Exercise: Humanism

For this exercise I first looked up the definition of Humanism

Definition of humanism
  • a rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
  • (often Humanism) a Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.
  • (among some contemporary writers) a system of thought criticized as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.
  • encouraged a new focus on the virtues and deeds of individual human beings who had left their mark on history. p.16 ‘The Changing Status of the Artist’

1) Did an interest in humanism mean a movement away from Christianity?

From what I have read ‘the humanist philosophy stressed the dignity of humanity and in the process shifted the intellectual emphasis from theology and logic’.   Obviously there wasn’t a move away from Christianity as such because some of the greatest pieces of art we know were created during the Renaissance.

2) How was an interest in the classical world reflected in Renaissance art?

  • it encouraged emulation of ancient models in art.  The rediscovery of ancient art in Italy during the Renaissance parallels the revival of ancient literature.  p.17 ‘The Changing Status of the Artist’
  • it encouraged artists to aspire to the fame achieved by their ancient predecessors with the possibility of being memorialized in a biography, in their turn.  p.17 ‘The Changing Status of the Artist’
  • for painters, humanism made its most direct impact in opening up a new range of subject matter based on ancient precedent.  p.18 ‘The Changing Status of the Artist’

Was it possible successfully to combine Christian and classical elements in painting, sculpture and architecture?  Try and come up with some examples.

I’ve found a lot of examples of how artists in the Renaissance successfully combined Christian and classical elements in their works.

Update After discussion on the Student forum about copyright I have removed the pictures I had put here and replaced them with links.

1. The Rolin Madonna by Jan van Eyck – combines the Madonna and Child with classical arches and view through them.

2.  The Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi – combines New Testament with classical arches and building in background.

3.  Moses being tested by the Pharaoh by Giorgione – Bible story but with figures dressed in fashion of the period it was painted in 1502-05.







The Changing Status of the Artist edited by Emma Barker, Nick Webb and Kim Woods


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