Europe 1300 - 1800
- How to recognize Italian Renaissance art
- Tiny timelines: global Europe
- Napoleon’s appropriation of Italian cultural treasures
- The study of anatomy
- Contrapposto explained
- Florence in the Early Renaissance
- Alberti’s revolution in painting
- Linear Perspective: Brunelleschi's Experiment
- How one-point linear perspective works
- Early Applications of Linear Perspective
- Linear perspective interactive
- Images of African Kingship, Real and Imagined
- A primer for Italian renaissance art
- Introduction to gender in renaissance Italy
- The Italian renaissance court artist
- Female artists in the renaissance
- The role of the workshop in Italian renaissance art
- Humanism in renaissance Italy
- Humanism in Italian renaissance art
- Why commission artwork during the renaissance?
- Types of renaissance patronage
- Renaissance Watercolours: materials and techniques
Picking up from the ancients
We can see from Donatello's sculpture of David—with its careful depiction of bones and muscles and a nude figure—that the study of human anatomy was enormously important for Renaissance artists. They continued where the ancient Greeks and Romans had left off, with an interest in creating images of the human beings where bodies moved in natural ways—in correct proportion and feeling the pull of gravity.
Sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome reveal that classical artists closely observed the human body. Ancient Greek and Roman artists focused their attention on youthful bodies in the prime of life. Ancient sources indicate these artists used models to help them study the details of the body in the way that it looked and moved. These artists tried to show their viewers that they understood systems of muscles beneath the skin.
The Alexander Sarcophagus, c. 312 B.C.E., Pentelic marble and polychromy, found in Sidon, 195 x 318 x 167 cm (İstanbul Archaeological Museums).
In the Middle Ages, there was very little interest in the human body, which was seen as only a temporary vessel for the soul. The body was seen as sinful, the cause of temptation. In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve eat the apple from the tree of knowledge, realize their nakedness, and cover themselves. Due to the nudity in this important story, Christians associated nudity with sin and the fall of humankind. Medieval images of naked bodies do not reflect close observation from real life or an understanding of the inner workings of bodies.
The best way to learn human anatomy is not just to look at the outside of the body, but to study anatomy through dissection. Even though the Catholic Church prohibited dissection, artists and scientists performed dissection to better understand the body. Renaissance artists were anxious to gain specialized knowledge of the inner workings of the human body, which would allow them to paint and sculpt the body in many different positions.
The artists of the Early Renaissance used scientific tools (like linear perspective and the study of anatomy and geometry) to make their art more naturalistic, more like real life. The term "naturalism" describes this effort.
Scientific naturalism allowed artists in the Early Renaissance to begin to demand that society think of them as more than just skilled manual laborers. They argued that their work—which was based on science and math—was a product of their intellect just as much as their hands. They wanted artists to have the same status as intellectuals and philosophers, unlike the medieval craftsmen that came before them.
Essay by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
Want to join the conversation?
- From what I understand, the Church banning dissection is a myth. Actually, it was far more taboo in ancient Rome - this is why physicians such as Galen only knew about the inner human body from dissecting animals such as pigs. Harvard's website had an article that says:
"In medieval Christianity, dissection was often practiced." and "there was no religious prohibition against dissection."
Wikipedia also says:
"Unlike pagan Rome, Christian Europe did not exercise a universal prohibition of the dissection and autopsy of the human body and such examinations were carried out regularly from at least the 13th century. It has even been suggested that Christian theology contributed significantly to the revival of human dissection and autopsy by providing a new socio-religious and cultural context in which the human cadaver was no longer seen as sacrosanct."(8 votes)
- So where would these artists get these bodies to dissect? I assume that if dissection was banned then it must have been difficult.(3 votes)
- There was a ban on dissection of humans that Pope Sixtus IV had lifted . The only cadavers that might be used where those of convicted criminals and the remains must be given a proper Christian burial.(3 votes)
- Does Khan academy have a course on Ap European History?? I'm taking my midterm exam on Tuesday and all I have to work with is the art of the different centuries.(2 votes)
- Who got dissected? Was it outlaws, or people who obviously did not care about their bodies?(2 votes)
- It was mostly criminals, though over time, people started "body snatching" - exhuming peasant's graves to sell the bodies to medical schools. Even more disturbingly, sometimes living people were murdered for this purpose; although this mostly happened after the Renaissance.
To learn more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadaver#History(1 vote)
- How were these works received by the church at the time? Did they offer any comment on classical-style naturalism? Was it obvious at the time that these were going significantly against the medieval norm or is this something we have imposed through hindsight?(2 votes)
- why was the body illegal during the mideval ages?(1 vote)
- Short answer: you're planning to dissect whom, exactly? Don't you know that's someone's brother? Or worse, someone's mom! Even the Romans were a bit squeamish on this point: we don't really see dissection a part of anatomical study until the 14th century or so, though those wily Byzantines might have squeezed in an occasional stiff, now and then. (They had a doctor fetish.) Anyway, planning to carve up a fellow human like a Christmas Goose would have put you, if not behind bars, than beyond the pale as a profoundly Creepy Individual. And that's not good!(2 votes)
- why did artist like the body so much?(1 vote)
- You mean why did Leonardo Da Vinci like the body so much?
I can answer that for you, Lenardo loved growing up in nature. He loved the trees, flowers, and anything that caught his sight. When he grew up to learn about art, in the same process he got accepted tok one a high school or college (im not sure yet) that was highly great in Physic and things about anatomy. So, from this he accepted the invitation and from there on he loved art, anatomy, and arithmitic. Any more questions I can help you out! What a great question!(1 vote)