In this guide, we will cover the 17 most influential Renaissance artists of the time.
The Renaissance is a western art movement that took place between the 14th and 17th centuries.
Some of the most famous artists in history came from the Renaissance period. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael all lived and created art through this art period. These artists were greatly influenced by classical Greek art and sculpture and the increasing understanding of science and nature, which both provided a foundation for the style and representation of life in Renaissance art.
During the Renaissance, art was considered an important form of expression. Many famous painters attempted to show the beauty of the world around them in their works. In addition to painting, other types of art like sculpture and architecture also flourished during this time.
Overall, the Renaissance period was an incredibly influential era in art history. It helped shape new forms of expression and inspired artists for generations to come.
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Leonardo da Vinci
Widely regarded as one of the most influential artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci lived during the Renaissance period. He was a painter, but also a sculptor, inventor, and mathematician.
One of Leonardo’s most famous paintings is the “Mona Lisa”, which depicts a woman, thought to be the wife of a Florentine merchant, with an enigmatic smile. The Renaissance painting hangs in the Louvre Paris, and demonstrates the sfumato technique, of soft blending to create smoky, blurred effects in the shadows. Her enigmatic smile is one of the reasons for why this painting is so renowned, however, the painting was also part of a famous scandal, when it was stolen in 1911, then recovered two years later.
Da Vinci lived through the High Renaissance, a sub period of the Renaissance which spanned from around 1490 to 1527. Around this time, new knowledge of science, anatomy and architecture inspired the works of da Vinci and others. He made multiple anatomical studies, of skulls, feet and his famed Vitruvian Man. The Vitruvian man displayed the proportions of the human figure in line with geometry described in a manuscript by the Ancient Roman Vitruvius.
Being a mathematician and inventor, da Vinci made multiple sketches and designs of a ‘Flying Machine’, inspired by the flight of kites and winged animals. He is also credited for helping develop famous oil painting techniques, such as chiaroscuro and sfumato.
Leonardo da Vinci is still one of the most important figures in art history. His talents helped shape the Renaissance and later periods of art and his paintings, techniques and inventions are still revered today.
Coming from around the same time during the High Renaissance period was Michelangelo. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet and he is also considered one of the most important figures in the development of Western art.
One of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures is the statue of David. The statue depicts the biblical hero David, who as the story goes, fought and won a battle against Goliath against all odds. A towering 17 ft high, the statue is displayed at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Michelangelo used the contrapposto technique, whereby the figure of David leans on one engaged leg. This has the effect of tilting the figure, giving a more natural appearance to the pose. This technique was originally developed by the Ancient Greeks, then later used in the Renaissance and Neoclassical periods.
In addition to sculpture, Michelangelo was also a talented painter who produced famous fresco works like “The Last Judgement” and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The chapel painting was commissioned by Pope Julius II and was completed between 1508 and 1512.
Another renowned artist who lived during the High Renaissance period was Raphael. He lived around the same time as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. These are regarded as the three most famous High Renaissance painters. Raphael is primarily known for his paintings, which are characterised by their bright colors and bold use of perspective and classic themes. He started painting from an early age, inspired by his father who was a court painter.
One of Raphael’s most famous works is “The School of Athens”, which depicts notable philosophers, including Aristotle and Plato from Ancient Greece in a beautiful indoor setting. The painting depicts the room on realistic perspective planes, Raphael mastered the technique of linear perspective to create this accurate drawing of a building interior. Although this is a feat commonly found in modern art, this portrayal of accurate perspective wasn’t used until the High Renaissance.
He had a large body of work, despite his early death at 37.
Raphael was also an accomplished architect who designed the famous Villa Madama in Rome, which still stands to this day. Overall, his contributions to art had a significant impact on the Renaissance period and helped shape his legacy as one of its most influential artists.
Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, famously known as Sandro Botticelli, was a painter in the early Renaissance. He was born in Florence and lived in Italy his whole life.
Botticelli is renowned for painting mythical and religious figures, such as ‘Madonna and Child’ and ‘Birth of Venus’. His painting ‘Primavera’ was also extremely popular and is considered to be one of the most important pieces from that time period.
Botticelli’s painting mediums of choice were tempera and fresco. He also used tempera grassa, which was oil added to the tempera egg binder to strengthen the paint film.
Botticelli would work on a wooden panel, applying multiple layers of glaze to alter the colours in the artwork and to deepen shadows. This is a technique used by many Renaissance and Post-Renaissance artists to create more realistic and intricate pieces.
Despite his popularity during his lifetime, Botticelli’s artwork fell out of favour after the Renaissance period due to various political factors. Posthumously, his artworks became popular again in the 19th century, when he was rediscovered by the Pre-Raphaelites.
A famous artists who lived during the Early Renaissance was Donatello, who was a sculptor and goldsmith. He studied sculpture in Florence and was inspired by the classical style and expressive nature of ancient Greek sculptors. He played a part in popularising this style during the Renaissance.
One of Donatello’s most famous works is the statue of David. Cast in bronze, it shows the biblical hero in an intense pose that captures the strength of his character.
Donatello produced many other notable pieces, including “The Feast of Herod”, which depicts the story of King Herod’s banquet for his son, in vivid detail, using relief sculpture as a medium.
He worked in bronze, marble, wood stone and terracotta. Many of his works can be seen in churches and museums around Florence today.
Jan van Eyck
Born in Belgium, Jan van Eyck and spent most of his life working as a Valet de chambre. He worked for John III, Duke of Bavaria and Phillip, Duke of Burgundy in various European cities. Jan van Eyck is considered to be one of the founders of the Northern Renaissance movement in Northern Europe. He was inspired by techniques of Italian artists and brought them north. Notable techniques that Jan van Eyck used in his work included linear perspective and the naturalistic approach to painting.
Van Eyck is renowned for developing and popularising oil painting, which became very popular during the Renaissance and later periods. He used a mixture of oil and pigments to create his works. The use of oil paints enhanced the painting process. This is because it has a more malleable paint film when wet, and stronger film when dry. It allowed him to create more detailed imagery with more accurate colour representation. Artists before this, during the Renaissance or earlier periods would paint mostly with egg tempera, or tempera grassa.
Some of van Eyck’s most famous paintings include “The Virgin in Prayer” and “The Annunciation”. These both feature religious figures. However, he painted many secular subjects too. He was employed by the Duke of Burgundy, but given creative freedom to paint. He was therefore able to produce many amazing works during his lifetime. His techniques later influenced the Early Netherlandish painters, and his work continues to be admired by modern-day art lovers.
An Italian painter, Caravaggio’s artworks spanned both the Late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. Caravaggio was an important figure in the history of art as he was responsible for developing new techniques that explored realism and naturalism in painting. He painted many religious subjects and is most well-known for his portrayals of biblical figures and scenes.
One of Caravaggio’s most famous works is “The Calling of Saint Matthew”, which depicts the biblical story of Jesus calling on the tax collector, Saint Matthew, to follow him as one of his disciples. The painting is notable for its realistic portrayal of Matthew and the other figures in the scene, as well as for using high value contrast to create tension and focal points. Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism influenced many later artists who also became known for their mastery in these techniques. Painters such as Rembrandt followed Caravaggio in the Baroque period, using similar high contrast techniques.
Caravaggio had a tumultuous life and died young at the age of 39. Nevertheless, his works continue to be admired by art lovers today for their technical mastery and dramatic aesthetic.
Bosch was a Dutch Renaissance painter whose works spanned the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He is most well-known for his fantastic, imaginative paintings that feature bizarre creatures and mythical beings in various scenes. He is renowned as being one of the greatest painters in the Northern Renaissance period.
Hieronymus Bosch believed in using art as a way to explore moral behavior, which can be seen in many of his works, including “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. This painting depicts a fantastical world filled with strange creatures and eerie imagery. He produced several triptychs, each of single scenes covering three panels. Bosch is an example of an artist who painted with his own autonomy and individual style, exploring unsettling themes. This completely diverged from the regular Flemish art style of the times.
A Venetian painter, Titian’s works spanned the late 15th and early 16th centuries in the High Renaissance and Late Renaissance. He is most well known for his portraits of royalty and other notable figures during this period and commissions mainly came from his international clients. Titian trained at a workshop with Giovanni Bellini, which is where he began to develop his style.
One of Titian’s most famous paintings is “The Venus of Urbino”, which depicts the goddess Venus. The work is notable for its use of colour and naturalistic depiction of the figure, creating a highly realistic portrayal that reflects Renaissance ideals of beauty. Titian worked exclusively in oil, which was new for artists of his time. His works and style was looser compared to other artists in the High Renaissance and his compositions influenced Baroque painters like Rembrandt.
Titian’s paintings were highly influential during his lifetime, and many other artists sought to emulate his style.
Hans Holbein the Younger
Holbein was a German Renaissance painter who became famous for his portraiture of figures during the late Northern Renaissance period. He is best known for his “The Ambassadors”, which is considered one of the greatest portrait paintings ever created. Hans Holbein the Younger painted many famous figures during his lifetime, including Henry the VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell.
Holbein is called the Younger to differentiate him from his father who was also painter. He started his career working as a muralist and portrait painter. After painting the portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Erasmus recommended him for work the UK, where he was introduced to Thomas More. His reputation grew from there and he eventually moved back to England in the 1530s to become the King’s painter.
Vasari was an Italian Renaissance artist, architect and engineer. He was a part of the late Renaissance period, also called the Mannerism movement. Giorgio Vasari was a seminal figure in the development of visual arts.
Vasari is best known for his artworks that focused on architecture and landscape design. He was also an important figure in the history of art criticism, as he wrote several famous books about the lives and works of famous artists throughout history. His book ‘Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects’ is considered to provide a foundation for art history writing. In the book, he idealises the Greek architectural and art forms and criticises art from the Gothic period.
He developed a humanist education after moving to Florence, where he also met Michelangelo, who influenced his style. Commissioned by Pope Pius V, he painted the Adoration of the Magi which depicts a scene of the three kings in the biblical nativity story.
Brunelleschi was a famous Italian architect, engineer and sculptor during the Early Renaissance period. He is best known for his invention of linear perspective, which revolutionized visual arts by allowing artists to create more realistic depictions of scenes and objects.
Filippo Brunelleschi’s most famous architectural achievement is the dome on Florence Cathedral, which he designed and built in the early 1400s. This dome became a symbol of Florence, as well as an iconic example of Renaissance architecture.
Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, who had the nickname Masaccio, was a Florentine artist of the Early Renaissance period. He is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the period due to his technical skill and painting of realistic looking portraits.
Some of Masaccio’s most famous works include “The Holy Trinity”, “The Tribute Money” and the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel. These paintings showcase his mastery of composition, perspective, and use of colour to create realistic images.
Considered to be one of the first renowned female artists in history, Sofonisba Anguissola was a famous Renaissance painter. Born in Cremona, Italy, she became known for her portraits and still-life paintings during this the Late Renaissance. She met Michelangelo at the start of her career and then travelled to Milan where she painted the Duke of Alba. She also painted the Duke of Parma, Queen Elizabeth and King Philip II of Spain.
Anguissola’s most famous work is likely “Self Portrait”, which depicts her painting a self-portrait in the style of Italian Renaissance masters. She painted several self portraits, showing herself at different stages of her life.
Bellini was an Italian painter who was active during the Early Renaissance period. He is best known for his landscapes and religious paintings, which often explored themes of spirituality and human emotion.
One of his most famous works is “The Feast of the Gods”, a landscape painting that depicts a scene from ancient mythology. This painting is considered an early example of the genre of landscape painting, and has been highly influential on later artists such as Claude Lorrain.
His brother, Gentile Bellini had a more high profile reputation in his day, however Giovanni developed more accreditation posthumously. Giovanni Bellini’s colourful style inspired Renaissance artists that came after him. He used oil paints. to create depth and smooth transitions in his pieces.
Antonio da Correggio
A painter in the Italian High Renaissance and Late Renaissance, Antonio da Correggio is best known for his use of perspective and realism in his portraits. He also played an important role in inspiring the development of Rococo and Baroque paintings, which relied on dramatic movement and exaggerated forms to create images.
Some of Correggio’s most famous works include “Madonna and Child with Angels”, “Salvator Mundi”, and “Four Saints”. These paintings showcase his mastery of composition, use of light, and ability to create movement in his portraits.
Albrecht Dürer was a famous Renaissance painter, printmaker, and theorist from Germany. He is often regarded as one of the most important artists in the Northern Renaissance due to his groundbreaking approach to art and innovative techniques, such as using cross hatching to create shading and textures.
Some of Durer’s most famous works include “Adam and Eve”, “Saint Jerome in his Study”, and the engraving series, “The Apocalypse Series.” These paintings showcase his mastery and skill in capturing emotion through his artworks.
He produced a large body of work, including wood engravings, sketches, ink drawings and oil paints.
When was the Renaissance period?
The Renaissance period stretched roughly from the 14th to 17th century in Europe. It was a time of great changes and development, involving science, art and literature.
It marked the transition from the middle ages into the modern era. Scientific discoveries were made, new art was created, and people started writing more complex pieces of literature. It was a time of great cultural development, and laid the groundwork for many important movements in later centuries.
Renaissance sub periods
The Renaissance stretched a few centuries and can therefore be further divided into five sub periods. These include Proto Renaissance, Early Renaissance, High Renaissance, Mannerism and Northern Renaissance.
Each one of these sub periods marked a different stage in the development of Renaissance art, science and philosophy. For example, Early Renaissance involved the revival of classical Greek and Roman art, whereas High Renaissance focused on advances in naturalism and realism.