|Sandro Botticelli from his painting|
Adoration of the Magi
In the visual arts section of the class, I focused on Van Gogh, the Impressionists, and the Renaissance. To be able to dig deeper into art history has been fascinating. I've flirted with the visual arts a good deal of my life, but other focuses took priority, so it's felt like I get a second chance to really explore an alternate reality I could have been a part of. With the research I have been doing to teach the class, I feel like I am learning as much as I am teaching, which is always a thrilling place to be as an artist and an educator.
No matter how thrilled I have been learning more about art history, however, I have come to learn that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. In the essay section of the test I administered to my students yesterday, one of them articulately explained how she had "lost all respect" for the Renaissance after learning more about it. Her essay was actually very well argued, with persuasive language, logic, and history to back her up. She criticized the Renaissance for being "godless" (ironically, since most of the world's greatest religious art comes from this period), chipping away at society's morals, and indulging in pagan fancies. She took particular issue with artists like Sandro Botticelli and Donatello, as well as the Medici clan, the most powerful patrons of the Renaissance. Part of this criticism, in part, came from her reaction to a section of a documentary we watched in class about the Medicis from the Empires series produced by PBS (which I highly recommend).
|Adoration of the Magi by Sandro Botticelli|
Looking specifically at Sandro Botticelli, it's easy to see why strongly religious students like this young woman who wrote the essay may have conflicted feeling about the Renaissance. Although Botticelli did religious paintings, some considered him insincere. If you take in account paintings like Adoration of the Magi, in which Botticelli paints the Magi coming to adore the infant Jesus and his holy family, then its tempting to see it as pure religious fervor. However, when you know that the multitude of people surrounding Jesus (and who are in the forefront of the painting) are the Medici clan and all their most prominent friends (including Botticelli, who paints himself as part of the Medici's inner circle), then the painting seems less like devotion, and more like sucking up to a powerful patron.
|The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli|
Now, like my student, I am a religious person. However, religious people incorporate different elements of their faith in different ways, and I feel no obligation to take the hard stance my student did. It's true that the Renaissance artists, patrons, and thinkers were pushing the envelope for their day, and scandalized many of their more conservative contemporaries. However, it's telling that even a religious figure like Pope Julius II staunchly supported Michelangelo's use of nude figures in the Sistine Chapel, celebrating God's creation, not being ashamed of it. For many years Christian society had rejected the works of the "pagan" Greeks and Romans, with art and architecture suffering greatly during the Christian Middle Ages because of the knowledge that was rejected. It was because he sought out the architectural knowledge of "pagan" antiquity that Filippo Brunelleschi was able to build the largest, free standing dome in the Christian world, crowning the glory of the Florence Cathedral.
|The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo|