For the A-Z Challenge three years ago, I presented Renaissance artists. I was heavily into Renaissance art when I was an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College; my professor loved Florence and emphasized the Florentine artists, so I jumped at the chance to see an exhibit of the Venetian Renaissance artists when it came to the North Carolina Museum of Art. (We saw it at the same time as the Ansel Adams exhibit, about which I posted a few weeks ago.)
For this first of two posts, let me give you a little background…
The main differences between the artists of Florence and Venice are the times during which they worked and the media they used.
Florence is considered the birthplace of Renaissance art (late 14th century), while Venice figured largely in the late or high Renaissance, during the later 15th and early 16th centuries.
The artists of Florence first worked in tempera or fresco. Fresco is a technique for mural painting involving the application of pigment to a wall covered with fresh plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the pigment to merge with the plaster, and when the plaster sets, the painting becomes part of the wall. The area to be painted was first covered with an under layer of plaster named the arriccio. Often the artists would sketch their compositions on this under layer in a red pigment called sinopia. The artist could not make changes in the composition of the painting and had only the drying time of the plaster in which to complete his work (about 8 or 9 hours). Fresco colors are flat.
Tempera is created when pigment is mixed with egg to produce a durable paint. The types of colors that painters could achieve with tempera was limited, but it was the medium of choice for most artists working in Italy until the advent of oil paints. A far greater variety of pigments can be used in tempera painting, tempera paint can be applied to any substance, such as dry plaster, wood, stone, terracotta, vellum, and paper. Because it isn’t applied to wet plaster, the pigments are not degraded by the caustic action of wet lime. Tempura colors are somewhat flat.
Because of the relatively fast drying time, artists using fresco or tempura sketched their paintings before creating them in their media. Thus we have surviving sketches by some of the most famous Florentine artists.
Oils, by contrast, have a slow drying time, which allows for corrections and changes to the painting directly on the canvas. Their application is easy, as is the blending of colors. Oil allows for deep rich colors, subtle gradation, and the application of paint in layers. Oils were first used in Venice because the damp climate was less suited to fresco and tempura, but their use spread to Florence.
In my next post, I’ll show you some of the paintings I saw at the NC Museum of Art.