The Renaissance was arguably the most influential period in art history. In line with its French word origin of “rebirth,” the movement focused on rediscoveries and promotion of ancient ideals and practices, while also proposing new discoveries in line with technological advancement alongside a more humanistic world view. The Renaissance period is generally understood to have taken place between 1400 and 1600, with major impacts on art, architecture and culture. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli and Albrecht Dürer are among the legendary artists who shaped the era with their art.
In line with a new humanist philosophy, paintings and murals during the Renaissance began to offer different visual perspectives, such as the central perspective and a trend of naturalness. It also upheld prior traditions, such as classical Greek antiquity’s emphasis of physical perfection as the correct representation of the human body. With a special focus on anatomy, humans were displayed with ideal dimensions and proportions. Also emerging as commonalities during this period were portraits of famous personalities and landscape paintings.
Discover five works by our contemporary artists who have sought to reinterpret well-known Renaissance models. We’re going back in time (and back again!)
The Mysterious Mona Lisa Smile
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous painting in the world. Aside from being a Renaissance masterpiece, however, it’s also a symbol of centuries of mystery. Debates still circulate over who exactly that iconic smiles belongs to. Art historians suspect da Vinci’s subject to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of prominent Florentine cloth and silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo; the painting is believed to be a commissioned work to celebrate the birth of their second son. The work wasn’t completed on time, however, so da Vinci ultimately decided to keep the painting to himself. As a result, many modern art theorists argue that Mona Lisa is actually an androgynous self-portrait of its artist. These mysteries are captured, questioned and creatively modified in this modern portrait by Oscar Nin.
The Last Supper
Da Vinci also composed the mural masterpiece The Last Supper, reinvented here by Japanese artist Tomoya N. The fresco portrays Jesus’s announcement of impending betrayal and the immediate reactions of the apostles. The composition expresses emotions of indignation, sadness and anger, with only Jesus maintaining a peaceful and calm—if not disappointed—attitude. Whether it was Da Vinci’s dedication to biblical subject matter or a psycho-dynamic account of betrayal remains uncertain.
The Birth of Venus
Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus conveys the arrival of Venus— the goddess of love—on the beach in Cyprus. Unlike many other artists of his time, Botticelli chose a character from Roman mythology rather than a religious/Christian motif. Zephyr and his companion Aura float in the upper left corner of the picture, taking on the role of the “West Wind” to blow Venus towards the beach, where a figure awaits her with a noble cloth to cover her naked body. Standing in elegant nakedness, Venus is the first female nude of modern times. M K Anisko, an emerging Polish painter, retains the majority of Botticelli’s composition in his recent painting, but transforms the color scheme into an eye-catching explosion of intense turquoise, violet and green.
The Creation of Adam
The Creation of Adam is a section of Michelangelo’s world-famous ceiling fresco in the Sistine Chapel. The painting shows Adam’s hand on the left side of the image, pointing his forefinger to the hand of God in the right edge of the frame; the hands do not quite touch. While the hand of God appears strong and graceful, the hand of Adam appears somewhat powerless and exhausted. As a symbol of the origin of all human life, Michelangelo’s masterpiece embodies the origin of creation, but also the insurmountable gap between humanity and the divine. In Simone Kocher’s contemporary interpretation, it is Eve’s hand that stretches to the divine. To bridge the distance, God holds out a sweet lollipop. Perhaps this is an allusion to the Fall of Man in Paradise, which combines creation with temptation.
The School of Athens
The School of Athens is a fresco by Italian painter Raphael. The wall painting pays tribute to history’s foremost philosophers – Plato and Aristotle. Platonic-oriented thinkers are shown in the left-hand edge of the picture, while on the right-hand side we see Aristotle-facing scholars. The fresco commemorates the origins of European culture and its forefathers of philosophy, art and science. Lluis Barba’s modern counterpart also captures cultural icons of modernity, but the focus this time is on the music industry’s biggest stars, like Elvis Presley and Robbie Williams. There are, however, spiritual personalities sprinkled among the guests. Can you see them?
Interested in more “Modern Renaissance”? Discover these original contemporary works inspired by the Renaissance’s old masters: