Italy: 15th century

Central and Northern Italy

A new realism appears in the art of Italy in the 15th century.

1400 - 1500 (Early Renaissance)

Beginner's guide

Learn about the suite of tools Italian Renaissance artists used to create an illusion of space, and a body that moves easily.

videos + essays

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Contrapposto
Contrapposto

Don’t stand so straight! Relax. Shift your weight. Bend a knee. Just respond to the world, like this spear-bearer.

Donatello, <em>St. Mark</em>
Donatello, St. Mark

When the citizens of Florence looked up at St. Mark, they saw a mirror of their own dignity—and of ancient nobility.

Façade of Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Façade of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Romanesque, Gothic, or ancient Greek? Whether you divide this façade by styles or squares, its stones come alive.

Dissecting Botticelli’s <em>Adoration of the Magi</em>
Dissecting Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi

Three men arrive to bless Christ. Are they wise—or just rich? Better defer to that young painter in the crowd...

Illustrating a Fifteenth-Century Italian Altarpiece
Illustrating a Fifteenth-Century Italian Altarpiece

When reconstructed, the panels of this altarpiece resemble the architecture of an Italian Gothic cathedral.

Lorenzo Ghiberti, <em>Gates of Paradise</em>, East Doors of the Florence Baptistery
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise, East Doors of the Florence Baptistery

These gilded bronze doors are a masterpiece of clarity and illusionism. Space coheres, and figures move with ease.

Nanni di Banco, <em>Four Crowned Saints</em>
Nanni di Banco, Four Crowned Saints

Capturing figures in thought, stonemasons understood what it meant to be human—just like the ancient Romans.

Donatello, <em>Mary Magdalene</em>
Donatello, Mary Magdalene

This difficult sculpture is an exercise in contrasts: frailty and power, pure spirituality and anatomical accuracy.

How one-point linear perspective works
How one-point linear perspective works

No Photoshop! Just a vanishing point, a horizon line, and some orthogonals—that’s the magic formula for reality.

Donatello, <em>Equestrian Monument of Gattamelata</em>
Donatello, Equestrian Monument of Gattamelata

The secrets of large-scale casting were lost for a thousand years, but bronze horses were no sweat for Donatello.

Paolo Uccello, <em>Battle of San Romano</em>
Paolo Uccello, Battle of San Romano

The Italian city-states were constantly at war, but this battle is between surface decoration and deep space.

Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti, <em>Sacrifice of Isaac</em>
Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti, Sacrifice of Isaac

Brunelleschi’s panel may be scarier, but Ghiberti’s is more emotionally complex. In both, an angel saves the day.

Selected Contributors | Central and Northern Italy