Chapter Two of “The Annotated Mona Lisa” explores the historical periods known as the Renaissance and the Baroque. Artistic expression in the Middle Ages abandoned many of the traditions of the Classical period, and focused primarily on cathedrals and other architectural works that were intended to glorify God rather than the human form and the natural world. At the dawn of the Renaissance, the world “came back to life,” and artists once again began to focus on anatomical accuracy and capturing the human form and the natural world realistically and accurately. Many works of art from these historical periods reflected the rebirth of humanity’s interest in knowledge, learning and exploration.
Leonardo Da Vinci, of Florence, Italy is one of the most well-known and respected artists of the Renaissance era. Only a small number of Da Vinci’s paintings still survive, and one of those surviving paintings is one of the most famous works of art in history: The Mona Lisa. This portrait of a young woman was painted with oil on canvas, and was “one of the first easel paintings intended to be framed and hung on a wall” (Strickland and Boswell, 2007, p.34). Da Vinci’s work on the Mona Lisa incorporated several of the new techniques seen in Renaissance-era paintings, such as the use of light and dark known as chiaroscuro and the use of linear perspective that drew all the lines on the painting to a distant point hidden by the young woman’s head. These techniques made her image appear much more lifelike than earlier, more two-dimensional techniques, were capable of doing.
Another famous work of Michelangelo’s, and one that was done on a very different scale, is “The Last Supper,” a fresco that portrays the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples. The wall-sized mural, painted in Milan, uses perspective and chiaroscuro techniques and a pyramidal structure to place Jesus at the center of the image as all the lines converge at his head. The other figures in the image are captured in various poses that make them appear very lifelike, revealing “the fundamental character and psychological state of each apostle” (Strickland and Boswell, p.35).
Along with these well-known works from Da Vinci the chapter covers other artists and works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and demonstrates that many of the contemporary elements of art as they are known today were developed in these eras. I would define many of the works of art produced during these periods as exciting new forms of artistic expression that set the standard for what it mean to be an artist, and formed the foundation of the contemporary world of art.
Strickland, Carol, and John Boswell. The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History, from Prehistoric to Post-Modern. Kansas City, Mo: Andrews McMeel, 2007. Print.