Mantegna Vamp:Renaissance to Neoclassicism

The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 14th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe. The term renaissance is in essence a modern one that came into currency in the nineteenth century, in the work of historians such as Jacob Burckhardt. Although the origins of a movement that was confined largely to the literate culture of intellectual endeavor and patronage can be traced to the earlier part of the 14th century, many aspects of Italian culture and society remained largely Medieval; the Renaissance did not come into full swing until the end of the century. The word renaissance (Rinascimento in Italian) means “rebirth”, and the era is best known for the renewed interest in the culture of classical antiquity after the period that Renaissance humanists labelled the Dark Ages. These changes, while significant, were concentrated in the elite, and for the vast majority of the population life was little changed from the Middle Ages.

The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany, centered in the cities of Florence and Siena. It later had a significant impact in Venice, where the remains of ancient Greek culture were brought together, feeding the humanist scholars with new texts. The Renaissance later had a significant effect on Rome, which was ornamented with some structures in the new all'antico mode, then was largely rebuilt by sixteenth-century popes. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the late 15th century as foreign invasions plunged the region into turmoil: see Italian Wars. However, the ideas and ideals of the Renaissance spread into the rest of Europe, setting off the Northern Renaissance centered in Fontainebleau and Antwerp, and the English Renaissance.

The Italian Renaissance is best known for its cultural achievements. They include works of literature by such figures as Petrarch, Castiglione, and Machiavelli: see Renaissance literature; works of art by artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci: see Renaissance art; and great works of architecture, such as The Duomo in Florence and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: see Renaissance architecture. At the same time, present-day historians also see the era as one of economic regression and of little progress in science, which made its great leaps forward among Protestant culture in the seventeenth century.

Neoclassical, what any "neo"-classicism depends on most fundamentally is a consensus about a body of work that has achieved canonic status .These are the "classics." Ideally— and neoclassicism is essentially an art of an ideal— an artist, well-schooled and comfortably familiar with the canon, does not repeat it in lifeless reproductions, but synthesizes the tradition anew in each work. This sets a high standard, clearly; but though a neoclassical artist who fails to achieve it may create works that are inane, vacuous or even mediocre, gaffes of taste and failures of craftsmanship are not commonly neoclassical failings. Novelty, improvisation, self-expression, and blinding inspiration are not neoclassical virtues; neoclassicism exhibits perfect control of an idiom. It does not recreate art forms from the ground up with each new project, as modernism demanded. "Make it new" was the modernist credo of the poet Ezra Pound.

Speaking and thinking in English, "neoclassicism" in each art implies a particular canon of "classic" models. Virgil, Raphael, Nicolas Poussin, Haydn. Other cultures have other canons of classics, however, and a recurring strain of neoclassicism appears to be a natural expression of a culture at a certain moment in its career, a culture that is highly self-aware, that is also confident of its own high mainstream tradition, but at the same time feels the need to regain something that has slipped away: Apollonius of Rhodes is a neoclassic writer; Ming ceramics pay homage to Sung celadon porcelains; Italian 15th century humanists learn to write a "Roman" hand we call italic (a.k.a. Carolingian); Neo-Babylonian culture is a neoclassical revival, and in Persia the "classic" religion of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism, is revived after centuries, to "re-Persianize" a culture that had fallen away from its own classic Achaemenean past. Within the direct Western tradition, the earliest movement motivated by a neoclassical inspiration is a Roman style that was first distinguished by the German art historian Friedrich Hauser (Die Neuattische Reliefs Stuttgart 1889), who identified the style-category he called "Neo-Attic" among sculpture produced in later Hellenistic circles during the last century or so BCE and in Imperial Rome; the corpus that Hauser called "Neo-Attic" consists of bas relief’s molded on decorative vessels and plaques, employing a figural and drapery style that looked for its canon of "classic" models to late 5th and early 4th century Athens and Attica. Most influential sculpture artist of the movement were Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen and John Flaxman.