From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Italian art describes the visual arts in Italy from ancient times to the present. In Ancient Rome, Italy was a centre for art and architecture. There were many Italian artists during the Gothic and Medieval periods, and the arts flourished during the Italian Renaissance. Later styles in Italy included Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, and I Macchiaioli. Futurism developed in Italy in the 20th century. Florence is a well known city in Italy for its museums of art.
Italy did not exist as a state until the country's unification in 1861. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social isolation of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe remain immense. Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Site (44) to date, and is believed to contain over 70% of the world's art and architecture.
The Gothic period marks a transition from the medieval to the Renaissance and is characterised by the styles and attitudes nurtured by the influence of the Dominican and Franciscan order of monks, founded by Saint Dominic (1170 to 1221) and Saint Francis of Assisi (1181 to 1226) respectively.
It was a time of religious disputes within the church. The Franciscans and Dominicans were founded as an attempt to address these disputes and bring the Roman Catholic church back to basics. The early days of the Franciscans are remembered especially for the compassion of Saint Francis, while the Dominicans are remembered as the order most responsible for the beginnings of the Inquisition.
The earliest important monument of the Italian Gothic style is the great church at Assisi. The Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (St Francis) is a World Heritage Site. The Franciscan monastery and the lower and upper church (Basilica inferiore e superiore) of St Francis were begun immediately after his canonization in 1228, and completed 1253. The lower church has frescos by Cimabue and Giotto di Bondone. In the Upper church are frescos of scenes in the life of St Francis by Giotto and his circle.
Cenni di Petro (Giovanni) Cimabue (c.1240-1302) and Giotto di Bondone (better known as just Giotto) (1267-1337), were two of the first painters who began to move toward the role of the artist as a creative individual, rather than a mere copier of traditional forms. They began to take an interest in improving the depiction of the figure. The Byzantine style was unrealistic and could be improved upon by a return to forms achieved in ancient Greece.
Other terms sometimes applied to describe the artists of this period are The Primitives and the Early Renaissance.
The Renaissance is said to have begun in 14th century Italy. The rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Roman art and classics brought better proportions, perspective and use of lighting in art. Wealthy families, such as the Medicis, and the papacy served as patrons for many Italian artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli and Raphael.
The focus of most art remained religious. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, and sculpted his famous "Pietà". Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Raphael painted several Madonnas. Both Michelangelo and Donatello sculpted visions of David.
As the Renaissance had moved from formulaic depiction to a more natural observation of the figure, light and perspective, so the subsequent, Mannerist, period is marked by a move to forms conceived in the mind. Once the ideals of the Renaissance had had their effect artists such as Giulio Romano (c. 1499-1546) were able to introduce personal elements of subjectivity to their interpretation of visual forms. The perfection of perspective, light and realistic human figures can be thought of as impossible to improve upon unless another factor is included in the image, namely the factor of how the artist feels about the image. This emotional content in Mannerism is also the beginnings of a movement which would eventually, much later, become Expressionism in the 19th century. The difference between Mannerism and Expressionism is really a matter of degree. Vango was also a famous Italian artist. Guilo Romano was a student a protege of Raphael. Other Italian Mannerist painters included Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, students of Andrea del Sarto. The Spanish Mannerist El Greco was a student of the Italian Renaissance painter Titian. The most famous Italian painter of the Mannerist style and period is Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) (1518-1594).
From Mannerism onward there are more and more art movements representing tides of opinion pushing in various different directions, causing art philosophy over the centuries from about the 16th century onward to gradually fragment into the characteristic isms of Modern art.
The work of Caravaggio (1571-1610), stands as one of the most original and influential contributions to 16th century European painting. He did something completely controversial and new. He painted figures, even those of classical or religious themes, in contemporary clothing or as ordinary living men and women. This in stark opposition to the usual trend of the time to idealise the religious or classical figure. Caravaggio set the style for many years to come, although not everyone followed his example. Some, like Agostino Carracci (or Caracci) (1557 to 1602) and his brothers were all influenced by Caravaggio but leaned toward the idealism and spirituality from which Caravaggio was perceived to have strayed.
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Italy produced its own form of Impressionism, the Macchiaioli artists, who were actually there first, before the more famous Impressionists: Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Telemaco Signorini, Giuseppe Abbati. Italian impressionists: Federico Zandomeneghi, Giuseppe De Nittis.
- 20th century Italian art
- Italian Baroque art
- Italian modern and contemporary art
- Italian Neoclassical and 19th century art
- Italian Rococo art
- Sculpture of Italy