Early Renaissance artists often used compositions that were symmetrical (though not rigidly so) or that
were roughly triangular in shape. A good example is Masaccio’s Trinity. The most important figures—
Christ, God the Father, and the dove of the Holy Spirit—are at the apex of the triangle; Mary and St. John
are lower, and the patrons are at the base of the triangle.
Pietro Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter similarly shows an orderly composition, but this time
the composition is based on symmetry. The most important figures are arranged in a row in the foreground
with a balanced arrangement of arches and a temple (all derived from Roman forms) in the background.
Perugino’s painting also shows variety in the poses of the figures and the clear outlines and colors that are
typical of Italian early Renaissance paintings.
Perugino, Delivery of the Key to St. Peter, 1483
Throughout the fifteenth century, the Medici became the most powerful family in Florence and the most
important patrons of the arts. In the early fifteenth century, Cosimo de’ Medici first saw how art and
architecture could increase his own stature in the city. (Cosimo was mentioned previously as the man who
owned Donatello’s David, which was set in the courtyard of his huge palace on one of Florence’s main
Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, was an even greater promoter of the arts than his grandfather
in the last quarter of the century. Lorenzo wanted to bring together all the great minds of his time,
recreating something like Plato’s famous academy in ancient Greece. Philosophers, poets, and artists
discussed the ideas of classical thought and combined them with their own beliefs to create a new
philosophy called Neoplatonism. Among the artists who worked for Lorenzo and his family was Sandro
Botticelli. Many of Botticelli’s paintings, like the Primavera and the Birth of Venus, have been interpreted
in light of Neoplatonic ideas. Both paintings depict Venus, the goddess of beauty, in an earthly setting: in
the Primavera, she is in a garden surrounded by other mythological beings including the three Graces and
Mercury; in the Birth of Venus, she has just been born from the sea, and she is about to be dressed in a
flowery garment.
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