IN THE periods of Renaissance art we thus distinguish two divisions of especial importance one between 1400 and 1530, the time of development, of greatest success, of supreme triumph; one after 1530, the time of expansion over Europe and of relative decline at home.
These divisions in the history of art correspond to the general facts respecting civilization at large, which the art accompanies, attests, and reflects.
It is in line with these facts that the general art of North Continental Europe is mainly superior in the seventeenth century to that of Italy, although originally derived from it. This seventeenth century art of North Continental Europe again yields in importance to that of England when the eighteenth century is reached. In the art of painting, at least, the Renaissance drew its last breath on the shores of the New World, with the painters of the American revolutionary time, who in their turn had derived from England the inspiration of Reynolds and of Gainsborough. The art of the Americans, Washington Allston, Copley, Gilbert Stuart, and Rembrandt Peale, is thus an interesting continuation and survival of that of the “Old Masters.”
It will now assist our sketch of the early Renaissance (1400-1530) to fix a few synchronisms in mind.
In 1453 the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks ended the history of the Byzantine Empire and of ancient Roman civilization. This event is universally quoted for its influence on the intellectual activity and the learning of Italy, as many learned Greeks then settled there, and the treasures of ancient classic literature were, in consequence, more actively studied. In 1452 the second pair of Ghiberti’s bronze doors for the Florence Baptistery were finished. There is, therefore, an exact synchronism between the revival of classic learning in Italy and the completion of Ghiberti’s doors, which are the most remarkable works of art finished during the earlier Renaissance.
In 1498 Columbus touched the shores of the American continent. About the same year Leonardo da Vinci finished his ” Last Supper” at Milan, which is the painting of paintings in the history of art; not because it is necessarily the greatest of all pictures, although this might easily be claimed for it, but because nothing done before it remotely approached either its greatness of conception, or its perfection of execution, and because nothing was done after it which did not owe a portion of its perfection to the influence of the great master who achieved it.
In the following year Leonardo’s patron, the Duke Ludovico Sforza, fled from Milan, as the French, under Louis XII., invaded his territory, one step in the series of campaigns which thirty years later terminated in the political downfall of Italy. Most of the greatest Italian paintings belong to the intervening time. In 1501 Ferdinand the Catholic, of Spain, conquered the territory of Naples and Sicily, that is all Italy south of the States of the Church.
In 1509 Henry VIII. of England succeeded his father. In 1506 Pope Julius II. began the erection of St. Peter’s Church, at Rome, the greatest building of the Renaissance. In 1508 the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel were be-gun by Michael Angelo, and the frescoes of the Vatican Palace were begun by Raphael.
In 1521 Luther attended the Diet of Worms, and the great wars began in Italy between France and Spain for the leadership of Europe and the mastery of Milan. Raphael died one year, and Da Vinci died two years before these events.
In 1527 and 1530 respectively, occurred the sack of Rome and the capitulation of Florence. None of the greater Italian painters survived these events more than a few years excepting Michael Angelo and the artists of the Venetian school. In Vasari’ s ” Lives of the Artists,” our one great original authority for artists’ biographies in Italy, it is of great interest to follow the fortunes and work of the various painters as affected by the sack of Rome, and their consequent dispersion and failing fortunes.
According to foregoing dates the zenith of the Italian Renaissance dates between the completion of the ” Last Supper,” 1498, and the beginning of the ” Last Judgment,” 1534.