Italian Renaissance—Curiosity and Youth

Bernard Berenson, an American art historian, turned his gaze to the drawings, paintings, and sculptures of the 14th through the 17th centuries. What his keen, academically gifted eyes beheld were remarkable works of Art worthy of the great tradition of Western Art. Berenson followed his instincts and, by doing so, paved the way for other academics to study the creative work of this epoch moment of time. By doing so, Berenson was at the forefront of establishing a new academic field of study which we call today the Renaissance. Berenson gave intellectual gravitas to the body of work of artists of the highest curiosity and youth.

In Berenson’s definitive publication, The Venetian Painters (1894), the author lays the foundation for this new realm of study with the following passage: “The Renaissance…stands for youth, and youth alone—for intellectual curiosity and energy grasping at the whole of life as material which it hopes to mould to any shape.”

What are your thoughts and expectations as we venture forth together by stepping back in time to the early 15th century and examining the epoch power of intellectual curiosity and the vibrancy/energy of youth? Is this era of time still resonating with us?

Bernard Berenson Examining a Painting

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

25 Comments

25 thoughts on “Italian Renaissance—Curiosity and Youth”

  1. Being completely honest, If someone asked me to describe the Renaissance in two words, I would not have picked youthful and curious. Thinking and looking at Italian Renaissance paintings specifically from the 16th century, I get a much more sophisticated and formal vibe. One of the most known paintings from this era is Mona Lisa. Made in 1503, Mona Lisa sits with a stiff posture. This painting, besides her subtle smile, does not feel youthful. I am excited to see how becoming more educated on the topic can change my point of view.

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  2. The 15th century was a bridge between the Middle Ages, the Early Renaissance, and the early modern period, which if I’m not mistaken was a catalyst for much of globalization and modernism. I’m excited to learn about how art played a role during such a pivotal time in history as well as how these times play a role in the role of the various artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo. I’m curious to see how the ‘epoch of intellectual curiosity’ and the ‘vibrancy/energy of youth’ had an influence on the artists/creators/leaders. of the time. My question, in a nutshell, would be, ‘Is it the time that defines the man, or the man that defines the time?” Of course, by ‘man’, I am referring to the individual.

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  3. In regards to Berenson’s suggestion that the Renaissance period was one of intellectual curiosity-driven by youth, I would most wholeheartedly agree. As was mentioned, two of the driving forces that define the Renaissance period are curiosity and youth. I would also suggest that this same passionate foundation is what inspires the creation of artwork today. In my personal experience, I constantly come across young artists. These artists may just be starting or have been making art since a child. No matter the case, there is a powerful motivating force behind young artists today and I would suggest Berenson’s notion of curiosity to be the reason.

    I currently have limited knowledge of 15th-century art and I am eager to gain knowledge on not only the pieces to be covered, but the motivations, feelings, backgrounds, and cultures of the actual artists. As is most typical with prehistoric art, say early civilization cave paintings or pottery, there was seldom a name attached to the work. In our research of 15th-century artwork, I hope to see a more personal aspect of the artwork through reflective looks into the artists.

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  4. To examine the power, intellectual curiosity and vibrant/energetic youth of the Renaissance, I want to find a connection by stepping into Renaissance shoes to figure out what their challenges and issues were. I can see no other way to discover whether or not ancient times resonate with my own – this way I can find what parallels and similarities exist between the 21st Century and the Renaissance.

    Some things never change – Sex, drugs, money, politics … the youth of any age that know better than their elders – the older generation that shakes a fist at youthful shenanigans… (I’m jealous and I want my stolen youth returned).
    I imagine Renaissance artists thought they were fresh and new and no one else ever thought the way they did – the advantage we have in studying Art History is that we can see this evolution. Art uniquely shows how fashion and fetishes change. Art reflects society’s changes and similarities across time.

    I love the imagery here: “grasping at the whole of life as material which it hopes to mould to any shape.” Such amazing aspiration – to take every life lesson learned, every talent gained and create yourself, your point of view – to become something and someone new – to make your mark. Art can do that.

    I look forward to this opportunity to compare and contrast arts influential change over centuries – and hopefully gain some insight into how I view my own time.

    I’m definitely disappointed this won’t be an in person class. I think learning from each other is nearly as important as reading the texts and lectures. I’m hoping this blog connects me to ways of thinking that only come from getting to know other points of view.

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  5. When I consider the meaning of renaissance art, I consider more of religion, complexity, realism, and sometimes darkness or hope. I have never once considered youth. I think of religion being pushed onto the people or a message of hope trying to be conveyed through God. If I try to force myself to consider youth in these paintings, I would connect it to the nudity, or portrayal of young children or women- such as Lady with an Ermine (1489), or Primavera (1482). Whereas before the Renaissance Era was the Medieval period where more violence and wars appeared in paintings. There seemed to be less religion and hope. I believe the intellectual curiosity came with the people exploring religion to escape troubling times. I feel like this era of time does still resonate with us, but not as dramatically as before and not with everyone. I feel like some still look to religion for answers or hope, but not all.

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  6. Thinking back on the Renaissance, it had never occurred to me that the works of the “old masters” would be the production of a youth movement. When thought about, it makes sense that a force for change in the cultural zeitgeist would be driven by youth, and not the establishment.
    I am looking forward to getting a deeper understanding of who these important characters in our history are, and the forces at play that inspired their hands.

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  7. If I was asked to define the Renaissance in short terms, it would be an era of emerging religious arts. Curiosity and youth, especially youth, is a new idea or concept for me, mostly because I believed Renaissance arts were all concise inventions of Masters of painting, drawing, and sculptures in the era. Thus, I am very excited to examine and explore the Renaissance in the eyes of curiosity in what have inspired the arts and youth that sits behind them.

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  8. When I try to create and develop a running definition for the Renaissance I think more of Curiosity, humanism and youth/young. From my years in school I have always thought of Renaissance arts has a pivotal change in regards to arts, philosophy and technology. I am eager and excited to learn, view and explore the Renaissance arts periods to see what actually inspired the arts, humanism and the youth that sits nearly behind this period in art.

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  9. “Curiosity and youth” “epoch power” those phrases pack a punch haha I love these words for describing the Renaissance. I like to think of the Renaissance as the beginning of an awakening. People just started to realize like hey I don’t need to be confined to this one single mindset that every person has. The beauty of being human is that we all have a different perspective on things. And so humanism was introduced and art, literature, philosophy, science, all of those beautiful things were pushed in new directions and looked at in new ways (in what ways? idk, but I hope to learn about that in this class). It is hard for people who are older to change their mindset, it just it. But young people on the other hand, have still-developing frontal brain lobes that are trying to figure how they view the world and what their place within it is. That is why the youth are the ones constantly questioning and challenging all of the close-minded people and rules in society. Does this era still resonate with us today? 100%. Change is always driven by the youth, change is being driven by the youth right this very second up and down streets around the entire globe.

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    1. The first thing that pops up into my head as I hear the word Italian Renaissance are huge white statues of men in robes. I know that there were many greek mythology paintings and sculptures that were inspired by the greek mythology. Another thing that was inspired by artists back in the 15th century was their religion. I remembered seeing pictures of angels and mascuine men in robes. I see it as if the artists back then were showing their worship using art. I am very excited to learn what inspired people to do art and why do they do it.

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  10. The first thing that pops up into my head as I hear the word Italian Renaissance are huge white statues of men in robes. I know that there were many Greek mythology paintings and sculptures that were inspired by Greek mythology. Another thing that was inspired by artists back in the 15th century was their religion. I remembered seeing pictures of angels and masculine men in robes. You can think of it as these artists back then were showing who they worship using art. I am very excited to learn what inspired people to do art and why do they do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Even with taking an art history class previously I had never been presented with the idea or considered the Renaissance era to be the era of youth. However, seeing the growth the art during this time period and the previous I certainly had thought of it as being the era of curiosity and experimentation as you can clearly see the shift in the style that these artists were beginning to present to the public. I had always considered this era to be so heavily entwined with religion, that I think that was part of the reason I had never thought about it being a youthful era because when I think of religion it is always very structured and formal; which typically would not leave room for youthful creativity that is trying to push boundaries.

    To me the push of exploration took form in these artists figuring out how to take their art from two dimensional to three dimensional and in turn creating that sense of realism that we all know of the time period. However, I am plenty excited to see how this era of art is considered the era of youth.

    I think the Renaissance era of style is still extremely relevant today, even ignoring that we have entire classes and careers that are completely devoted to studying this art, I would argue that any type of realistic art draws influence from this time period. Whether it is with or without that conscious understanding by the artist, without this shift, or willingness to experiment, art would probably not be in the place that it is today. Of course that does not only count for realism, but it is the easiest to make the connection to.

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  12. On our first day of class and reading the syllabus I was not sure of what to expect about the renaissance. I have only covered the renaissance once so far in my academic career and it was in a dance class. Dance history to be exact and I learned about famous dances such as galliard and court dances. These dances could be very fast with leaps or slow and calculated. It is interesting to think while Michaelangelo was preparing for one of his sculptures such as David, he could have been in a palace attending court and watching these dances. I also think that Leonardo da Vinci’s use of perspective was way before his time and is used so interestingly today. The pictures posted on the slides are fun to look out and make you feel as if you are standing in the room. I am excited to learn more!

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  13. Coming into this class, I was not to sure what to expect learning about the 15th Century/Renaissance because of how far back that and how little I myself know about it. Doing very little research on my own I know its a lot of religious art and historical pieces of art. When I think 15th Century I don’t think anything really comes to mind so hopefully this can be a culture shock to me. As we get into it I’m interested in learning about art history and hopefully I would want to come out with a whole new perspective. I’m not an art major so I have not really looked at and interpreted art ever so I’m coming into this excited and hopeful.

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  14. I have always been a fan of the Renaissance and I am very excited to learn more! I never thought about the Renaissance having to do with curiosity and youth before but I can kind of see it now! I excited to see more works throughout this section and hope there will be more videos as well! The ones so far have been very interesting!

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  15. My thoughts as we venture into this earlier time and explore the art are very limited because I unfortunately do not know enough about art, especially art that was produced in this era to formulate an opinion. I expect to gain a deeper appreciation for art and learn some of the motives shared by artists of this time. I do believe this era of time still resonates with us as the works of art of this era are still seem to be highly celebrated.

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  16. I believe that Berenson’s quote is an astoundingly accurate depiction of the Renaissance period and a realistic portrayal of today’s day and age. The part stating that the Renaissance, “stands for youth and youth alone—for intellectual curiosity” reminds of how the Renaissance was a revolutionary period that birthed new ideas and the younger generations that are continuously searching for new knowledge the creation of what is new. The next part of the quote that states, “the whole of life as a material which it hopes to mold to a shape” is personally interpreted as being the collision of new ideas and the impact it has on the transformation of art.

    I expected that this course would surprise me with its detailed texts regarding artworks and its abundance of exciting, new facts regarding works of art I have studied previously. However, I am left with a feeling of excitement regarding the opportunity of furthering my examination of intellectual curiosity and the vibrancy/energy of youth since it will allow me to expand my understanding of this epoch power.

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  17. I didn’t have any expectations for this course, but I love art history! I am happy to be learning more about the Italian Renaissance, because I already know a bit about the politics, Davinci, Michaelangelo, and what was going on then. What we have learned so far is a nice enhancer to what I knew! The topic is still relevant to what is going on today, because it seems we are still humanists, and learning value the individual more. Especially in the last 100 years or so, people and women especially are having more individual rights and autonomy. We have social media where a person’s profile is a timeline or cross section of their uniqueness, and with social media we can celebrate the individual by liking their posts, and reading about their stories ranging from what they ate for lunch, or seeing them post pictures of their new babies. We have come so far, but yet we still have so far to go. Another way that the Italian Renaissance is relevant today, is that many of us ascribe to fit into ‘perfect’ physical proportions and fit into societal standards of what beauty is, and consciously or subconsciously I think we all view beauty as somewhat divine, or a divine blessing – just like they did back then.

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  18. Youth can be descriptive of not just age, but almost a mindset setting forth a new precedence.

    Historically, the Renaissance Era indulged immensly; freely expressive and with deep curiosity. Some would say these are traits that youth hold, especially children.

    Adults being able to take freedom of expression to then create, innovate, practice, and dedicate themselves towards their art is in truth; curious and youthful. Especially when the results show the works of great artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

    I think a fault most people do is generalize too quickly what words can mean, especially during a time where history is something we can try to understand and never be in experience of. When privileges, education, and resources we have now were nothing close to what they had. Or what great art meant in lack of abundance then.

    So something like the scissor (not archaic version) created by Leonardo da Vinci for example, is a true staple for the kind of ingenuity that came from youthfull and curious artistic expression via fully developed mind.

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    1. I would say that any radical change in history owes itself to curiosity. Marked changes in social, political, or artistic arenas began with someone questioning the status quo and looking for a better way. Often this curiosity is found exclusively in the youth of the time. In my experience, I have found that young people see change as exciting and filled with potential, and older people see change as threatening. With that being said, I would not have to make a far leap to assume that youth played an integral part in bringing about the Renaissance.
      I began writing this after I had already read through the slides, so I can’t look forward with expectation, but I can reflect back on my original thoughts. The artists of the time were not as young as I expected; however, especially in the case of Michelangelo, an air of youth could be distinctly felt in their earlier works. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has a noticeable youthful exuberance that The Last Judgment does not.
      I do believe we are still connected to this time period. Humanistic thought and expression that arose from and defined the Renaissance time period can still be seen in art and social constructs today.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I would say that any radical change in history owes itself to curiosity. Marked changes in social, political, or artistic arenas began with someone questioning the status quo and looking for a better way. Often this curiosity is found exclusively in the youth of the time. In my experience, I have found that young people see change as exciting and filled with potential, and older people see change as threatening. With that being said, I would not have to make a far leap to assume that youth played an integral part in bringing about the Renaissance.
    I began writing this after I had already read through the slides, so I can’t look forward with expectation, but I can reflect back on my original thoughts. The artists of the time were not as young as I expected; however, especially in the case of Michelangelo, an air of youth could be distinctly felt in their earlier works. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has a noticeable youthful exuberance that The Last Judgment does not.
    I do believe we are still connected to this time period. Humanistic thought and expression that arose from and defined the Renaissance time period can still be seen in art and social constructs today

    Liked by 1 person

  20. My initial expectations were uncertain. I had no idea what I was getting into, other than a new experience with a hope of gaining a better insight into the world of art! After getting started, I really enjoyed understanding the new insights and viewpoints from the most prominent painters of the renaissance. This time must be resonating with our current generations or we wouldn’t have this class! I think the past gives us a great insight into how our cultures grow and learn, and art seems to be a great way to see into the past that can connect us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I did not know what to expect going into this class but I was drawn in by the renaissance in Florence, Italy because of my strong love and connection with the city. Curiosity I could see being a word to describe the renaissance however I would change youthfulness to religious. Cathedrals, marble statues of religious figures are widely seen throughout our lessons of the renaissance. I was so happy to share the renaissance in Italy with my family as they are very religious and adored these religious statues.

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  22. I honestly didnt know what i was post to expect going into this class, however I looked forward to taking in because giving the oppounity to learn the history of art. When hearing the word renaissance
    I think of the words like religious and culture. The words youthful and youth alone define renaissance.

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