The Italian Renaissance was a very difficult time period in European history. The
arts were flourishing, while the city-states in Italy fought bloody battles with each other
and within themselves. Bribery and murder were not uncommon tools for men to use
when they wanted power. Meanwhile those same rulers patronized the arts a great deal
and they would commission the best artistic minds of the time to build, design and paint
their palaces and churches and later on their own portraits and everyday paraphernalia.
In the beginning of Renaissance the artists, as well as the princes, were mostly
interested in religious themes, mostly from the New Testament. They all believed that if
God let them prosper, then they should give thanks in some form. Therefore, the artists
were commissioned to paint the churches, monasteries or nunneries where God was
worshipped. People who could afford it, loved to pray out of expensive books or give
expensive gifts to worship God. Also, many rich courts tried to emulate the papal court.
The Popes in Rome set an example to all the other rulers by having such a vast collection
of artwork that it was doubtful that anyone would ever be able to compete with them.
However the paintings in churches and nunneries had another purpose besides the
one described above. The Pope and the ruler of any particular area needed to have
obedient subjects. Religion was one way to keep people that obedient. The stained glass
windows and the frescoes in the churches and cathedrals often told stories from the Bible
or depicted hell and heaven and what people should or should not do. Since most people
were illiterate, they depended on the priest to interpret the Bible for them. The
illustrations around only supported that interpretation of the Bible which was beneficial
to the rich and ruling classes. Even when some people preached poverty and abstinence
from anything secular, the religious artworks were considered part of religion itself.
As time went on, the illustrations took on yet another purpose. Each city-state
starting using art to depict and immortalize their victories and their rulers. People now
commissioned artists to paint their portraits, design their tabletops, candleholders, fans or
walls in their studies. A lot of themes varied from religion and if someone were to
commission a religious theme, often the faces of the buyers were to appear in that work
of art. Many people wanted to see something else around them and the elaborate pictures
told stories of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses or people’s favorite pastime.
By the 16th century the profession of the artist was becoming fashionable. In the
15th century it was still unheard of the artists’ mingling with the powerful and the rich.
There were very few masters, who were considered brilliant, so there was practically no
competition between them. One...