How did the masters of the Italian Renaissance study (part 1)
Verrocchio, Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo. The greatest geniuses. What a vivid personality and how much they differ from each other! What unites the unsurpassed masters of that time, which bears the name of the Renaissance? Not only new in comparison with the Middle Ages – interest in antiquity, a different theme and spiritual richness of works. At the heart of everyone’s creativity is a new professional method of teaching fine art in workshops.
In the Middle Ages, artists were treated as artisans. In the Renaissance, kings and popes began to dispute them from each other, seducing with luxurious orders. However, artists continued to enter corporations or workshops like artisans, and the first years of their training in art were no different from learning a craft. Many famous sculptors, such as the Florentines Lorenzo Ghiberti and Luca della Robbia, started as goldsmiths and studied with jewelers. Often the artist’s skill, as well as the craft, has been handed down from generation to generation – recall the families of Florentine sculptors della Robbia and the Venetian painters of Bellini.
So, how could a young man begin to engage in art? According to legend, Giotto, for example, was a shepherd and, having fun, painted sheep in the sand. The drawings were noticed by the painter Cimabue, his future teacher. But this is a legend, and usually it happened like this: the parents or friends of a boy who became interested in art (who, as a rule, was about ten years old) brought a famous master of his work. If the artist saw that the teenager was not devoid of abilities, he took him to his students.
The training period usually lasted at least three years. The beginning artist spent most of the time in the teacher’s workshop, and sometimes lived there. The master undertook to maintain it at his own expense. At first, the life of the student was monotonous, and the work resembled the work of a handyman. From the very first days, the beginner was shown how to make gesso, mixing gypsum, glue and water, how to apply this soil to a board or canvas, and how to prepare plaster for a mural. The student had to grind and mix paints. All this required great accuracy and accuracy.
Gradually, he began to engage directly in drawing and painting, copying the teacher’s work and become works of other artists, participated in the creation of cardboard – a preparatory drawing for a painting or a fresco, and received advice and instructions from both the master himself and older, more experienced students. The teacher considered daily exercises necessary for his students. When asked what is the best method of teaching art, the great Donatello always answered: “In art, to do and remake is to improve.”
Finally, the long-awaited day for the young artist came: the teacher instructed him to make part of the background of the picture, on which he was working at that time. Then the student was entrusted with increasingly complex and crucial parts of the fresco or painting, together with others he even painted whole figures. Recall the picture of Andrea Verrocchio “The Baptism of Christ.” The angel depicted on the left was written by his student, the young Leonardo da Vinci. And then it was recognized that the aspiring artist surpassed his teacher. Sometimes, from the whole composition, only the central group belonged to the master’s brush. In some cases, the paintings were entirely written by the students, the teacher only thought out the composition and made cardboard, and at the end he walked slightly with a brush over the most important details. Most often, the master needed the help of the students when he was making the mural, since it had to be finished before the plaster dries.
Gradually, the workshops began to provide an increasingly diverse art education. In the workshop of Andrea Verrocchio, along with painting, sculpture, drawing, foundry and construction, anatomy, optics, mathematics, and perspective were studied. And it was here that Leonardo da Vinci, Pietro Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi – bright and completely unlike each other painters, began their creative work. Although the teacher was the main authority and mentor for young artists and inspired them with his work, the individuality of the pupils was not suppressed in any way, since they, having mastered the methodology of the master, developed their own abilities on its basis. It was this technique that was the core of training. It happened that even not particularly outstanding, middle-class artists in their workshop gave such an education that real masters came out of it. So, Andrea Mantegna was a student of the insignificant painter Francesco Svarchone, but he managed to instill in the young man a love of ancient art, discovered a great talent in him. On the other hand, artists with not very great abilities, leaving the workshop, became