Christianity as the Main Inspiration behind Renaissance Art
One of the most famous art periods is Renaissance Art, which swept the world between 1400 and 1600. Various groups influenced the works of art in this period and these include wealthy families, courts, church, government and individuals. Due to the fact that center of cultural Europe in those times was in Florence, its rich families, especially the Medici, commissioned a lot of paintings, which led to some of the most iconic and enduring works of art. This paper focusses on one of Renaissance art and how Christianity influenced it. The paper looks focusses on Virgin and Child (“The Litta Madonna”), which is one of the Renaissance work influenced by Christianity.
One of the groups that commissioned and influenced art in the Renaissance period is the Catholic Church. The topic of Christ’s life remained significantly important both for civil people and priests. Thus, religious rituals with the images of Virgin Mary (or Madonna) and other members of Holly Family formed the most common tendency for works within that period. Many patrons and various religious organizations sponsored the painters’ work since their art was often used as altarpieces. For example, most of painters, who are well-known also in nowadays, created their masterpieces related to the same topic. Thus, in the first years of 15th century, Renaissance art has reached its peak, and the world found out about three masters: Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. The last one presented to the world a lot of magic and mysterious works. One of them is the work “Virgin and Child” (“The Litta Madonna”) created in about 1491-1945.
In this painting da Vinci typically represents the matter of religion, however, in a slightly different way to what he used to do in his previous works. The thing is that now an artist provides a vision of eventual mother’s love which makes her to devote Her Child. Such an idealized picture was very unlikely for da Vinci’s earlier images of Madonna. The scene of this work shows a beautiful woman nursing her child; they are no one else but Marry and Jesus Christ. This portrait indeed represents a picture of Ideal Life that is full of true love surrounded by peaceful landscape – an original dream of humanists. All the attention is concentrated at the baby by depicting light and shade and contrasting them boldly. Another interesting feature is Christ’s gaze that tracks with a person when he moves.
On the other hand, Madonna is wearing a blue cloak that is a sign of her virginity. The Holly Family is, obviously, the main part of the whole painting since, commonly for that period, an artist was the one in charge of what people see, and, according to the Catholic Church, most of all people needed devotion. “The Litta Madonna” is more than just a painting. Leonardo da Vinci demonstrates that not only a mother and her child are connected, but that we as people are also connected to Jesus. There is a metaphor that Mary is a guide for mortal people to her Son, who is the Holly One. This Child means everything to His Mother at the moment of the painting. Just like this, He becomes everything for the faithful, as He is the center of their religion. Although the Holly Family is the most significant motive in this work, the landscape should also be taken into account while analyzing. Thus, an important part of the painting is its peaceful nature that surrounds Madonna and her Child. Such a picture is an association with peace and love that are part and parcel; all pious dream of such idyll in his life that is again the reference to religious motives of the Renaissance art.
So why the topic of Christ’s life and all that related to it was that powerful in Renaissance? As was already mentioned, the Western Church was one of the patrons of the art in those times. For instance, Pope Gregory the Great became one of the first priests who sponsored and, consequently, was able to influence the paintings’ direction. In that period, religious art works were used not only as symbols to worship, but they were also supposed to teach unlettered people. Thus, such images of Madonna, Jesus, and other Saints were commonly found in frescoed walls of churches, altarpieces and books. The scenes of Holly Family’s life had a strong impact on all the faithful enhancing them during worship. Moreover, there existed special devotional treatises that explained in details how the process of using those pictures had to be done. A proper practice of worship with the religious arts was meant to provide a better connection between the mortal person and God.
Hence, now it is obvious that European culture had a strong association with Christianity in times of Renaissance. However, there are more curious facts. One of them is a great responsibility and demand that was addressed to the artists. For example, the way they had to create paintings was plainly stated by the tradition of presenting religious images.Thus, this kind of art became rather a service that even had a list of requests within which a painter had to perform. Due to the high concernment in this type of works, artists were trained both in producing skills and traditional operating that met patrons’ expectations. One of the standards was the central position of Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ or Saint John and Mary Magdalene since the prevailing attention had to be on them. As seen from “The Litta Madonna,” Leonardo da Vince perfectly corresponded to this tradition. At the same time, the painting also demonstrates a very traditional choice of colors, especially the blue cloak of Mary that was already explained as a symbol of her virginity. Although there were several essential requirements to the religious arts, the guidelines were quite flexible and, thus, let artists use their creativeness and imagination. That is why most of Renaissance works are now valued as true masterpieces, owing to which the world has learned about the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and many others.
Now remains the question whether the connection between art and religion is significant in our days as well. Certainly, the matter of Christ’s life, in general, is not that important in today’s society. The reasoning for this situation is complex and still not complete. The only thing that is clear and hardly doubtful is that religion has lost its value at least in European and U.S. worlds. The comparison of Renaissance period and today’s reality is very untimely. In the past times, art and culture in the broad sense were concentrated around one cult – Virgin Mary and the birth of Her Son. Consequently, all the images and scenes of their life were taken as something sacred and acquired special symbolic meaning. Religion and its traditions meant everything for people, even in their everyday life. In contrast, nowadays, the same art works are considered in a very different way. People admire the artist’s talent and take paintings, as the manifestation of his skills. However, there is a little said about work’s relation to the religion.
In conclusion, “Virgin and Child” is one of the brightest examples of Renaissance art, which major semantic message is an importance of Christ not only for His Mother but also for all mortal people. Though there is no doubt in da Vinci’s artistic talent, an original value of his work was defined by its significance to the faithful. There are a lot of debates concerning the role of religion in today’s society, but it is not clear so far whether there is a problem or not. Only one fact remains true, – such paintings are viewed as great pieces of art rather than symbolic religious items, – and maybe in future, the world will find the reasons for that. Now is left an undoubted artistic gift of all the Renaissance masters, including Leonardo da Vinci.