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Middle Ages and Renaissance Comparison, Application Essay Example

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Application Essay

Introduction

The below study is designed to create a detailed comparison between the themes, art and culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. While the main features and differences have been examined by several authors in the past, the current essay is going to focus on the different ideologies of the two artistic eras and their appearance in literature, art and humanities of the society.

Thesis

The authors would like to prove the thesis that the movement from medieval art and literature towards renaissance was a result of an ideological change in the society, as well as the change of political structures.

Medieval Europe

Medieval Europe is the birthplace of future artistic projects, and during the Middle Ages, there were several cultural centers that developed into educational and artistic settlements. According to Sekules,  (2001) universities and cultural centers were created alongside the main trade routes of Europe. While many authors conclude that the two main styles in Medieval Europe were Romanesque and Gothic, the two approaches, ideologies often get mixed and do not appear in a clear form most of the time. (Sekules, 2001, p. 2.)

Images

The imagery of Medieval art was religious and dark. With the Christian ideologies ruling the society, and the influence of the teachings of St Augustine, the imagery was based on the Bible, places and people; not necessarily those everyday folks could connect with. According to Davies, (1976. p. 370) “Medieval art…had its center in the images of God, the saints, and the devil…These were fixed, changeless beings to be viewed by spectators who were moving about.” The main purpose of these images was to teach and not to entertain. Sekules (p. 9.) describes images as “moralized geography”. Donatello and Giotto were the main artists representing the importance of religious and mythological scenes in medieval arts.

Duccio’s Maesta altarpiece at the Siena Cathedral. It is a good example. It depicts the Virgin Mary and Jesus, as well as some saints in a codex and educational format. It is a hieratic representation of Byzantine art with the composition relating to teaching and educating masses about values, Christianity and ethics. It is also moving towards reality representation of events. The topics are Virgin Mary and the childhood of Christ; depicting the central figures larger than the observers.

Social Structures of Middle Ages

Feudalism clearly defined social norms, status and roles in the Middle Ages. Movement from one class to another was very rare and almost impossible. With the spread of Christianity, moral issues and rules took over the society. According to Brundage (2009), church law was determining moral norms for the society from the mid – twelft Centruy.

Culture

Culture and knowledge were restricted for those who had the social status to go to university, and the influence of the Catholic Church was present in every aspect of the education.  While literature was often combating the Church’s dogmatic approach to moral and life, the censorship did not allow the authors criticizing the church and feudalism openly. One of the exclusions is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, from the 14th Century, which did not only criticize the English nobility, but also questioned the authority of the Catholic Church and Boccaccio’s Decameron.

Renaissance

The cultural and artistic movement of renaissance comes from the French word, meaning re-birth. It started with the 14th Century cultural movement in Italy and France and spread across Europe until the 17th Century. Going back to classical sources and building a bridge between the classic and modern world, it is an important period of the history. Some of the most well known artists and writers of the renaissance were multi-disciplinary authors and often interested in science and applied a humanist approach towards culture and art. Some authors ( Haughton 2004) conclude that the wealth and sponsorship of the Medici started off the cultural revolution that resulted in the development of the “renaissance culture”. Authors like Petrarca and Dante already laid down the basics of renaissance culture earlier than the 14th Century.

Images

One of the best known artists of the renaissance are Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Both of them represented the new perception of beauty, which was extremely significant for the artistic movement of renaissance. According to Alberti, (in: Haughton 2004, p. 230),  ‘beauty is an order or arrangement such that nothing can be altered except for the worse.’ While in the middle ages beauty was not important, and artists certainly did not look for entertainment and providing pleasure, more like the representation of objects, values and scenes, beauty and perfection becomes the most significant aspect of art. A good example is Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, in which the woman is the representation of beauty, instead of a real person. This way, the renaissance artist creates an idealized figure, which does not represent an object but the idea of beauty. Symmetric features, delicate details become a requirement of images and statues.

David from Michelangelo. One of the examples of idealization of beauty is David from Michelangelo. Unlike in medieval art, the focus is not on suffering and devotion; more like triumph and overcoming the difficulties. David looks like a real active hero; something Jesus has never been depicted as, nor did the Saints. The statue depicts David at his full strength and beauty; an idealized figure that is not a representation of an ethical value but heroic attitude.

  1. The statue has evolved from the attitude of the Middle ages depicting characters from the Bible to showing human perfection. The description and appearance of human perfection in the Middle ages was not accepted, because it was like comparing humans to God, who was alone perfect, according to the Catholic church. Compared to Duccio’s Maesta altarpiece at the Siena Cathedral, it is evident that the artist is trying to depict a non-religious mythological figure to represent perfection, without aiming to teach the audience moral or ethical norms. That is the main difference between Medieval art and Renaissance.
  2. The incorporation of mythological terms and the use of classical forms has been a movement that has influenced every form of art, leading to Neo-Classicism. The age of enlightenment followed Renaissance, gaining inspiration from classical art and literature, and this was the result of the Italian Renaissance movement in the 15th Century Europe.

 

Social Movements and Structures

The papal states of Italy and the abundance of funding for building and arts has helped the emergence of renaissance in Italy. Humanism developed, in some aspects contradicting the teachings and moral approaches of the church. Art has become more democratic and managed to escape from the church’s authority. As books were no longer only printed in Latin and written by Monks, new views and more realistic approaches have developed in the society. Reformation, questioning the authority of the Catholic Church did not only undermine the wealth of priests but also the dogmatic moral values which often acted like the unwritten rules of the society.

Culture

The philosophy of humanism was the main source of the cultural changes in the Renaissance. While classic literature, ethics and philosophy was used in the education system within the universities of medieval Europe, Renaissance fully embraced the art and ideology. Individualism and technical discoveries were valued more than dogmatic rules. After the plague decimated the population of Europe, a new class emerged; wealthy merchants who sponsored artists and writers, allowing culture to spread. Printing and the press has also influenced the cultural life. Poetry was reborn, drama based on classic and historical themes appeared. Art and literature became a form of entertainment in Shakespeare’s works, instead of an art of teaching moral lessons.

Conclusion

The shift between the medieval and renaissance art and society is visible, and there are some significant movements in the social structure that indicate that the change of ideology, perception of beauty and art was influenced by the changes in the political and social structures of the countries. While in the Middle Ages the purpose of art was the advancement of the church and artists often used imagery to teach people the moral values, in the renaissance era, humanity became the main focus. As more people were able to enjoy art and the “monopoly” of culture no longer belonged to the Catholic Church, the main goal of artists became to create beauty. That was the reason why artists (and writers) reached back to classical forms. They wanted to achieve perfection, and if we look at Michelangelo’s David or da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, they certainly did.

References

Sekules, V. (2001) Medieval Art. Oxford University Press. Print.

Brundage, J, (2009) Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. University of Chicago Press

Haughton. N. (2004) Perceptions of beauty in Renaissance art. Journal of Cosmetic          Dermatology, 3, 229–233

Davies, E.  Arts and Cultures of Man San Francisco: International TextbookCo., 1972 p. 370.

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