The most famous Renaissance paintings span a period of some 300 years and marked a period of revolution in art that has not been equaled to this day.
The Renaissance spans over three centuries from the 14th to the 17th century AD and marked a boom in classical based artworks that have stood the test of time.
Most notable were it’s artists and their return to classical thinking and the philosophies of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Today such names as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Raphael are all considered geniuses and their contribution to art, the humanities, science and philosophy is unequaled.
Renaissance paintings saw a quantum leap forward in terms of materials and techniques, with the linear perspective and highly accurate anatomical representation of the human form featuring heavily.
Many great works were funded by either wealthy merchants or commissioned by the Catholic church.
The following list of the most famous renaissance paintings is not exhaustive but it does detail the most notable works.
Famous Renaissance Paintings
1. Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa could be considered the single most famous painting in the world and also the most famous smile to boot!
To his name Da Vinci has relatively few completed canvases when compared to other prolific proponents of the time.
However, all of his works are a considered true master pieces which is an accolade that is bestowed on very few people.
The Mona Lisa is a half height portrait and is believed to be of Lisa Gherardini who was the wife of a rich Florentine merchant by the name of Francesco del Giocondo.
The Mona Lisa is now owned by the French public and is on display at the Louvre, it is held in trust for the public and can never be sold.
It was once stolen by an Italian employee and taken back to Italy who claimed that is where it belongs. He was eventually caught and the piece was returned to the Louvre.
There are long ques everyday just to catch a glimpse of her famous smile.
She is easily the most famous painting of the renaissance period if not of all time.
2. The Last Supper
Like a lot of famous renaissance works of art The Last Supper is a religious scene and depicts the last supper of Jesus and his twelve apostles and was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci.
It is a not the typical fresco that is normally painted on walls instead Leonardo decided to use his preferred oil paints instead.
Leonardo is said to favor oil as it is slow drying and allowed him to make changes and take a slower more considered approach to the work.
Leonardo realized that if is he was to use oil paints then the natural moisture that permeates through most stone wall buildings would have to be sealed other wise it would ruin his work.
To counter this he applied a double layer of gesso, mastic and pitch.
Throughout it’s long history he painting had to be restored several times.
The result of both environmental and intentional damage, very little of the original top layer of oil painting is left.
3. The Creation of Adam
The Creation of Adam was painted by Michelangelo in roughly 1508 to 1512.
It form the central image in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapels’ ceiling.
The image depicts God giving life to Adam from the Book of Genesis and has become one of the most iconic and reproduced images ever produced.
The total area is roughly over 500 square meters and it took Michelangelo over four years to finish what is one of the most complex and largest fresco paintings ever attempted.
In all there are some 300 figures, but the Creation of Adam focuses on God on the right giving life to Adam who represents man.
Adam is lying on the edge of the earth in a rather relaxed fashion and God is carried by his angels reaching across to Adam to give the gift of life through his touch.
To truly appreciate the grandeur of one of the renaissances finest art works you must walk under the ceiling of the Sistine chapel and gaze upwards.
Sandro Botticelli is believed to have painted Primavera in 1482 the name in English means Spring and the painting is sometimes referred to as ‘Allegory of Spring‘.
The actual scene and what it represents is the cause of much debate among artistic scholars and commentators with some saying it portrays a mythical allegory and others the changing of the seasons.
It is one of the finest renaissance art examples and is not only of note due to it’s meaning but also in Botticelli’s use of color which was rather striking for the age that it was painted in.
5. The School of Athens
The School of Athens is a fresco that was painted be Raphael between 1509 and 1511 in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
The painting features almost ever important Greek philosopher.
It is painted in the Stanza della Segnatura which is on the second floor in the North wing of the Vatican Palace.
It is one of four large fresco’s painted in that room with each of the four representing the branches of human knowledge which are Justice, Philosophy, Poetry and the School of Athens.
The use of perspective features heavily in the composition and the eye is drawn towards the two central figures Plato on the left and Aristotle on the right.
On the left are philosophers that represent Plato’s philosophies and on the right philosophers that represent Aristotle’s philosophies with a sum total of 50 figures in the painting.
6. The Birth of Venus
One of Botticelli’s finest renaissance works of art The Birth of Venus features the Roman goddess Venus as she arrives on shore having been born fully grown at sea, she is delivered on a giant shell.
Sandro Botticelli was responsible for that other famous renaissance painting that depicts a mythological image the Primavera.
Both great works of art were commissioned by the powerful banking dynasty the Medici who were extremely strong patrons of art in Florence.
Previous to this time the majority of works would have been painted on wood panels but the Birth of Venus is actually tempura on canvas.
Canvas had a distinct advantage over wood as in humid climates wood had a tendency to warp whereas canvas did not.
7. Sistine Madonna
The Sistine Madonna was one of Raphael’s last great works of renaissance art, he died but a few short years later.
The painting depicts the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus flanking her in the image are Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara, below her in the foreground are cherubs that gaze upwards towards Mary.
The painting was painted for the Benedictine Monks in the San Sisto Monastery Piacenza which was hung in pride of place near the alter.
It later found it’s way to Germany in 1754 to King Agustus III of Saxony, upon it’s arrival in Germany it caused considerable debate questioning the lines between art and religion.
The painting would later move to Moscow after World War II and then finally returning to Germany in 1955.
It is considered one of the most famous Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary and was a master class from Raphael in terms of light and shadow.
8. The Last Judgement
The Last Judgement is massive fresco painted by Michelangelo that adorns the whole alter wall of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City.
It took Michelangelo over four years between 1536 and 1541 to complete due to not only it’s size but also the complexity and the number of figures.
He started working on it 25 years after the completion of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and by that stage was considerably old at 67 by the time it was completed.
Originally all of the males were painted as nudes but they were later covered up by the addition of painted draperies.
Initially the reception was mixed between praise and criticism with the nudes being a major talking point as too was how muscular a lot of the figures were.
9. The Kiss of Judas
The Kiss of Judas is also known as the Betrayal of Christ and depicts the scene of Judas making Christ known to the officers of the Sanhedrin which led to his arrest and ultimate execution.
It was painted by Giotto di Bondone and was commissioned by the powerful banking family the Scrovengi’s in the Scrovengi Chapel which was built by the family on the site of an ancient Roman arena.
The painting is probably most famous for the fact that it marked an end to the familiar medieval style of painting and heralded in the new wave of artistic revolution that was the early renaissance.
The series of fresco’s that Giotto painted for the rich banking family were considered at the time to be the most modern works of art of any artist.
10. The Assumption of the Virgin
The Assumption of the Virgin also known as the Frari assumption is a painting by Titan that resides at the high altar at the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosca dei Frari in Venice.
It was painted by Titan between 1515 and 1518 and is the largest altar piece in Venice.
For Titan it was the first time he sought to emulate the more modern dynamic scenes that Raphael and Michelangelo were becoming known for further south in Florence.
The painting is framed by massive marble columns and gilded edges and forms a rather striking piece when viewed from the other end of the church.
Italian Renaissance Paintings
The Italian Renaissance painting movement marked a massive move away from the more Gothic scenes of medieval art that preceded it to a return to more humanistic approach to both art and thinking.
Inspired heavily by the great Greek philosophers and thinkers the renaissance artists cast off the previous focus on symbolism and focused there attention to the individual.
The rise of the wealthy merchants and banking families such as the Medici from Italian cities such as Florence and Venice allowed for a marked increase in financial support for up and coming artists to showcase there more modern style.
The reduced power and influence of the church also had an impact as the spread of humanism was allowed to grow, whereas previous churches would have resisted such developments.
That being said the church were still a massive consumers of Renaissance art with many of the most famous Renaissance paintings being fresco’s that adorn the interior of some of Italy finest chapels and cathedrals.
The majority of renaissance art examples are to be found in Italy with many famous oil paintings still in good condition however a large portion of the fresco’s still surviving have been subject to substantial alterations by way of conservation.
Early Renaissance Art (1400 – 1500)
Early Renaissance art was a bridge between the previous Byzantine Gothic style of art and the more modern humanistic approach to both art, architecture, thinking and science.
The Florentine painter Giotto was one of the first to break free from the in roughly 1300 to 1310 with his fresco’s of the Scrovegni Chapel.
This period between 1300 and 1400 is considered the proto-renaissance and marked a gradual divergence from classic symbolic Byzantine art with religious images featuring flat 2D painting techniques to a more naturalistic approach.
Giotto led the way for the early renaissance which was led by the likes of Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio with the great banking families of Florence encouraging and funding this new movement.
Both Brunelleschi and Donatello revolutionized the use of linear perspective and gave life and depth to painting and architectural drawings.
High Renaissance Art
The high renaissance is a roughly thirty year period were all of the great names were highly active and often competing with each other for various commissions.
Most historians would consider that high renaissance art started in roughly 1495 and ended 1520 and was signaled by the death of Raphael.
All of the great names in art, architecture, sculpture, and the sciences particularly human anatomy were at the height of their creative powers.
Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Bramante embraced new techniques, materials and the progression and refinement of linear perspective.
Massive canvasses and fresco’s were undertaking on a never before seen scale and to this day are still considered some of the most famous renaissance paintings ever made.