Medieval Art Versus Early Renaissance Art

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Have you ever thought about the difference between Medieval art and Early Renaissance art? Every art reflects the culture and history. And knowing art history is important to understand more in detail. By studying artwork, we understand how certain artistic styles developed and what influenced them. In other words, their existence explains their specific social and cultural context. There are two paintings of the same subject, Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George, and Madonna and Child with Angels, which are from Medieval and Early Renaissance periods. Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George were created by several unknown artists at six or early seven-century in Early Byzantine Europe. The medium is wax encaustic on wood. This art piece is currently located at the Monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai, Egypt. On the other hand, Madonna, and Child with Angels by Fra Filippo Lippi was created around the Early Renaissance era. The medium is tempered with egg yolk and color pigment on wood. This artwork is located at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. These two art pieces show the differences in characteristics from each era, such as the history of paintings, artistic expression, and techniques.

Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George, Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with Two Angels, sixth or early seventh century, encaustic on wood, 2′ 3′ x 1′ 7 3/8′ tempera on wood, c. 1455 – 1466 (Galleria Degli Uffizi, (St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt) Florence)

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Due to the fact that both paintings reflect the social atmosphere of the specific era-one from Medieval and the other from Early Renaissance, there is a clear distinction between them. In the Middle age, many artworks were related to religion. Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George is a good example that shows the importance of religion. In terms of space element of this particular art, the unknown artists placed Virgin in the center of the image, and she sits on the golden throne, holding the Christ Child. Saint Theodore, Saint George, two angels, and God were positioned to surround both the Virgin Mary and Christ. The unnatural figures with big eyes and the motionless pose of the characters deliver the religious message to the viewer focus on the spiritual journey or holiness rather than simple beauty. This claim is well explained in the Byzantine Art by Charles Bayet, “At the beginning of the fourth century, under the reign of Constantine, a great revolution transpired in Christian history; in the wake of persecution, Christianity suddenly found itself in imperial favor. This development exerted a profound influence on the development of Christian art.” (Bayet, 2009, P. 9)

Madonna and Child with Angels by Fra Filippo has artistic characteristics from the Early Renaissance. These characteristics are once said by Adam, Laurie, “An important aspect of the Renaissance context was a new kind of collaboration between artists and patrons, between religious and civic institution, and between the perceived relationship of the past to present. The significant characteristics of Renaissance culture included an emphasis on the potential of human beings.” (Laurie, 2018, P. 2) The Renaissance painting depicted the beauty and flawlessness of the human body rather than developing into God. The appearance of Mary and angels look like real human beings as if the viewer is looking at a photo.

The religious element influences the overall development of art, and it becomes a significant factor. Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George is considered as one of the most fabulous Medieval Art because it is the few iconoclastic pieces in Byzantine. According to The Art Story website’s description of the painting, “The composition presents a complex interplay between the physical materiality of the saints and Mary and the near transparency of the angels and the divine, thus directing the viewer’s meditation and prayer to the incarnation of God in Christ through Mary. This icon is one of the earliest surviving examples of the Theotokos, or Mother of God, image that dominated Byzantine art and influenced Western art, particularly in the Gothic era’s cult of the Virgin.” (“The Art Story”) While the use of religious icons was a common approach in Medieval art by conveying the spiritual message, Renaissance art expressed naturalism by depicting the human figure in detail. This transition was a completely different way to paint. For example, The Madonna and Child with Angels by Fra Filippo Lippi were painted realistically and naturally. Fra Filippo Lippi was born in Florence around 1406, and he was one of the greatest Italian artists. The interesting thing about his painting is that he was inspired by his own family. In other words, he draws Mary as he imagined her in his mind. Therefore, these artists of the two paintings pursue a different approach for their paintings.

These two paintings represent each period: Medieval art and Early Renaissance art, through different techniques and styles. In the Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George, the figures are depicted flat with long gowns or robes, which gives little sense of depth. Besides, the artists were not allowed to paint the human figure without clothes because of religious reasons that was a taboo at this period. The halo is a circle in golden color around the Virgin Mary representing the person of the Holy Trinity. This style often appeared from religious paintings in the Medieval period.

In Fra Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Angels, characters are depicted with the precise proportion in details and artists used a linear perspective. This realistic view gives a sense of distance from the background, and it leads the viewer to pay attention to subjects placed in the front. The use of light perfected the effect of three-dimensional art. Fra Filippo Lippi used the artistic technique to create a light effect that depicted characters realistically. The artist’s different skills in the paintings that brought the style and it show characteristics of the art in each of these period-Medieval and Early Renaissance.

Although the two paintings were drawn about the same subject, they show different characteristics and techniques due to social circumstances and cultural backgrounds. In the Medieval period, figures are motionless and emotionless because artists tried to deliver spiritual messages from God and the church. Human beings were considered as insignificant materials in the philosophy of religion. Conversely, the early Renaissance reintroduced their classical art style to further develop naturalism. As a result, the more realistic figures in the painting, the more effective the style of the Renaissance appeared. The changes in art style are never developed individually but inspired by many incidents and people over generations as this transition is needed.


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