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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Essay on Donnatello's St. Mark - Features of Renaissance Art

The word Renaissance is synonymous with rebirth.  It is this period in history where the art and culture of the period of antiquity were reborn.  In contrast to the Middle Ages which centered on God and how unimportant man was in relation go God, the Renaissance centered on man and his limitless capabilities.  While the Middle Ages saw every aspect of life through the divine, the Renaissance rediscovered man and his important role in the world.  For the Renaissance artists, man is great and valuable.  The Renaissance is also the rebirth of ancient Greek philosophy with emphasis on individualism.  Man is not only a living and breathing creature but a unique and special creature.  Thus, it was common among Renaissance artists to have a renewed interest in the human anatomy.  It was therefore very common for artists to have as their subject the human body in the nude.  For them, the human body is the most beautiful subject an artist can recreate and so there was nothing to be ashamed of with the human body.

Donatello’s St. Mark
One of the famous Renaissance artists was the sculptor Donatello.  One of his most famous works was Saint Mark.  Donatello was commissioned to create a sculpture of St. Mark for the linen drapers guild in 1411. (Allison Gille 3) It was supposed to be finished and installed in 1412.  However, it was not actually installed until 1413.  It was however very surprising that the committee who commissioned to create St Mark initially did not appreciate Donatello’s work and even asked him to retouch some aspects of the sculpture. 

Despite the lukewarm acceptance by the commissioners Donatello’s peers however appreciated his work. One of these is the Italian artist Michelangelo who said that he “had never seen a more convincing image of an honest man than this statue, and if the Evangelist was like that he could believe everything he had written.”

Saint Mark is a marble statue that is around seven feet and nine inches high.  A closer look at the image of Saint Mark will reveal that it is in a contrapposto pose, otherwise known as the natural pose.  The drapes also hang all over the body concealing St. Mark’s body and legs.  St. Mark poses in such a way that his weight is on his right leg and that his left knee is bent a little.  It also shows that his torso is slightly twisted.  Donatello also created St. Mark in such a way that the veins appear on its left arm.  The long and wavy mustache is also prominent. 

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Features of Renaissance Art
There are two features of Renaissance art that are distinct and separate from Medieval art.  The first is that the artists during the Renaissance period are different in the sense that they are no longer considered as simple craftsmen with special skills but as independent artists who have freedom to incorporate different subjects into their creation.  For this reason, the individual artists were not judged by strict laws.  Rather, individual ingenuity was encouraged and that artists were encouraged to make original works.  Thus, the value of an art work was determined by its originality and how different it was from the other previous works of art. 

Second, the human body is depicted as appreciated for what it is in the sense that it is rendered as self-activating and functional organism, and the human personality is shown with a confidence in its own worth.  In this sense, Renaissance artists returned to the period of Antiquity were Greek philosophers put emphasis on man’s place in the world.  For instance, Plato and Aristotle both discussed about man and how he could realize his potentials.  For them, man has a special role to perform in this world.  In the same manner, Renaissance artists depict that the human person is special.  The human person can reach a stage of perfection.  Renaissance artists also ensure that they portray a sense of emotion in their works.  It was common to see works of art which are full of emotion and expression.  It was as if these art works were living creatures.

These two features of Renaissance art are prominent in St. Mark.  Firstly, the over-all style is so much different from the artistic style during the Medieval Ages.  Compared to the Medieval Ages which emphasized on religious themes and which depicted faces which are unreal and disproportionate body parts, the Renaissance art was more free willing.  The free willing attitude is evident in the way the image of St. Mark was portrayed.  The human form is in a relax stance which is the human body’s natural pose.  The legs are also bent making it appear that the marble statute was real and full of emotion. It was as if the structure was movable and bendable.  It was as if the statute was a real person that communicates to the person who sees it. Even for a person who is not an art connoisseur one will feel that the expression of St. Mark conveys a sense of connection to him.  In the humanist spirit, these statutes appear that they breathe and pose like real man.

Secondly, St. Mark was the very first statute that stands in a completely relaxed pose.  This was completely different compared to the earlier statutes which were rigid and expressionless.  This was also to be contrasted with the disproportionate features as expressed by artists during the Medieval Ages.  

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