Among all the masterpieces in High Renaissance art, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan is the most impressive religious painting for the world. This Leonardo’s most ambitious fresco art was born in late 15th century Italy, which was undergoing a rebirth of artistic motifs and philosophies from classical cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome. The new philosophical movements including humanism and Neoplatonism deeply influenced thinkers, architects and artists like Leonardo, so the Last Supper was started by him with his aspiration of ideal beauty, universal truths and intellectualism. Leonardo’s techniques of painting, skills of narration, and thoughts of humanism all emerge here to create Last Supper.
The Last Supper is commissioned by his largest client, Duke of Milan, and he asked Leonardo to create a large fresco upon the refectory of a Dominican church. According to the special request and location where monks usually have meals in silence, Leonardo chose to paint a scene of New Testament that Christ’s last supper before arrested by Roman soldiers, a subject matter very popular in religious art and also very appropriate for context. Even though a lot of artists have drawn this scene before, Leonardo approached this story by his one-point perspective technique, and unique narrative way.
One-point perspective is one scientific technique Leonardo used in Last Supper. For this large-scale horizontal fresco, his strong concern for perspective led him to study and research more about mathematics and science on composition and arrangement on paintings, which reflects the Renaissance artists’ aspiration for self-education and intellectualism at that time. Leonardo utilizes several orthogonals from Christ’s head to arrange the tapestries, windows, and 12 apostles, creating an illusion of depth and a balance of substances. Besides planning the composition with one-point perspective, Leonardo also applied chiaroscuro and sfumato to create natural space for visual pleasure.
As for the narration in Last Supper, a huge part for religious art, Leonardo shed his thinking of humanism into every figures in this painting. He gave each apostle individual emotion and gesture to narrate this moment after Christ announced one of them had betrayed him; everyone seems involved into that moment, even the viewers. Leonardo also placed Judas sitting along with others, a position which other artists usually not considered for Judas, so viewers’ eyes will look around and finally rest on Judas. Christ’s pose is also detailly designed; he was in clam with his palms upward on the table, which indicates his acceptance for what happened next. Leonardo also inserts symbolism during his creation. He utilizes number three to correspond with the element of Catholic doctrine. Number three stands for Holy Trinity, and also stands for balance in art. Moreover, in order to indicate Christ’s glory without a halo, he smartly uses triangle-shaped pediment above his head.
Besides the groundbreaking artistic style shown in Last Supper, its function also serves very well for the Catholic church. As mentioned before, Leonardo painted this fresco above a refectory where monks could contemplate this story while in every mass. The message implied from Last Supper is to remind each church-goer of their God’s sacrifice for humanity. Also Leonardo’s elevated skill of narration makes viewers participate and think quietly.
Leonardo gives special attention to perspective, narrative, humanism and symbolism in this artwork, and also carefully stresses his painting styles. The monumentality of this large scale fresco, the balance he measured by the one-point perspective, the sfumato and chiaroscuro he applied to create illusive natural space, and the gentle, warm color palette he picked and applied on each figures and corners all represents his stunning art talent, which leads the stylistic characteristic of High Renaissance. This Last Supper spreads its religious idea and humanism inspiration, and shows Leonardo followed the humanism and Neoplatonism popular in High Renaissance, to contemplate beautiful objects, sacred images and architecture to be closer to the Divine Gods. High Renaissance is the period of the climax of a century, and Leonardo’s Last Supper, a visually beautiful and physiologically powerful religious art, proves its philosophical progress, artistic experimentation, and humanism accomplishment.
Analysis of Cultural Context of Venus of Urbino
In Venetian Renaissance, Venus of Urbino by Tiziano Vecelli, also known as Titian, remains one of the most popular nudes in the Renaissance art, beguiling generations of viewers. This painting was commissioned by the Duke of Urbino as a wedding gift for his wife, but Titian gives her a glorious beauty and mysterious interpretation. By exploring the cultural context behind this painting, Titian’s Venus has very iconic Venetian Renaissance artistic style and also represents historical and political characteristics in 15th century Venice.
The Renaissance phenomenon in Venice was different with Florence, so the artworks produced there had a unique Venetian style. During the Renaissance, Venice remained independent from the rest of Italy, and it fortunately escaped the political chaos caused by the invasion of Spanish in the late 16th century, which affected Rome and Florence. Also, Venice had long dominated trade in the Adriatic Sea, which helped the economic boom there. So Venice’s stable political, financial and social environment provides architects, scholars, and artists like Titian a peaceful space and time to study nature, to create art.
The subject matters often appear on Venetian Renaissance art are more secular than those in Florence, because people living on this harmonious island have more time to enjoy life and nature. The Venus of Urbino was basically based on a scene after wedding of Duke of Urbino; his young bride was laying on the bed, with two maids working back at a luxury bedroom, which seems less religious and sacred. And other Venetian artists like Titian also created paintings characterized by sensuality, pleasure, festival, the mythological, and little religion-related subject matter. Moreover, Venetian artist tends to draw Arcadian landscape scene inside a painting, which Titian include a window with outdoor nature scene, and plants, flowers in the image. Venetian artist favors Arcadian landscape much more than urban crowded island, and they stress their aspiration toward nature while others in Florence stress the self-awareness and intellect.
By looking at Venus of Urbino, Titian’s art is influenced by Renaissance in Rome and Florence; he paid attention to perspective from front to the further, to create illusion of depth and volume in a big bedroom, and also balance of figures on the composition, but not strictly like Leonardo did in his art. Titian also applied Venetian’s love on rich colors and textures. The dark green of velvet curtains, the carnal color of bed cushions and maid’s dress, the Venetian red roses, and orange toned soft long hairs all created a warm, tranquil moment around the Venus. The light he used here also feels luminous, gentle and natural, especially the contrast of the bright reflection on Venus’s body and the dimly outdoor scene. This kind of suffusion of light, colorito, and textures in Venetian Renaissance art came from this island’s long-term trade with the near east, the Orient and beyond countries; eastern cultures’ iconic use of warm, saturated color for religious goods influenced Venetian’s aesthetic on color palette.
The technique of symbolism is widely used in Venus of Urbino. The identity of the young lady laying on the bed was debated even now; maybe she was depicted by Titian as a Venus, or maybe she was just a young bride. There are many iconography found in this painting related to the identity of this lady. The cassoni, the myrtle plant, and the flowers are symbolized marital fidelity, and I believe this are very direct hint: there was a wedding just happened. Her dog, which represents loyalty, slept around her feet so sweetly. And the banquet of flowers symbolize love, lust, and reproduction. Under Titian’s brush, this classical nude is more soft in a warm flesh tones, more sensual and luminous, and less sculptural. It distances from religious art, offering a more sensual, pleasing, and pastoral mood. This kind of theme and also mood reflected the society and living environment of Venice at that period; people had carefree and indulgent lifestyle so that the erotic overtones were often used by these Venetian artists.
This Venus of Urbino shows viewers a Venetian Renaissance cultural phenomenon through an image of a laying young lady. Titian’s view of this bedroom represents his technique of perspective and balance, his application of colorito, light, and textures, and his skills of iconography, which are all Venetian Renaissance’s iconic characteristics in art styles. And same time, it reflects the 15th century Venice’s geographical isolation and political independence from the rest of Italy, and its peaceful living environment, festive culture breed these significant master pieces.