Experts agreed that the Renaissance movement started in Florence, Italy, then a trading center between Europe and the rest of the world and a platform for exchange of ideas, purchase of arts, and commissioning of literary works (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 267). In Italy, people began to question tradition and authority, focus on life on earth, shape their own destinies, educate their selves and revisit the classical teachings from Greece and Rome. Teachings from Italy were then dispersed elsewhere in Europe and the world through the printing press, a revolutionary invention during the Renaissance (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 265).
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One example of a Renaissance art that is a symbol of the inner health of the people during that era was Raphaels School of Athens (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 315). This painting pictured the great minds who existed in the city of Athens in Greece Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who were gathered in what appeared to be a school. In the painting, the great minds seemed to be enthralled in a lively exchange of ideas. Experts said that School of Athens attempted to show that the ancient greats of Greece were as good as the Renaissance men of Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo. In fact in the painting, the three Renaissance artists were supposed to be Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Another example of a Renaissance art that embodied the dynamism and transformation peculiar to the period was the sculpture of Michelangelo of David when the artist was at a relatively young age of 26 (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 286). David was depicted as a civilized and a thinking individual who contemplates on challenges without immediately resorting to unnecessary brute. David was said to represent the brightness of the Renaissance man. It was also said to epitomize the confidence that the people then were feeling in influencing their destinies in terms of trouncing evil and gaining victories.
Renaissance humanism is a notion that sprang during this period. This notion placed emphasis on the capacity of human beings to manipulate their future without overreliance on the church (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 287). Although much of the art works had religious themes, the works portrayed religious icons as humans. Such portrayal made light of the religious canons imposed by the church. Instead, the portrayal highlighted the human spirit and its capacity to elevate to great heights. One example of an art work that displayed humanism was Sandro Botticellis Birth of Venus, which depicted the goddess as an innocent woman with the use of pastel colors. Another example is Simone Martinis Annunciation, where an angel painted in realistic human dimensions and appearance appeared to tell Mary that she will bear Gods son.
The rebirth of the artistic movement in Italy was largely attributed to the successful businessmen in the city of Florence who fed, trained, educated and provided for the basic needs of the artists (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 268). These patrons commissioned works based on clear-cut agreements. The powers of these businessmen from the Medici family stretched all the way to Rome, allowing many artists to secure contracts to accomplish religious works of arts for the Catholic Church. The patronage of the Medici family for the artists was crucial to the Renaissance as artists were elevated to a stature important to the beautification and strengthening of the culture of Florence. When the Medici family declined, artists went to Rome where they received the patronage of the pope (Weekly Lectures, n.d.).
3. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, there had been a fierce and widespread sentiment about the perceived abuses of the Catholic Church (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 240). People felt that the leaders of the church were leading extravagant lives that contrasted with the generally modest, if not poor, living of the majority of the people. There were classes within the population that wanted to lead towards positive change. People were also weary of being caught in the cross-fire of conflicts between the Catholic Church and Kings, both desired power and wealth. To top these off, people were staring to change their beliefs about the capabilities of human beings during the Renaissance.
These situations were the precursors to the ushering of the Protestant Reformation, which was set off by German monk Martin Luther. Luther questioned the corruption and moral degradation in Rome and in the whole of the Catholic Church through his writings in The 95 Theses. The Church however was not willing to change its ways. It then financed the Counter-Reformation (Cunningham and Reich, 2009, p. 297).
Immediately, art became the medium of propagating the beliefs of the Protestants, who had their bailiwicks in northern Europe, and Catholics, whose strongholds were in the south. For the Catholics, art must focus on religious contents with certain symbolisms that magnify the holiness of the contents. The Catholic art was similar to the art that had prevailed in the Middle Ages. For the Protestants, Catholic religious contents in arts were idolatrous that must be destroyed through iconoclastic movements during the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant art was similar to the art of the humanist Renaissance artists who depicted contents in realistic settings.
As a response to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church introduced a Counter-Reformation. It instituted a few changes within the church but became more austere in regulating heresy. Regulations covered the arts, sending Catholic painters to produce religious contents similar to those done during the Middle Ages.
Content in arts was the distinguishing factor between the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. For the Protestants during the Reformation, paintings centered on mundane activities of everyday existence. Occasionally, paintings drawn out of scenes from the Bible were made. However, these paintings depicted the religious contents in a humanistic manner. Simple scenes found in regular occasions were also contained in paintings. Generally, the contents did not attempt to glorify contents through symbols.
For the Catholics during the Counter-Reformation, paintings focused on idealized religious contents that contained symbolisms of holiness, omnipotence, and great glory. These religious contents were idealized in terms of appearance and the environment in which they were depicted to move. Painters did not paint flaws. They likewise veered from common scenes experienced by common people. Some of the religious contents depicted in the Counter-Reformation included Catholic saints, sacraments, traditions, and codes of belief taught by the Catholic Church.
The arts during Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation were divergent largely because of the opposing world views espoused by the Protestants and the Catholics. On one hand, the Protestants believed that man could shape his destiny and approach God because the sacrifices of Christ were enough to save human souls. On the other hand, the Catholics believed that intermediaries like saints and the Virgin Mary were needed to help Catholics approach God and enter the gates of heaven.
Because intermediaries were needed, Catholics created relics where divine powers were supposed to reside. A form of these relics is a typical painting created during Reformation. Catholics worshipped the relics and sought from these relics intervention in order to get the graces of God. Because Protestants believed in the value of man and Christs sacrifices, they loathed these relics and called these relics channels of idolatry.