He is one of the few artists that were recognized for his work while he was still living.
One of Michelangelo's most exquisite pieces is Pieta. In this sculpture, we can see how Michelangelo was moving away from the traditional form of sculpting. Creighton Gilbert notes that how Mary and Jesus are depicted in the statue is not typical of Michelangelo's day. Mary is seated with the dead Jesus in her lap and this image "first emerged as an abbreviation of the scene of Christ mourned" (160). Harold Keller maintains that the piece is filled with contrasts, horizontally and vertically. We also have the opposites of the clothed and the naked. The position of Jesus' body is different from most pietas of the day in that it is horizontal, producing a "step-like composition based on the sharp right able between the corpse and the upper body of the Madonna towering over it" (Keller 261). Mary's pose allows her body to become an "equilateral triangle which completely contains the dead body" (261). Keller also mentions that this sculpture "must be read from the base; it follows the edge of the Madonna's mantle at the left, rising upward in a direction parallel to that of the hanging arm of the Christ" (261). By viewing the piece this way, we find balance.
Leonardo di Vinci is also a maverick when it comes to the Renaissance. Like Michelangelo, he was a man of new ideas and techniques. He was much more than a painter; in fact, he was an incredible thinker. His ideas regarding science and nature are some of the most fascinating works from his time. His sketches express the notion of a mind observing the world around him, ideas taken directly from the Renaissance. His art reveals his sentiment that art is knowledge and we can see how he attempts to know his subjects, as they seem to come alive on the canvas. The Mona Lisa and The Virgin of the Rocks demonstrate this technique. Another technique that di Vinci possessed that made him stand out in his field was the fact that he could articulate his thoughts, a wonderful prize for future generations. His thirst for knowledge reinforced a growing sentiment that mankind had the power to know and understand many things, including elements of the natural world. His desire for knowledge spread to his counter parts and interestingly, all artistic fields benefited from his outlook. Science, literature, and the arts grew as this new way of looking at art became contagious. For example, Renaissance painters expanded their skills by using oil paints and we have already discussed the aspect of realism entering into art.
We have heard over the years that Renaissance means rebirth. While looking at the major artists from this time period, we can see how this notion might have emerged. Great thinkers are referred to as such because they dare to think outside the parameters of what the world around them has laid in place. It takes a brave soul to do this but it often has great rewards, even if they are not monetary. Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and di Vinci had one thing in common and that was the fact that they did not let the world tell them how or what to think. This is especially true when it came to their art. These men respected their art enough to listen to it and obey when they needed to. They understood that being artistic does not always mean following the crowd. They were brave enough to strike out and try something different. While artists are often depicted as strange individuals, it might be more accurate to say they are simply more open to the ebb and flow of art as an organic process rather than something that can be learned from a book. They understood beauty in a way that no one else could and they also knew that it was up to them to express those sentiments through art. They were successful because they opened their minds to life. They wanted to experience it a little bit more than those before them and they had enough confidence to know they could capture that experience with their art. The Renaissance is all about new ideas. What we learn from this era is that individuals must be brave enough to explore new ideas regardless of what the current mood might be. The world would have never said it was ready to look at art as an extension of man or nature; the artists simply needed to respond to their instincts. As such, Renaissance art can be referred to as the art of instinct.
Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence. New York: Harper Collins…