The Meaning of Art in the Renaissance

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

In her introduction to Renaissance Art: A Very Short Introduction (public library), Geraldine A. Johnson explains that our current understanding of what constitutes art began during the Renaissance:
As we shall see, many of the paintings, sculptures, and drawings by Renaissance artists now displayed in museums or highlighted in tourist guidebooks as artistic masterpieces would originally have been evaluated not only or even primarily in aesthetic terms, but rather viewed as functional objects with carefully selected iconographies produced for defined sacred or secular purposes that had evolved from venerable and often still-ongoing traditions.  At the same time, it is precisely during the Renaissance that the modern concept of 'Art' (with a capital 'A') first began to emerge, together with related notions about the status of the artist as creative genius, the importance of originality (rather than craftsmanship) in assessing the merit of art objects, and the significance of using aesthetic criteria to judge works of art" (3).
Renaissance Art with pigment color swatches.
Incarnate Beauty also features the Very Short Introduction volumes on beauty, art history, art theory, and modern art.  The Very Short Introduction series is published by Oxford University Press.