Madonna of the Cherries

Italian Renaissance

Cultural rebirth though intellectual inquiry

“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses—especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” - Leonardo da Vinci

In feudal europe, art and culture was inextricably tied to the Christian church. The massive gothic cathedrals and monasteries were the de-facto schools of the day, and both taught the arts, and funded artistic production. But in the early 15th century, in Florence Italy, a man named Cosimo de’ Medici was about to steal art back from the church and give it to business.

Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici was the head of the Medici Bank, the largest bank in Europe. In 1434, after more than a decade of political grappling with the previous Florentine dynasty, he gained the full support of the local government, and rebuilt Florence into the financial capital of the western world. With his family’s connections through marriage and trade, Cosimo was able to bring stability to Florence that soon spread throughout Italy. Flourishing trade spawned a wealthy middle-class, and connected previously isolated cities. The new commercial elite was hungry for culture and invention, and they had the money to pay for it. Capitalism wanted art.

And here we have the beginning of the Renaissance, a massive cultural movement that swept through Europe, and evolved distinctly in France, Spain and Northern Europe. For the first time in centuries, art was partially divorced from the church, and while religious commissions continued, artists and writers began to look back to classical antiquity. Wealthy patrons were immortalized in lavish portraits, and works like Botticelli’sBirth of Venus sparked a renewed interests in Greek and Roman mythology and values. The foundations of humanism, laid nearly a century before by the scholar Petrarch, were built on by writers like Niccolò Machiavelli and even Pope Pius II, a himself a humanist writer and diplomat.

It’s important to note that at first the Italian Renaissance flourished only among society’s elite. While most of Europe was still steeped in feudalism, in urban centers, painters, sculptors, inventors and writers like Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael, Fede Galizia and Giorgio Vasari were sponsored by wealthy patrons to push art and science to new heights. To paraphrase author William Gibson, the future had arrived, but it was not evenly distributed.

Until 1440, when the German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized printed communication with the invention of movable type. Gutenberg’s movable type and printing press allowed writings to be printed quickly and cheaply, bringing the ideas of the intellectual elite to the common people. Broadsheets, the newspapers of the time, could be typeset in an afternoon, and printed at the rate of 240 impressions an hour. Renaissance painting was still the purview of the rich, but the Renaissance ideas of human agency, rationalism and critical thinking began to take hold throughout Europe.

Reed Enger, "Italian Renaissance, Cultural rebirth though intellectual inquiry," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 23, 2015; last modified June 26, 2019,

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The Mourning of Christ

Giotto di Bondone, 1304-1306

Altarpiece of Santa Reparata — Back

Giotto di Bondone, 1310

Madonna Enthroned

Giotto di Bondone, 1310

St. Mark

Donatello, 1411

St. John the Evangelist

Donatello, 1408-1415

Saint George

Donatello, c. 1416-1417

The Crucifixion

Fra Angelico, 1420-1423

The Madonna of Humility

Masaccio, 1424

Fiesole Altarpiece

Fra Angelico, 1424-1425

Prophet Habbakuk

Donatello, 1423-1426

The Annunciation and Life of the Virgin

Fra Angelico, 1426

The Virgin and Child

Masaccio, 1426

Assumption of the Virgin

Donatello, 1427

Saints Jerome and John the Baptist

Masaccio, 1428-1429

Delivery of the Keys to St Peter and the Ascension of Christ

Donatello, 1425-1430

The Virgin and Child with St. Dominic and Thomas Aquinas

Fra Angelico, 1430

Last Judgment

Fra Angelico, 1431

Herod's Banquet

Donatello, c. 1435

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Giorgio Vasari, 1296-1436

Saint Anthony Tempted by a Lump of Gold

Fra Angelico, 1436

Christ Crowned with Thorns

Fra Angelico, 1438-1439

Chellini Madonna

Donatello, 1450

The Baptism of Christ

Piero della Francesca, 1448-1450

Portrait of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta

Piero della Francesca, 1451

Madonna and Child with Scroll

Luca della Robbia, 1455

Adoration of the Magi

Fra Angelico, 1440-1460

Flagellation of Christ

Piero della Francesca, 1455-1460


Luca della Robbia, 1460

Virgin and Child in a niche

Luca della Robbia, 1460

Polyptych of the Misericordia — Detail of the Madonna

Piero della Francesca, 1460-1462

Protome Carafa

Donatello, 1456-1465

Portrait of the Duchess of Urbino

Piero della Francesca, 1465-1466

Portrait of the Duke of Urbino

Piero della Francesca, 1465-1466

Vision of Constantine

Piero della Francesca, 1452-1466

Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Sandro Botticelli, c. 1470

Polyptych of Perugia

Piero della Francesca, 1470

The Virgin with Child, Angels and Saints

Piero della Francesca, 1472-1474

Madonna and Child

Luca della Robbia, 1475

Saint Michael the Archangel

Luca della Robbia, 1475

Adoration of the Magi (Zanobi Altar)

Sandro Botticelli, c. 1476

Bust of a Warrior in a Winged Helmet

Leonardo da Vinci, 1475-1480

Mary Magdalene

Carlo Crivelli, 1480

Portrait of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro

Piero della Francesca, 1483

The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, I

Sandro Botticelli, 1483

The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, II

Sandro Botticelli, 1483

The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, III

Sandro Botticelli, 1483

The Birth of Venus

Sandro Botticelli, 1483-1485

The Annunciation, with St. Emidius

Carlo Crivelli, 1486

Study of a Woman's Hands

Leonardo da Vinci, 1490

Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor

Carlo Crivelli, 1490
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