A comparison between the Arts of the High Renaissance and that of the Eighteenth Century

The term High Renaissance is used to refer to the blooming of the visual arts during the period of the Italian Renaissance.  High Renaissance, which flowered toward the end of the fifteenth century and lasted a few decades, was a period that witnessed the creation of great works of art and architecture.  With Rome as its epi-center, the period can be said to epitomize the spirit of Western Civilization.  Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco of the Last Supper is an early definitive work of this period. da Vinci followed it up with Mona Lisa, which was an outstanding work of this era along with Raphael’s The School of Athens.  Another notable early work was the Death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence.  Michelangelo and Raphael are other key artistic figures of High Renaissance, whose works showcased classical painting tradition as well as inventing new styles such as Mannerism.  Alongside Michelangelo, the works of Andrea del Sarto and Correggio exemplify the Mannerist style. (Fletcher, 2000, p.347)

High Renaissance art works feature complexity and richness of detail.  Human expressions, gestures, postures and figures are paid great deal of attention and detail.  Even minor painters of the time such as Mariotto Albertinelli and Fra Bartolomeo excelled in these aspects of visual composition. Other emblems of this genre are its iconographic references to Hellenistic art and mythology.  Harmony of design and technical excellence are other notable features of High Renaissance art.  (Stokstad, 2005, p.115)

The flourishing of artistic works during this period was made possible by an expansion in patronage and relative political stability in the region.  Venice, being an important commercial and political hub of the early modern era, turned out to be the cultural and art capital of High Renaissance.  The population of Venice at the time offered dedicated patronage to artists and their products.  The region also spawned its own distinct painting style, marked by serenity of mood and vividness of colors, as mastered by Giorgione and Titian.  The sculptures produced during this period are also of significance.  The exemplary sculptures of the era include Michelangelo’s Pieta and David.  (Speake & Bergin, 2004, p.550)

Eighteenth century artistic styles and techniques, on the other hand, are different and more evolved than what was witnessed during the High Renaissance.  The main styles that defined art in this century were Neoclassicism, Baroque and Rococo.  These styles were pioneered and practiced by such painters as Bernardo Bellotto, Michel Benoist, Giueppe Castiglione, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Vladimir Borovikovsky, among others.  Although 18th Century Art was a broader movement, contribution of Italian artists was still significant.  Drawing much from the artistic tradition and standards of excellence of High Renaissance, 18th century Italian artists such as Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Alessandro Magnasco, Marco Ricci and Vittore Ghislandi introduced new techniques and styles as well as refined existing traditions.  (Levey, 1980, p.23)

The inclusion of painters and sculptors from all across the world shows that eighteenth century art is not constrained geographically, as was the case with High Renaissance.  To this extent, there is a broader range and variety to artistic productions of the period, as exemplified by the inclusion of German painter Jacob Philipp Hackert, Russian artist Dmitry Levitzky, Chinese painter Gai Qi and Japanese printmaker Nishikawa Sukenobu all in one group.  Moreover, as science and technology advanced during the eighteenth century, the works of art also subtly reflected these new discoveries and inventions.  The loosening grip of Christianity on mainstream European culture and politics had liberalize art in this period compared to the situation during High Renaissance:

“The unifying culture of Christianity was supplanted by the fractious and specialized disciplines of science, philosophy, history, and literature. The impact of this change on art was subtle but significant. Although 18th century artists served the same types of clients as their forebears, the images they created changed. By turns logical, intuitive, polemical, impulsive, brilliant or pedestrian, the art of the 18th century built on and exaggerated the tendencies of earlier periods. It became more refined, more delicate, more sensuous, more intellectual, more emotional, and more secular.” (Gilford, 2010)


Fletcher, Stella. The Longman Companion to Renaissance Europe, 1390–1530. (2000). 347 pp.

Speake, Jennifer and Thomas G. Bergin, eds. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance and the Reformation. (2004). 550 pp.

Gifford, Katya, Overview of 18th Century Art, Humanities Web, retrieved from < http://www.humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=g&p=a&a=i&ID=464> on 21st May, 2011.

Levey, Michael (1980). Painting in Eighteenth-Century Venice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-1331-1.

Marilyn Stokstad, ed. Art History. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.