Renaissance vs. Medieval Art

1. Medieval Art

Madonna, Lorenzo Monaco

Madonna, Lorenzo Monaco

The painter of this painting, Madonna, is Lorenzo Monaco. Lorenzo Monaco is a painter from Florence, Italy. His name literally means, “Lorenzo the Monk”. His real name is Piero di Giovanni but he is best known for his name of Lorenzo Monaco. He was born in c. 1372 and died in c. 1424. He is a very famous artist who painted gothic painting. He worked for Florence as an artist. In 1390, he studied religion in the Camaldolese monastery. He was there 1390 – 1395/1396.  Then he spent the rest of his lifetime fulfilling his time as an artist.

Moving on, the medium that Lorenzo Monaco used to draw Madonna was using tempera on panel. Tempera is a type of medium when you make paint with eggs and pigments. Pigments are dried powder to make different rich colors. For the eggs, you don’t just use the eggs; you just use the yolk of the egg because the white outer layer could make the painting unsuccessful. To make the tempera paint, you first get the egg yolk and then you mix it with a good ratio of water. Then you have to add the pigment and mix. The item that Lorenzo Monaco used to paint egg tempera on was a wooden panel. They were often used in the medieval and the renaissance times. They are flat wood that may be stuck to multiple pieces of wood.

Some good things about egg tempera are that it is non-toxic. Also you can create many different colors and colors you want by mixing pigments in the egg yolks. However, egg tempera also comes with disadvantages. Some are that egg tempera works well when it is used on panels made out of wood and not much of other papers. Another thing is that the paint dries very quickly. Also you can’t paint in thick colors and you have to layer them in order for it to create a darker shade of that color.

            From the painting’s title, one can infer that it is of Madonna or better-known Virgin Mary of the Christian religion. Madonna means Italian for “our lady”. From this, we can tell that this is a religious painting that was painted. Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus and is often depicted in art by herself or with baby Jesus. It is not common that she is not with her son Jesus in the paintings because the religious paintings usually describe the story of Jesus. However, there are some paintings with her alone, like this one.

            About the description of the painting, as mentioned before, the figure in the painting is Madonna, better known as Virgin Mary in the Christian religion. There are a lot of characteristics to the painting. First of all, I noticed that the background colors and parts of her clothes are painted with gold. In the medieval times, they often used gold when they were drawing religious characters of high positions such as Virgin Mary. Because the background and parts of her clothes were gold, her robe stands out better because the robe is of a vibrant blue color. Also, because the robe is wrapped around her head, the first thing that one’s mind goes to is her face, which might have been Lorenzo Monaco’s intention. This was a good idea because she is the most important part of the painting. The values of the robe is used well too because we can see every fold and the different shades of gray can be found in all of the folds. And the robe seems like it is that of clothing in real life. Also in the background, there are patterns engraved to it which adds to the inference that Madonna was a very exquisite and they had to decorate her.

Even though these are some good parts of the drawing, some parts such as the position of the face is lacking realism. This can be seen in the face part of Madonna. One can probably tell that her face is of a weird position that cannot be done in real life. Also the sizes and the proportions of the features of the face is un even because the nose and eyes are unbelievably long and the mouth is very small. Also the side of her face is too big and looks very flat. To improve this the tones of the face could be added such as shades of pink or red to make her seem more like real people. Also more shades could be added to the neck so that it would look like she was in a natural position.


2. Renaissance Art

Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo Da Vinci

Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo Da Vinci

The artist who painted Lady with an Ermine is Leonardo Da Vinci. He is from Florence, Italy. Italy was the heart of the renaissance. He is a very famous renaissance artist who was born on April 15th, 1452 and died on May 2, 1519. Because he was an illegitimate son of Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, unlike the other siblings of his, he wasn’t allowed to learn or wear good clothes. However, his father sent him to Verrocchio’s workshop when Leonardo was fourteen. He then learned various artistic skills by being an apprentice of Andrea di Cione or Verrocchio. When he was twenty he became a master in Guild of St Luke and began his professional life. He has a lot of famous pieces, two of which are Lady with an Ermine and Mona Lisa.

The medium that the artist used to draw this was oil and wood. In the medieval times, they used a lot of egg tempera. Even though they still used it in the renaissance, they moved on to something that was oil paintings. Oil paintings are similar to make with tempera paintings except that instead of putting pigments in the egg yolk, you put the pigments in the oils. Unlike egg tempera, which was used a lot in the middle ages, oil paintings became popular due to its thick and brilliant color. Unlike the tempera paint, which dries very quickly, oil paint, dries very slowly which helps the artist to mix the colors or change something if they wan to. These features make oil paint very easy to deal with, and it has a better outcome. However, the oil paint has a tendency to crack because when it dries, it shrinks. This is one of oil paints defects.

            What this painting can be depicted by the title of the painting, which is Lady with an Ermine. Unlike some pieces you can’t really tell what it is about because a story or a sign of a story isn’t depicted in the painting. However, one can see that the Lady with the ermine is looking at a distance with the ermine and one can tell that they are both looking at something interesting. With some research I have found out that this drawing is of a woman called Cecilia Gallerani, who was Leonardo’s Patron.

This is a very exquisite piece of work and a lot of things can be described. For example, because the background is a darker color, the colors where the light is hitting the lady, which is her face, is emphasized which might be the point of this painting. Also, the band that goes around her head has a shadow that is painted under it so one can see exactly where the band is on her head and how the elastic is squeezing it. The proportions of this piece are great because her eyes and nose and mouth are in a position and size of how real people would look like. Also the ermine looks like it is in the lady’s arms and not in the air. Also the values were used well because the shadings of the clothes, make it seem like a person can actually touch the fabric and it seems like velvet. The colors were used very well because there are not a lot of bright lively colors and dark colors together that were used. The color’s used were all rich dark colors which helped the piece look more fine and darker with no breaks when someone looks at the painting.


3. Compare and Contrast



            These art works that I have introduced, Madonna by Lorenzo Monaco and Lady with an ermine by Leonardo Da Vinci, have a lot of similarities and differences.

First of all, Madonna and Lady with an ermine have a lot of similarities. For example, the backgrounds are one whole color, which makes both of the lady’s stand out compared to the background and it makes us focus on the people more rather than the things behind them. Also how value is used to make the robe for Madonna and the dress for the Lady seem like real fabric is similar because they both used shading techniques to make sure that the fabric seems real and flowing. Another similar and obvious fact is that both of them are drawings of women, however, one is with an animal. One last similar fact is that they both aren’t looking front and are looking sideways.

Even if there are a lot of similarities, there are a lot of differences as well. For example, the proportions are one of the major differences. When the lady with an ermine has the features of a person in the face such as the size of the eyes, nose and mouth, Madonna doesn’t have equal features. Lorenzo Monaco made it so that her nose is longer and her mouth is very small. Her eyes are longer to the sides and the side of her face is very big making her seem abstract. Another difference is that the Lady with an ermine uses more colors, which makes the piece seem more real and vibrant. In real life, even though there seems to be only one color of something, there are a lot of different colors in that one color as well. In Madonna, primarily two colors where used which were blue and gold. However, in Lady with an ermine a variety of colors were used for example black, red, white, brown, gold etc. which made the piece seem more realistic. Also oil paint was used when drawing lady with an ermine when in Madonna, egg tempera was used. These made lady with an ermine have more vibrant colors and Madonna with stale light colors.

As I mentioned before the use of values affect the difference or similarity between these two paintings. Even though I mentioned that the use of value were used very good in both of the paintings considering the shades of the robes, the value was used better in the Lady with an ermine than Madonna. Even though Madonna used a lot of different values and shades of grey to make the robe look more real, he lacked in making the face with different values therefore, making the face look more flat and boring. This can be seen the side of her face. The side of her face looks very flat because there aren’t a lot of shades added to the face. This can also be seen in the nose because the nose looks small thanks to the little shading that was put in to it. A suggestion that can made for the artist is that if he added more darker values, he can make the piece look more realistic like the Lady with an Ermine.

Just as the use of values affect the different or similarity between these two paintings, the artists’ understanding of proportion and anatomy affect the difference or similarities between these two paintings. First of all, this can be seen best in the proportions of the face. When the sizes of the ermine and the lady are according to how people look in real life now, the face of Madonna looks unreal because the proportions are weird considering that the nose is too long and abnormal and the mouth is very small. Also Madonna’s face was very big compared to her body unlike the lady with an ermine, which was the right size for a body like hers. The anatomy of Madonna’s neck went wrong and one can infer that the artist clearly didn’t know much about an anatomy of a human body. However, Da Vinci can be seen using a lot of anatomy by looking at the bends in the lady’s hands and how to claws are bent in the ermine.


4. On Renaissance art

Before we talk a bout the artwork and the artists of the Renaissance, we must talk about how different the Renaissance and the medieval art were and why they are different. As the Germanic tribes came in, in the medieval period there were diseases and famines and little community. Therefore, a lot of people were dependent on god and the church. However, since the start of the Renaissance, things started to change a bit. The Renaissance actually means “rebirth” and this is what the period was about. The works of art, science, math etc. from the roman and Greek times were re discovered and in the renaissance, people cared about knowledge more than in the medieval times where everything revolved around religion. Also it was believed that the artists of the medieval times weren’t allowed to be better than each other and to be on the same level while it was different in the renaissance. The renaissance had an idea of individualism.

For the artwork, in the medieval times, the artists only drew things telling stories of the bible or a religious figure since the period was all about god and religion. However, in the renaissance, the idea of humanism came to place. Humanism is the philosophy of thinking that humans were the most superior beings. While in the medieval period the artwork looked flat and unrealistic, the artwork of the renaissance looked alive and real because of humanism and anatomy of the human body. This was because they cared mostly about humans and not much of religion.

The things that the artists of the renaissance were trying to accomplish were humanism and realism. Because they cared about humans they wanted to draw them as they saw them. Also they wanted realism of the human body and the proportions, values, and anatomy.

Like mentioned before, the thing that renaissance artists wanted to accomplish was realism and humanism. To learn and accomplish these goals the renaissance artists took a lot of risks. First of all to learn anatomy they under took something called dissection or an autopsy. A dissection or an autopsy is when people take apart a once living thing to find out what goes on inside of the human. Some of the artists would go and dig up graves or cut open dead criminals. An artist name Caravaggio went to an extreme by actually murdering a person. By doing a dissection, the artist learned about the muscles and insides of the human body, which made it possible for them to draw such realistic figures.

As the thoughts of humanism and realism as changed the use of value and the understanding of proportion and anatomy in the Renaissance changed art as well.

First of all, the use of value changed renaissance art. In the renaissance most of the colors is all one tone and the artists didn’t know that there were different colors in one color. For example, even if a pink pencil looks pink, there are sides and values where it is darker than the rest. However, in the renaissance times, the artists looked around and observed their surroundings, which made their artwork more realistic and improved their artwork.

Secondly, the understanding of proportion changed renaissance art. In the medieval times one can see that the proportion of the human body was not right. Sometimes the head will be too big or vise versa etc. However, in the renaissance this didn’t happen because the artists observed the human body often going to the extreme of having an autopsy of the human body. The understanding of proportion made the artwork of the renaissance look more realistic and more 3D.

Lastly, anatomy in the renaissance changed art in the renaissance as well. Like mentioned before, the renaissance artists had an autopsy on people and that helped them learn about anatomy, which is the study of the body. By looking at the insides of the animals or people, they learned about how the inside works and that helped them to draw the outsides as well.


my fish drawing


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my value scale

Throughout this unit, I have developed a lot about my understanding of value, proportion, and anatomy. For value, I never knew about value that much until I have learned it in this class. I have done the value scale before but I had done it with hatching and I had no idea that it was called the value scale since I learned it in Korean. I learned from value that even though an object seems like it is one color, it has many shades of grey in it and that it is not the same color. Also I learned that the value scale doesn’t always have to be white to dark, it can be any color on the value scale. For proportion, I learned that this was a critical part of drawing and a critical part of being an artist. For example, this was used when we were drawing the fish. For the fish, Miss. Zaza taught us how to make the proportion just right by having a ratio of the charcoal and the fish to find out how much bigger the body is to the tail. I used this and I learned that I must also do this in the future. I also learned about and developed my thoughts on anatomy. Because we cut open the fish and drew the bones I found out how the insides are important and how they look. Also I learned from the insides of the fish that the insides were very dark and deep so we had to use value to show this.

Finally, I have improved a lot as an artist as I had a lot of experience these past few weeks. For example, I learned about how to hold a brush when using egg tempera. I had to hold it softly and not rub the brush on the canvas. Also found out about some different elements of art, which is line, and value and they were very useful. I am looking forward to finding more about these as I go up grades. Also I became a better artist by improving my observation skills. From the contour drawings I first learned about observation because you had to catch every little detail. And from the fish drawings and the bone trial drawing I also learned this because there were little details that I had to catch. Overall, I enjoyed this unit.


Works Cited

도, 병훈. 청소년을 위한 서양미술사. 서울: 두리미디어, 2013. Print.

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“Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo Da Vinci. 1483-90. Oil on wood, 53.4 x 39.3 cm. Czartoryski Museum, Krakow. <>.

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“Madonna, Religious.” – Origins of Marian Art, Emergence of the Mothering Madonna, Sentiment versus Scripture. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <>.

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