Renaissance Art 101
The art of the Renaissance era is complicated only in that one must keep track of the ways in which ruling monarchies and countries connected at the time. The Renaissance was a period of great growth and innovation for Europe and would ultimately lead to the kind of society and technologies much of the world depends on today. The art from this period displays this while also often featuring small detailing that reveals the work’s patron and the agenda behind it.
Pulled in yet? No? Keep reading.
Portrait of a Man, possibly Girolamo Rosati, 1533-1534, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, 1480-1556). Oil on canvas, Framed- h:135.90 w:128.00 d:8.60 cm (h:53 ½ w:50 3/8 d:3 3/8 inches) Unframed h:108.20 w:100.50 cm (h:42 9/16 w:39 9/16 inches). Gift of the Hanna Fund
Who or what this man is pointing at is a mystery. Who this man even is also a mystery. But there are two theories as to his identity and what in the world he is actually doing. By paying attention to the small, but important detailing in the picture: one sees a piece of a paper, a clover (symbol of wealth, good fortune, and a happy marriage), jasmine (for love and purity) and roses (also a symbol of love). The mystery man could be a groom gesturing to his beloved bride, in what could have been a companion work. The other working theory is that the man is an Italian official named Girolamo Rosati, and that the paper is an important architectural paper. I, for one, hope that it is the first, a devoted bride groom pointing to his beloved.
Portrait of a Couple, c. 1580-1588. Northern Italy, late 16th century. Oil on canvas, Framed- h:132.00 w:173.00 d:10.50 cm (h:51 15/16 w:68 1/16 d:4 1/8 inches) Unframed- h:99.80 w:140.50 cm (h:39 ¼ w:55 5/16 inches). Holden Collection
An excellent example of the wealth and rivalries that characterized this period, this portrait shows a couple married for family ties rather than love. This is shown in the stiff and awkward ways in which they hold themselves, much like how one does today in forced family photos. Their wealth is on display with the extensive use of gold jewelry, the sword which he rests his hand on and the marten (much like a weasel) skin that hangs from her golden, jewel encrusted belt is at once a symbol of wealth and upstanding morality.
One of the most visually sumptuous and ornate of the museum’s portraits from this era, Riguad’s portrait shows Cardinal Guillaume Dubois, one of the most important figures during the reign of King Louis XV. In the work Dubois, who began as Louis XV’s tutor, is shown holding a letter reading Au Roy (or “to the king”) to show the moment that his student was old enough to become king. The incredibly ornate carving of the frame is an extension of the elaborate design of the chair he sits in, the desk his hand rests on and the clock beside it. Dubois is shown relaxing in his office (dressed in a much more dignified manner of clothing than one would today), but surrounded by the items that showed his special status such as the books and leather upholstered walls. The French monarchy was an immense symbol of wealth and power, while also being a hated rival of many other nations at this time. With Riguad’s portrait, the extension of power that was Dubois is obviously stated.
(T) Portrait of Cardinal Guillame Dubois, 1723. Hyacinthe Riguad (French, 1659-1743). Oil on canvas, Framed- h:180.50 w:148.00 d:15.00 cm (h:71 1/16 w:58 ¼ d:5 7/8 inches) Unframed- h:146.70 w:113.70 cm (h:57 ¾ w:44 ¾ inches). John L Severance Fund 1967.17 (B) Portrait in possible original frame
From clover leaves of love to a jewel encrusted weasel, when looking at the art within our European and Renaissance paintings you must look beyond the big picture and the impression it provides. The artist or patron's agenda is always present just below the surface and when you look closely, there is often an even more exciting story to be found.
Come explore our renowned collection of European paintings and sculpture, whether in the museum or online, and see for yourself the stories waiting to be told.
Let us know what stories you find or your favorite piece by commenting below or Tweeting to us @ClevelandArt
Tori Laser is a junior at John Carroll University studying art history with a focus on communications. She is interning this summer in the Communications and Marketing Department at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
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