accepted in northern Europe and during first ¼ of the century co-existed alongside Gothic – tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey is good example – (p. 458 – 459 WHA).
  • Italian Renaissance style was prestigious in France and England and shown by choice for dynastic monuments – associated with humanists but also monarch who was scholarship patron as well as military leader and divinely appointed leader.
  • Perpendicular Gothic style of England seen surrounding Henry VII tomb to echo Gothic style of the Abbey (persisted until late 16th Century although after English Reformation in 1532 in secular buildings) but in France Flamboyant Gothic with ‘intricate curvilinear tracery’ (p. 459 WHA) still in use until mid-16th In Low Countries equally rich form of Gothic existed – town hall of Ghent is good example but new Classicizing style favoured by ruling families in the south.
  • Hieronymus Bosch (Jeroen van Aken c. 1450-1516) – style all of his own! Disturbing imaginary that was highly individual and functions of some art remain unknown or exact meanings still not realised.  He was exact contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci but style totally remote from his … Bosch concentrated on frailty and wickedness of humankind and not the beauty… hated the the pleasures of the flesh  and considered musical instruments that proclaimed celestial harmony the work of the Devil.  Instead of symbols of hell Bosch created visions …. Fantastical works of art that intrigue me and I cannot figure out if I like his style or not!
  • Mathis Gothardt Neithardt (d. 1528) – known as Grunewald – disturbing style in depiction of Christ on the cross as very violent with elongation of limbs and Christ being much larger than figures surrounding him. Isenheim Altarpiece designed for high altar in hospital chapel of St Anthony of Isenheim and seen by patients prior to undergoing medical treatment – altarpiece or retable of style popular in Germany in second half of 15th Century and first quarter of 16th and consisted of 3 parts – see p. 462 WHA.
  • Reformed religious art expressed Lutheran ideas – Lucas Cranach the Younger, Holbein and Durer.
  • Earliest landscapes done by Albrect Altdorfer – (c. 1480-1538) – reflected Protestant ideas.
  • Despite all the political unrest in Italy in first quarter of 16th Century this High Renaissance art came into being – ‘serene and elevated conception, of great and controlled energy and, above all, of Classical balance’ (p. 466 WHA). Style developed by just 3 artists – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonnarroti and Raffaelo Sanzio (Raphael) who didn’t form a group but were of supremely high standard.
  • Leonardo da Vinci – first anatomically correct drawings.
  • In Bramante the Tempietto realises the idea of a free standing church that is centrally planned and a hemispherical dome crowning it – da Vinci had experimented with various sketches combining cubes and spheres (friend of Bramante) and clearly took inspiration from him.
  • Raphael used historical figures to enact subjects in his work on Stanza della Senatura … abandons old ‘allegorical personifications of abstract ideas’ (p. 474 WHA) and composition more complex than da Vinci’s in Disputa work … framing arch is reminiscent of da Vinci but he has 52 figures in different poses but unity is maintained.
  • Figure of David by Michelangelo first nude statue to be carved in such scale since antiquity – carved 1501-3 but of un-Classical style. Statue is done in the style whereby the body is the prison of the soul and thereby full of pent up energy although with an air of calm – Michelangelo’s conception – does this I question come under Development or Style?
  • Medici Chapel by Michelangelo broke free of the Classical orders – some elements have no architectural structural function and in his designs new conception evolved where a wall became somewhere for ornament to be applied … it became an area of sculpture not purely function … again is this style or development? Both.
  • Style of Giorgione is one concerning the mystery and magic of Renaissance art and not the rationality – also painted first realistic sunset sky in European art.
  • Venetian artists dependent on public commissions for fame and money. Tiziano Vecelli (Titian c. 1490-1576) departed from Venetian conventions in his work for above the high altar for S Maria dei Frari – influenced by his studies in Tuscan art including those of Father Bartolommeo. Style of his works very much based on colour to create the structure of the composition and the form. Titian became the founder of modern painting in the fact that due to him directly oil painting on canvas became the overriding medium of Western art that followed and explored all its possibilities.
  • Titian did a style of mythological painting for Philip II of Spain which he called poesia which literally meant visual poetry.
  • Style of Jacopi Robusti (1518-94) (Tintoretto) for religious pictures very much in the style of the Counter Reformation with ‘emotional force of revelation’.
  • Change in style by Jacopi Tatti (1486-1570) (Sansonvino) very much evident with the figurative carvings on the Library of S Marco in Venice which replaced expensive marble inlays (the latter were displays of wealth) along with correct use of Doric and Ionic orders in Venice for the first time. Library introduced High Renaissance to Venice,
  • Mannerist style – derived from Italian ‘maniera’ and used to describe a stylishness with ‘ease of manner, virtuosity, fluency and refinement’ (p. 497 WHA) – Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo are prime examples. Description of style – p. 497 WHA with emphasis on acid colours, contrived and over-refined figures with distorted perspective.
  • Mutations in Renaissance style seen in Correggio (Antonio Allegri c. 1489-1534) and Parmigianino – generation apart but working in Parma at same time. Corregio’s style was one of grace and suavity – style best seen in Parma Cathedral with the ceiling painting that swirled upwards into the heavens. Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola 1503-40) took style further in his pursuit of grace and elegance.
  • Despite the distinctions affected by the Counter Reformation artists liked the ability to produce all the human figure is capable of and this is seen in secular work including that of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) in the exquisitely detailed gold salt-cellar (p. 500 WHA) made for Francis I of France for his court in Fontainebleu then the most artistic centre north of the Alps.
  • From France contrapposto pose was taken up in England and used in portraits of Elizabethans by artists such as Nicholas Hilliard (c. 1547-1619) who had studied Castiglione’s Book of the Coutier.
  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder rejected the Italianate style brought back by his contemporaries and instead looked back to Bosch for his style but becoming more direct and straightforward – style involved peasants and farm labourers within the countryside they inhabited but portrayed them within the cycle of decay, death and rebirth and so denied man’s central place in the universe.
  • Domenicos Theotocopoulos (El Greco 1541-1614) – Mannerisms that Bruegel rejected he formed into emotional religious art. Brushwork is free and colours used for expression and expressively with elongated figures for tension with exaggerated gestures – his work was one of a visionary. Last European painter to express transcendental ideals – p. 506 WHA.


  • Imitation of Christ (see Critics)
  • Humanism, Devotio moderna and Counter-Reformation had more positive influence than Protestanism on visual arts.
  • Luther was indifferent to the visual artists including painting and sculpture but opposed veneration and destruction of religious images but didn’t promote Iconoclasm.
  • John Calvin (1509-64) thought crucifixes and representations of saints idolatrous and sinful – one of the more extreme Protestants – he was dominant in Protestant world after mid-century but more than one great work of art was inspired by his religion in his lifetime however.
  • Leonardo da Vinci became an inside influence for numerous other artists and architect with inspiration being taken on his organic grouping of figures and use of chiaroscuro.
  • Raphael inspired by Michelangelo’s work on Sistine chapel for his own works in the Vatican – designed set of tapestries to hang beneath The School of Athens which cost 10 times the amount Michelangelo was paid for the whole ceiling.
  • Neoplatonism influenced work of Michelangelo along with Hellenistic notions of heliocentric universe.
  • Dome of St Peters designed such a way it seems to float above the horizontal of the cornice – instead of going upwards uninterrupted in form of Gothic cathedrals. Outside of St Peters gives no indication of structural form within.
  • Literary texts had direct influence on Titian in his works for Phillip II of Spain.
  • Castiglione’s influence due to acceptance of women artists such as Sofonisita Anguissola (1532/5-1625) – first Italian woman to become internationally famous and closely followed by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) who was more professional


  • Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) – humanist – effectively ‘laid the egg which Luther hatched’ (p. 458 WHA).
  • Julian of Norwich – Revelations of Divine Love – Devotio moderna – expression at less intense level – new devotion in Christian faith which encouraged by Brethren of Common Life (laymen) in Netherlands and Germany who chose to live communal life but without taking monastic vows (technically the former resulted in the latter).
  • Manual of Brethren of Common Life was Imitation of Christ – possibly Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471) – printed more than 20 times between 1472 and 1500 in Latin, French, German and English and hugely influential.
  • St Ignatius Loyola (c. 1491-1556) admirer of Imitation of Christ plus Luther too who followed opposing tendency.
  • Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) – painter, architect and biographer of artists described the ‘modern’ style that Leonardo da Vinci had started – p. 466 WHA.
  • Leonardo da Vinci – thousands of pages never published but accepted thinker despite being ‘independent of Classical as of medieval though’ (p. 466 WHA).
  • Palladio wrote of the use of light of Donato Bramante (p. 469 WHA) and also his initiation of a new phase in Renaissance architecture with referral to the Tempietto.
  • Baldassare Castiglione – The Book of the Courtier – lauded the sprezzatura or ‘ease of manner’ (p. 475 WHA) … Raphael man of wealth achieved this but Michelangelo was the opposite of the courtier but nevertheless a poet, painter and architect.
  • Luca Landucci (1450-1519) – journal on art one of most formative at time in Florence described the moment the statue of David by Michelangelo was brought out of its workshop in May 1504 – description of contract and installation on the statue on p. 475 WHA.
  • Copernicus – scientific validity of Hellenistic notion of heliocentric universe.
  • Marcantonio Michiel (d. 1552) – Venetian connoisseur and collect first writer to describe the work of Giorgione and his very personal meaning and purpose of his art.
  • Andrea Palladio – Quattro libri dell’architettura – first publication by architect on his own work 1570.
  • Licence (term of approval in 16th Century) for architects depended on knowledge of rules they broke – Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554) and Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-73) wrote treatise codifying the Classical orders.
  • Dick Volckertszoon Coornheert – leading exponent in religious thought known as Libertinism or Spiritualism which concentrated on the relationship with God and man’s duty to overcome sin (p. 503 WHA).


Fleming, J and Honour, H. 1984. A World History of Art.  Seventh edition. London.  Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

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