THE EARLY RENAISSANCE
The early Renaissance period was a time of new awakenings. It was a slow emergence of self-awareness and human potential. Where exactly the period began is debated, both then and now, and truly does not have a clear and distinct division between the Middle Ages. However, it was after the bubonic plaque, or "Black Death" as it was called, had wiped out half of the population of Europe. And, the population decrease had led to an economic depression.
Once the incidence of the plaque decreased in the late fifteenth century, populations swelled, creating a new demand for goods and services. A new middle class began to emerge as bankers, merchants, and tradespeople once again had a market for their goods and services.
The word Renaissance means "rebirth" and the period explicitly seen by its leaders as a rebirth of our understanding of ourselves as social and creative beings. "Out of the sick Gothic night our eyes are opened to the glorious touch of the sun," was how Rabelais expressed what most of his educated contemporaries felt.
This rebirth was seen, felt, and lived in most aspects of the people's lives during that time. What was real, or perceived to be real, was the center of their importance. It was seen as a shift in cultural emphasis. Capitalism (or mercantilism) arose as the new economic system. It corresponded perfectly with the new awareness of self worth. In all facets of society, the Renaissance placed new emphasis on the individual and on individual achievement. It was suddenly okay to think of oneself, and do for oneself, to further the social status of oneself.
Capitalism brought forth a challenge to both men and women of this period. It challenged them to pursue their own individual goals. These goals usually involved pursuing a better standard of living, using all of their individual intelligence and abilities. As a result, there was an explosion of economic activity in the trading of goods and services previously unavailable or even unheard of. Artists and tradesmen were inventing new tools and creating new ways of doing things for the sure pleasure of doing so.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) , an Italian political philosopher, statesman, poet, playwright, and thinker during the Renaissance period, was depicted by reputation, as unsavory. This was due to his insights on political power and human nature.
Machiavelli's most famous writing, titled "The Prince", was written in the form of advice to a new ruler. It tells the new ruler how to found a state and how to maintain himself in power. His writings were blunt and straight forward and gave him a reputation of immorality. However, many find a sense of reality of humans and their political situations in Machiavelli's theories. Through his words, he was the founder of the saying, "perception is reality."
Machavelli believed what was real was irrelevant to what was perceived as real. Former President Ronald Reagan was a stanch believer and follower of the theories of Machavelli. President Reagan actually slept with the book, "The Prince" beside his bed during his presidency. And, he believed, and lived by, the words of Machavelli to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
Keeping within society and beliefs of capitalism, humanism, and the theories of Machavelli, Donato de Niccolo Bardi (a.k.a.: Donatello) sculpted life as he saw and felt it. Donatello saw life and reality much different from his predecessors and contemporaries. Fantasy, and how it should be, was not his vision. He saw, and carved, what he saw as real. He was fascinated by the intense inner life of his subjects. The results of his perceptions were dramatic and forceful works of art.
Donatello's new approach is depicted in the statue of St George. The figure reveals a tautness of line in the pointed shapes of the shield, armored feet, and drapery. The facial expression reflects a human quality of realism, not idealism.
Seen as his greatest achievement is the Equestrian Monument to Gattamelata. In this enormous bronze statue, Donatello brings forth the over-powering presence of the person astride the horse; the inner life he was always fascinated by and drawn to.
The early Renaissance was an exciting time. Everything seemed to be changing. Art was changing to a more realistic depiction of human life in body and spirit. Architecture was changing from structurally important and obvious, to beautiful creations.
As individuals began carving out a new life for themselves, artists began re-defining art. Some artists designed and created tools or machinery just for the sake of inventing something new. It was an exciting time.