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Yin and Yang: The Balance of Romanticism and Nature in Renaissance Art

Yin and Yang: The Balance of Romanticism and Nature in Renaissance Art

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Published by Max Bartges
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Published by: Max Bartges on Jul 06, 2013
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Max Bartges5/12/06Yin and Yang: The Balance of Romanticism and Nature in Renaissance ArtWhen discussing the ‘High Renaissance’ there are three names thatcontinually reappear: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. This periodis defined by the yin-yang of idealism and naturalism, brought together magnificently by these three masters especially well. Preceding theserevelations the two were never as successfully cleaved; one or the other dominated, serving to indicate the persona of the artist in question. The threemasters, however, strove for, and achieved, a natural
and 
inspiredamalgamation, as is demonstrated expertly through their numerous works. A prime example of this unification of disparate idioms is Leonardo’s Ladywith an Ermine of 1483-90. (The dates do not indicate that this is a large work,but rather that Leonardo was a very slow worker). As the title suggests, this is aportrait of a woman holding an ermine; an almost complete profile except that her body is facing left and her head (and the ermine) face right. The result is that theviewer gets a much broader angle, and the focus is placed on her right hand andthe animal it holds. Both are expertly and minutely crafted: each muscle can beseen in full detail, and the lady’s hand actually appears a little larger than itshould be, (Leonardo’s way of subtly showing off his gift?).Moving outward we find a similar attention to detail in everything: thedress is realistic and the fabric quite intricate in places while the face retains asimpler demi-perfection. She is surrounded by black, and the extreme contrast
 
of the pale skin and ermine and the darkness heavily used to accentuate thethree dimensional aspects gives the impression of real, thick weight; a classicLeonardo technique.
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 Begun the year of Lady with an Ermine’s completion and finished a year later in 1491, Madonna Litta is of a Madonna and suckling Christ in three-quarter profile between two windows showing mountainous terrain. As with the previouswork careful attention has been paid to the human body, consisting of accurateanatomical features rather than an amorphous expanse of flesh-toned paint. Inparticular, Christ’s hair is a marvel, blond, curly and buoyant. The Madonnalooks lovingly at her son and he looks out past her left shoulder. The sameingenious use of contrast is present, but perhaps executed with more intention,and the two cutout segments of a landscape are believable: gradating bluebehind browns and greens beneath pillow-clouds. Both paintings haveaccomplished the goal of using technique and intense scrutiny to surpass bothsoulless mathematics and religion’s absence of need for realism.
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Traveling back in time from paint to stone, we come across one of themost recognized sculptures of all time: Michelangelo’s David. Although he didnot begin this epic statue, begun in 1463 by Agostino di Duccio, Michelangelo’sgenius shines all throughout. Inspired by the story of David and Goliath, theimage of a small boy, or underdog even, has been replaced by Greek-likeperfection. With his weight to one side and his gaze focused in the other direction, one arm by his side and the other holding a sling at his shoulder, this
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http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/vinci/
2
Ibid.
 
classical pose complete with stylized hair emanates power, poise andconfidence. The reality is that the otherworldly nature of David is derived directlyfrom its anatomically beautiful form: each makes the complete packagepossible.
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Unsurprisingly
not contained to brilliance in stone, Michelangelo’spaintings are also groundbreaking, and perhaps none is more admired than theseries of scenes he completed mostly alone on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapelin the Vatican. The Creation of Adam, 1508-1512 is arguably the most familiar of these; Adam stretches out comfortably in paradise, his right leg outstretched andleft bent at the knee and left arm reaching to touch God. God, surrounded byvarious angels, is almost horizontal with full, grey beard and all, and his right armis stretched towards Adam; their index fingers almost meet in a loving gesture.Greek like bodies encompassed by pastel-like colors of green, blue, grey and reddetail a scene, which is so full of religious and inspirational force. The sharpcontrasts of Leonardo are replaced by gentler stylistic choices, but the idiom of these contemporaries is clearly and victoriously defined.
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Referred to by Dr. Ross Bressler as “a sponge”, Raphael had the uncannyability to imitate whatever he wanted. Changing and progressing continually, hisstyle is rather difficult to quickly nail down. One of my personal favorite paintingsis his treatment of St. George Fighting the Dragon of 1504-06. Very light and
3
http://vlsi.colorado.edu/~rbloem/david.html
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http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.wga.hu/art/m/michelan/3sistina/1genesis/6adam/06_3ce6.jpg&imgref url=http://www.wga.hu/html/m/michelan/3sistina/1genesis/6adam/06_3ce6.html&h=670&w=1303&sz=116&tbnid=AAV8r8jpvVwJ:&tbnh=77&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dcreation%2Bof%2Badam%26hl%3Den%26lr %3D&start=1&sa=X&oi=images&ct=image&cd=1

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