This period witnesses the reemergence of Rome—suffering nearly four decades of neglect during the time of the Great Schism—as a major international power. Construction and renovation is funded largely by the popes, many of whom are elected from the country’s wealthiest and most influential families (such as the Colonna, Farnese, and Medici); their collective aim is to renew the city’s link with the classical past, and shape it into a symbol of papal authority which, throughout the period, extends far beyond religious matters into civic administration and political leadership.
Southern Italy, meanwhile, is the site of much unrest as political rivals France and Spain vie for control of the area. The humanistic flourishing and artistic innovations of the Renaissance are slow to reach the south, where a Northern Gothic style predominates well into the fifteenth century. The ultimately victorious Spanish monarchs, however, introduce their taste for both Flemish and Italian Renaissance art to Sicily and the kingdom of Naples, both of which undergo significant urbanization under Spanish rule.
The Great Schism, a rift within the Roman Catholic Church arising in 1378 from various claims to the papal throne, is ended. This is achieved by the Council of Constance, first convened in 1414. After the resignation of the Roman pope, Gregory XII (r. 1406–15), the council deposes both the Avignon and Pisan claimants, Benedict XIII (r. 1394–1423) and John XXIII (r. 1410–15), electing a new pope, Martin V (of the powerful Colonna family), in 1417. Martin settles in Rome in 1420, not only restoring the city as the permanent seat of the papacy but also, in the following years, restoring many of its long-neglected buildings and monuments as well. With the end of the Schism, the city of Rome once again becomes a prominent center of wealth, learning, and artistic production.
A member of the Colonna family, probably Martin V himself, commissions a large altarpiece for the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The triptych, depicting the Assumption of the Virgin on one side of the central panel and the founding of the basilica (after a miraculous snowfall in midsummer) on the other, is executed by Masolino (1383–ca. 1447) with assistance from Masaccio (1401–ca.1428); it is the first large-scale altarpiece to be commissioned for a Roman church in over a century.
Filarete (Antonio di Pietro Averlino) (ca. 1400–ca. 1469), a Florentine-born architect and sculptor (and later author of the influential treatise, Tratatto di architettura, 1461–64), is active in Rome. It is here that Pope Eugenius IV commissions him to produce a bronze portal for Saint Peter’s Basilica (Old Saint Peter’s). Dated 1445, the relief carvings combine religious scenes with interspersed antique motifs, and are among the earliest examples of classically inspired sculpture in Rome in the Renaissance.
After defeating his rival, René of Anjou, Alfonso V, king of Aragon and Sicily (r. 1416–58), is named king of Naples. Shortly after his accession, he orders the rebuilding of the Castelnuovo, a fortified thirteenth-century residence (begun 1447 by Guillem Sagrera); its centerpiece is a classically inspired triumphal entrance arch. Alfonso’s tastes as a patron are varied; while he favors Northern art, he also introduces Spanish and Italian Renaissance elements into the artistic vocabulary of Southern Italy. He also initiates programs of urbanization and restoration throughout his Italian territories.
Nicholas V (r. 1447–55) is elected pope and proclaims a jubilee year for the city of Rome in 1450. To prepare for this event, which is to emphasize Rome’s status as both a religious and cultural “capital,” Nicholas initiates a number of large-scale construction and renovation projects, notably the restoration of the Senators’ Palace on Capitoline Hill (Rome’s seat of civic administration), additions to the Vatican Palace, and the expansion of Old Saint Peter’s, including a new piazza to accommodate an increased number of worshippers.
Tuscan painter Fra Angelico (ca. 1400–1455), active in Rome since 1445 in the service of Pope Eugenius IV (r. 1431–47), undertakes a fresco series of scenes from the lives of Saints Stephen and Lawrence for the Chapel of Saint Lawrence (now Chapel of Nicholas V) in the Vatican Palace. Fra Angelico’s last great works, the frescoes exemplify the elegance of detail, bright palette, and attention to linear perspective for which the master is known.
While the printing press had been introduced to Italy in 1464 in Subiaco, the first printed book to include woodcut illustrations is published in Rome in 1467. Thus begins the golden age of Italian woodcut book illustration, which will last until the third quarter of the sixteenth century, when most printed books begin to be illustrated with engravings.
Painter Antonello da Messina (ca. 1430–1479) is active in his native Sicily. His work displays a keen understanding of Flemish painting, particularly in his virtuosic mastery of the oil medium and carefully articulated details. Antonello makes a brief but influential trip to Venice in 1475–76.
Francesco della Rovere is elected to the papacy as Sixtus IV (r. 1471–84). Aiming to assert the power of Rome as caput mundi—head of the world—Sixtus continues the programs of restoration initiated by Nicholas V, and supports several ambitious architectural projects. Among his most important commissions is the completion of the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, occupying a significant position near the city gates. Probably designed by Baccio Pontelli (ca. 1450–1492), the massive structure is inspired by classical Roman models and presents visitors to the city with an imposing reminder of Rome’s renewed link with a glorious past.
Under Sixtus IV, work is begun on the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The structure is complete within ten years, after which many of the great masters of the period are summoned to contribute to its interior decorative program,which will ultimately present a complex iconographical program of both Old and New Testament scenes. Among the paintings of the first campaign isThe Delivery of the Keys (1482), an early masterwork of balance and symmetry by the Umbrian painter Perugino (ca. 1445–1523). He is assisted in the execution of other frescoes by the younger master Pinturicchio (1454–1513). Other participating artists are Sandro Botticelli (1444/45–1510); Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494), who executes the Calling of Saints Peter and Matthew; Cosimo Rosselli (1439–1507), who contributes a Last Supper; and Rosselli’s pupil, Piero di Cosimo (1462–1521).
The Florentine Antonio Pollaiuolo (1431/32–1498) executes a bronze tomb for Sixtus IV in Saint Peter’s. The effigy on this freestanding monument, surrounded by reliefs depicting the Virtues, is supported on a base upon which the Liberal Arts are personified in high relief sculpture. This iconography proclaims the pontiff’s religious and intellectual accomplishments as well as his cultural ambition.
Cardinal Oliviero Carafa commissions Florentine painter Filippino Lippi (ca. 1457–1504; son of Filippo Lippi, ca. 1406–1469) to fresco a chapel in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. The Carafa chapel is among the most elaborate of its time; its central altarpiece, which depicts the patron as a witness to the Annunciation, is surrounded by an expansive landscape with the Assumption of the Virgin. The ample size and lavish decoration of the chapel affirm the expanding power of the clergy and the reinstatement of papal power in Rome.
Roderigo Borgia, the newly elected Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492–1503), summons Pinturicchio to decorate his private apartments in the Vatican Palace. Pinturicchio’s elaborate program of frescoes—depicting sibyls, prophets, and scenes from the lives of the saints—reflects the opulence for which the notoriously extravagant and often corrupt Borgia family is known.
Charles VIII of France (r. 1483–98) invades Italy and seizes Naples, launching the so-called Italian Wars, a series of military conflicts between rival European powers—particularly France and Spain—for the takeover of several Italian city-states. An alliance of Pope Alexander VI, Venice, Milan, Spain, and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I forces Charles’s retreat. His successors attempt to reclaim Naples and establish rule in Sicily, but are ultimately unsuccessful: the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis of 1559 cedes both territories to Philip II of Spain (r. 1556–98).
Michelangelo (1475–1564)—perhaps the outstanding painter, sculptor, architect, and draftsman of his time—is active in Rome, having left Florence after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. He receives a commission for the tomb of a French cardinal at Saint Peter’s Basilica, for which he executes the Pietà, a lifesize sculpture depicting the dead Christ in his mother’s arms. The masterful rendering of the human form and the flowing drapery of the Virgin’s garment, as well as the combined dignity and emotional intensity of this work earn much praise from the artist’s contemporaries. After completing the Pietà, Michelangelo returns to Florence, where he produces the colossal David (completed 1504).
Donato Bramante (1444–1514), one of the founders of the Renaissance architectural style, flees the French siege of Milan and settles in Rome, where he is later commissioned by Spanish monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella to design a shrine for what is believed to be the site of Saint Peter’s crucifixion near the Church of San Pietro in Montorio. He produces (beginning ca. 1502) a circular domed structure called the Tempietto (little temple). Though diminutive in size, the Tempietto is an extraordinary accomplishment in its emulation of classical models such as the Doric order, and its adherence to Vitruvian principles of proportion.
Giuliano della Rovere is elected Pope Julius II (r. 1503–13). An outstanding patron, Julius commissions some of the finest landmarks of Renaissance art. Shortly after his election, he plans to replace the extant Saint Peter’s Basilica (Old Saint Peter’s) with a new structure. A central-plan church of potential magnificence, designed by Bramante, is begun in 1506; construction is barely underway when the architect dies in 1514.
Andrea Sansovino (ca. 1460–1529), an acclaimed sculptor and architect of Florentine origin, travels to Rome at the summons of Julius II. For the pontiff, he produces tombs for Cardinals Ascanio Sforza and Girolamo Basso della Rovere in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. A chief exponent of Renaissance sculptural style, Sansovino draws heavily upon classical imagery, replacing even the traditionally recumbent effigy figure, depicting the subject lying flat in the manner of the deceased, with a reclining one, in which the subject raises himself, supported by a bent arm.
Michelangelo returns to Rome and undertakes a monumental tomb design for Pope Julius II. Due to various complications, the scale of the project is dramatically reduced over time, and of the forty over-lifesize figures planned by Michelangelo for the tomb, only the statue of Moses (1513–15; now Church of San Pietro in Vincoli) is fully realized. Also originally intended for the tomb are several figures of slaves (Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia), some half-finished. The tomb remains incomplete until 1547.
The enormously powerful merchant and banker Agostino Chigi (1466–1520), called Il Magnifico, commissions a Roman villa from architect Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi (active 1481–1536). Later known as the Villa Farnesina for its owners after 1579, the splendid residence is host to gatherings of cultural and political luminaries. Raphael and his workshop, including Giulio Romano (ca. 1492–1546), contribute to the decoration of the villa; foremost among Raphael’s works there is the celebrated fresco of Galatea (ca. 1512).
Luca Signorelli (1441–1523) completes the fresco cycle on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. In the same year, Julius II summons Michelangelo from a sojourn in Florence to paint ceiling frescoes for the chapel. The complex program, painted over the next four years, includes scenes from the Book of Genesis—notably, the creation of man and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden—as well as figures of apostles, prophets, and sibyls (the drawn studies for which display his superb mastery of anatomy). More than twenty years later, Michelangelo returns to the chapel and paints the Last Judgment (1536–41) for the apse wall; this enormous fresco presents a vivid, turbulent vision of the ecstasy of the saved and the torments of the damned.
Raphael settles in Rome where, under the patronage of Pope Julius II (and later his successor, Leo X, r. 1513–21), he becomes the chief contributor to the decorative program for several rooms, or stanze, in the Vatican Palace. The humanistic theme of his frescoes for the Stanza della Segnatura is exemplified in The School of Athens (1510–11), his great masterpiece depicting Plato and Aristotle surrounded by other philosophers. Upon completion of the Segnatura, Raphael begins work on the Stanza d’Eliodoro (completed ca. 1514), the frescoes for which depict scenes from both legendary and actual papal history. In 1514, under Leo X, he works on the Stanza dell’Incendio (1514–17), which takes its name from his Fire in the Borgo fresco for one of its walls. The program for this room includes scenes from the lives of Leo III (r. 795–816) and Leo IV (r. 847–55); in The Fire in the Borgo, Leo IV extinguishes a blaze near Old Saint Peter’s simply by lifting his hand in blessing. Raphael is at work on yet another room in the palace—an audience hall known as the Sala di Costantino—at his death in 1520.
Engraver Marcantonio Raimondi (ca. 1480–before 1534) is active in Rome, where for the next decade he reproduces the works of Raphael. The close collaboration of the two masters results in some of the finest prints of the period, many of which promote a revival of mythological subject matter derived from the study of ancient art and literature.
Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1468–1549), a member of one of Rome’s wealthiest and most influential families, and later Pope Paul III, commissions Antonio da Sangallo (1485–1546) to design his residence. The resulting Palazzo Farnese is among the city’s outstanding sixteenth-century secular structures. Completed by Michelangelo after Sangallo’s death, the massive palazzo is a potent symbol of Farnese, and later papal, authority. The interior includes frescoes by Roman Mannerist painters Taddeo (1529–1566) and Federico Zuccaro (1540/42–1609).
Sebastiano del Piombo (Sebastiano Luciani) (1485/86–1547) paints a monumental Pietà for the Church of San Francesco in Viterbo (now in the Museo Civico). A friend and follower of Michelangelo, Sebastiano combines the sculptural grandeur characteristic of the elder master with a rich palette inspired by his earlier training in Venice.
Raphael succeeds Bramante as architect of Saint Peter’s. He is assisted by Antonio da Sangallo, who takes over at Raphael’s death in 1520. Under Sangallo’s direction, the church design is modified to a Latin cross plan. It is also about this time that Raphael undertakes the design of a tapestry series, the Acts of the Apostles, for the walls of the Sistine Chapel. The designs reach Brussels—a major center for tapestry production—in 1516, where they exert a profound influence on contemporary painters/designers active in that city and elsewhere in the Low Countries.
Leonardo da Vinci lives in Rome in the service of Pope Leo X.
Raphael’s pupils and followers, led by Giulio Romano and including Perino del Vaga (Pietro Buonaccorsi) (1501–1547) and Giovanni da Udine (1487–1564), finish many of the commissions left incomplete at the master’s death. While markedly inspired by Raphael’s attention to classical form and subject matter, the artists’ decorative approach to fresco and stuccowork make them notable proponents of Mannerist style.
At the orders of Charles V, an imperial army sacks Rome. This is done in reaction to the anti-imperial alliance formed by Pope Clement VII (r. 1523–34) with France, England, Venice, and Florence. The city is devastated by the weeklong pillage and destruction; in its wake, many artists flee to safer and more prosperous cities.
Polidoro da Caravaggio (ca. 1496–1543), a successful painter in the circle of Raphael, flees the sack of Rome and spends the remaining years of his career in Naples and Messina, Sicily. Renowned in his earlier career for facade frescoes—chiaroscuro friezes imitative of classical sculptural reliefs—when in Southern Italy Polidoro turns to sacred images for an ecclesiastical setting. Removed from the Roman preoccupation with classicism, he develops a style that is deeply emotional and often darkly expressive, and much akin to the Northern works widely popular in Southern Italy during this period. Among his finest works of these years is theRoad to Calvary (painted before 1534; now Naples, Capodimonte), inspired by compositions of Raphael and Dutch artist Lucas van Leyden (1489/94–1533).
Alessandro Farnese, recently elected Pope Paul III (r. 1534–49), conceives of a project to rebuild the Campidoglio atop the Capitoline Hill, Rome’s civic center. He commissions Michelangelo to design the splendid new piazza—which features at its center the equestrian monument of Emperor Marcus Aurelius—along with a new facade for the Conservators’ Palace and double-ramped staircase for the Senators’ Palace. The Campidoglio is left incomplete until the seventeenth century.
The Farnese summon Titian to Rome, where he enters their service for several months. During his stay, he paints several portraits for the family, notably the Portrait of Paul III and His Nephews (1546).
Michelangelo is appointed architect of Saint Peter’s. Returning to Bramante’s conception of a centrally planned church, he destroys much of Sangallo’s extant structure and employs the colossal Corinthian order of columns on the exterior, with which he achieves effects of compactness and unity. He designs a hemispherical dome, left unfinished at his death. The structure is again modified, and the dome completed (ca. 1590), under Giacomo della Porta (ca. 1540–1602).
Florentine architect and sculptor Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (1507?–1563) designs two monumental fountains for the city of Messina: the Fountain of Orion (1547–53), intended for the cathedral square, and the Fountain of Neptune (1553–57), for the city harbor. Among the first fountains for an urban setting to incorporate marine motifs, they serve not only a functional purpose but, through their mythological iconography, are intended to glorify the city and secure its link with a classical past.
Francesco de’ Rossi Salviati (1510–1563) frescoes the Gran Salone of Cardinal Giovanni Ricci’s palace in Rome (Palazzo Sacchetti). Depicting stories from the life of the biblical king David, this stunningly complex and richly ornamental decorative program marks the high point of Roman Mannerism, particularly in its inventive use of illusionism and the elongated, gracefully articulated nude form.
Construction begins on a mother church, called Il Gesù, for the Jesuit order in Rome. The order, founded in 1540 by Spanish cleric Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), is dedicated to teaching and reform, and is a major proponent of the Counter-Reformation. Papal architect Giacomo da Vignola (1507–1573) designs the structure, and Giacomo della Porta provides a dramatic facade that effects a sense of unity and impressive verticality. In the interior, small chapels take the place of aisles; paintings for these chapels, including The Lamentation (1591; MMA 1984.74) of Scipione Pulzone (active by 1569, died 1598) for the Chapel of the Passion of Christ, respond in their direct and meditative style to the demands of the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation.
Federico Barocci (ca. 1535–1612) paints a Visitation for the Roman Church of Santa Maria Nuova, known as the Chiesa Nuova. Among the most influential painters of the second half of the sixteenth century, Barocci at first emulates the work of Raphael, Michelangelo, and the Roman Mannerist style of his cousin Taddeo Zuccaro (1529–1566), and is later influenced by the painter Correggio, whose compositional technique, lighting effects, and mastery of dramatic intensity inspire many of Barocci’s finest mature works. Also profoundly influential to Barocci are the preachings of Filippo Neri (1515–1595), a religious reformer active in Rome and founder of the Oratorian congregation. The Visitation is among Barocci’s most restrained compositions, appealing to the Counter-Reformation sensibility in its simplicity and emotional directness. His lyrical handling influences Baroque artists of the next generation.
Continuing the tradition of expansion and renewal established by earlier popes of this period, newly elected Sixtus V commissions a new chapel for the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Domenico Fontana, Sixtus’s favored architect, supplies the design for the splendid Cappella Sistina, which is intended as a burial site for Sixtus and Pius V (r. 1566–72), and also as a shrine for the relics of the crib of Christ, formerly located in the church’s crypt. This ambitious project and the complex iconography involved in the resulting structure serve as a powerful self-assertion of the new pope’s authority and influence as a patron, as well as establishing a vital link with his illustrious predecessors.
Lombard painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) arrives in Rome, where he becomes known for his paintings of half-length figures in genre subjects. By 1595, he wins the patronage of Cardinal Francesco del Monte, for whom he executes several works of early maturity, including the allegorical Musicians (MMA 52.81).
Annibale Carracci (1560–1609) arrives from Bologna to fresco the Galleria ceiling of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The theme of the fresco program—widely considered his masterpiece—is the triumph of love, which Annibale depicts in a series of exuberant mythological scenes framed by illusionistic grisaille architectural motifs.
“Rome and Southern Italy, 1400–1600 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=08®ion=eusts (October 2002)