Early Renaissance in Italy: 1400s

The engineering of Brunelleschi's dome, the naturalism of Donatello’s David, and the humanism of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus each help define the Early Renaissance in Italy.

The Renaissance really gets going in the early years of 15th century in Florence. In this period, which we call the Early Renaissance, Florence is not a city in the unified country of Italy, as it is now. Instead, Italy was divided into many city-states (Florence, Milan, Venice etc.), each with their own government (some were ruled by despots, and others were republics).

In the 15th century, Florence was a proud republic where political power resided in the hands of wealthy merchant families (such as the Medici who would later seize control of Florence) and powerful guilds (organizations of merchants and craftsmen). Importantly for art history, all of these groups commissioned poetry, painting, sculpture and architecture—often as an expression of civic pride—making Florence the leading city-state in Italy during the cultural epoch we call the Renaissance. In the last half of the fifteenth century, Florentine artists were invited to Rome, to work for patrons like Pope Sixtus IV who had artists like Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Botticelli fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican.