Renaissance Europe was full of incredable churches with great art bulging out their doors

The title of this post comes from this great article pieced together out of undergraduate history papers. No joke. Real people wrote these things. Since I’m in Florence and was recently in Rome, both of which are great Renaissance cities, when I read that article and saw that sentence, I decided it was time to take a break from ancient and late antique Romans to mention Renaissance stuff.

And, really, if you look at the Duomo here in Florence, there does seem to be ‘great art bulging out [its] doors’:


My photo of the Duomo’s main portal last February

Now, although I maintain that Classical learning never died in the Middle Ages, and that mediaeval art and architecture is, rather, ‘other’ instead of ‘worse’, it cannot be denied that in that period commonly called the Renaissance, we have a new direction in the art and architecture of Europe that draws its inspiration more directly and clearly from the Classical past than did, say, the Gothic. It also does a few new things, I think.

I don’t think a Greek or Roman would ever have built, say, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome:

The nave of St Peter's

I actually took this photo!

But it is clearly one of the most iconic and powerful Renaissance structures on earth. It is also the largest church. But what St Peter’s does is seek to embrace certain Greek ideals of balance in form and image and architecture.

Also, it has art bulging out of it everywhere.

A St Peter's dome

A dome at St Peter’s; bulging, but away from you

My favourite Renaissance things, though, are either classicising sculpture, such as this:


Hercules Kills a Centaur (because, why not?); Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Or early, fifteenth-century fresco by the likes of Fra Angelico that is playing with Classical ideas of the human form and perspective and space but has yet to lose its connection to the mediaeval world of the iconic. The following are both from San Marco, Florence, but the first isn’t my photo.

Florence!My final thought on Renaissance art for tonight is tied up with it bulging out the doors of Europe’s churches. Walking through Florence is an unrivalled experience in terms of contact with art, for here we find the highest concentration of art in all of Europe. Hairdressers have paintings on their ceilings. The dome of the Duomo rises above it all, visible all over the city. The Piazza della Signoria has a collection of Renaissance statues in it. Churches like Santa Croce have glistening Renaissance facades.

The art is everywhere. At one level, we cannot deny that it is humanist — it is here to celebrate humanity and our achievements as a race. Yet it is also here to help us transcend the merely human, to stretch towards the divine, just as the Gothic does, only in a different way; the ‘Fra’ before Angelico and Bartolomeo, remember, indicates that these men were friars (Dominicans, in fact, the Order of Preachers). Sometimes the artists were called ‘Divine’ in their day, such as ‘Divine Titian’. This was a reminder of the Image within the artist, the idea of subcreation at play throughout it all.

I hope that if you have the chance to meet some of Renaissance Europe’s churches with art bulging out of them that you, too, can have a divine experience, and rise above the muck of ordinary existence.

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