The Madonna in Byzantine and Early Renaissance Art, Essay Example

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Essay

Much of the art from the Byzantine and Early Renaissance period is religious in nature.  Scenes from Christianity, such as the crucifixion of Christ, the nativity of Christ, and the visitation of Christ to Saint Paul, dominate the subject matter.  However, both periods approach the subject matter much differently.  The Byzantine artists attempt to emphasize the symbolic religious nature of the real historical events.  The Early Renaissance artists sought to emphasize the religious nature of their subjects as well as inspire the viewer with aesthetic beauty and realistic depictions of their subject matter.

The painting entitled, Enthroned Madonna and Child, by an unknown Byzantine painter, is a representative of Byzantine aesthetics.  The painting depicts the Virgin and Child as an icon.  There is very little use of perspective.  The artist creates depth mainly by the use of overlap of figures in the foreground and background.  Attempts at Naturalism are minimal.  The Child, though supposedly an infant, is clearly a child of approximately eight years old.  The child is half as tall as the mother.  However, Byzantine art does not attempt to pursue Naturalism in its subjects.  Byzantine artists do “not hesitate to change the shape of the body to fit into their designs” (Rowland).  The figures in the painting are religious icons.  In the paintings, the mother and child are to remind the viewer of the spiritual Virgin and her Child sent to save the world.  In fact, an attempt at depicting Christ and the Virgin in a natural manner is almost counter to the Byzantine aesthetic .  In Christian understanding, Christ and Madonna are in Heaven reigning.

In contrast to the rather dour Byzantine piece, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saint Peter and Saint Paul, by di Bartolo, incorporates several rich aesthetic choices that are representative of the Early Renaissance period.  Domenico di Bartolo incorporates single-point perspective into the piece by focusing the viewer on the dome over the figures.  Also, he uses bright colors and provides halos for all the figures in the painting.  The viewer can see Naturalism in contrast to the Byzantine work.  The child in di Bartolo’s work is an infant.  All other figures in the painting are also of an appropriate age and size.  Instead of creating a type of symbolic religious icon, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saint Peter and Saint Paul creates a work of aesthetic beauty that the viewer can admire.  While it reminds the viewer of the divine, it also inspires his creativity.

By contrasting these two paintings, one can note the clear differences between the two.  Both pieces address the same religious subject matter, Madonna and Child.  However, the Byzantine work attempts to create a symbolic icon that is akin to icons in modern society.  Just as the Golden Arches remind one of McDonald’s restaurant, the image of Madonna and Child remind the pious of the life of the mother and child.  The Early Renaissance work also uses religious subject matter to focus the viewer on the divine.  However, the painting is aesthetically beautiful and naturalistic.  It is akin to the thumbnails that a computer generates of photographs.  It reminds the viewer of the entire picture but is a naturalistic work of art in itself.

Work Cited

di Bartollo, Domenico. Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saint Peter and Saint Paul. 1430. Painting. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Web. 10 Jun 2012.

Enthroned Madonna and Child. 13th century. Painting. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Web. 10 Jun 2012.

Rowland, Benjamin. “Byzantine (300-1453).” Scholastic.com. Scholastic, 2011. Web. 10 Jun 2012. <http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3753901>.

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