Up until the 14th century there was little, if any, representation of the countryside and its buildings in frescoes. Vegetation and architectural features were just used to decorate the borders of the religious panels.
There were early renditions of landscape by Giotto and Lorenzetti around the 13th century but in the 1400s Protestant artists in the Netherlands, free from the constraints of a papal paymaster, were able to explore natural representation.
Artists like Van Eyck and Brughel started to hint at the luscious landscapes around them in the backgrounds of their paintings. The northern European art was soon to influence Italians, Massacio and della Francesco and landscapes began a common theme in the frescoes of the Mediterranean.
It is claimed by many that the landscapes of the late Byzantine and early Renaissance periods were fantasy or symbolic representations of real locations. Over time landscapes change, new buildings appear, trees are felled and roads constructed. However, what we can see in these old master’s pictures are elements of today’s scenery in their images.
There is a familiarity to the gentle curving hills, the many tall trunked trees and the aimlessly winding, tracks. There is also the blue Renaissance sky and the verdant greenery of the area, particularly around the valleys of the Tiber. Here Perugino, Signorelli, Raphaelo, and Michaelangelo all lived and worked, recording life and the surroundings.
Before this time nature had been relegated to the role of decorative foliage. Now though, the hills, forests and rivers played the part of a painted stage on which the artist’s characters acted out their stories.
One of the grandest of these is Benozzo Gozzolio’s enormous series “The Magi’s Procession” painted from 1459 to 1461. It testifies to the new importance placed on the landscape in the artist’s designs. The journey, is as familiar today as it was then and anyone who has walked around the countryside of central Italy will immediately feel at home.
In these frescoes you can see the artists discovering and inventing the conventions of perspective used today. As they battled with the notion of creating three-dimensional spaces, the rules about vanishing points, size difference and colour degradation were all experimented with in representing distance.
It is with the founding of these rules that the great landscapes of the 18th and 19th centuries would later be painted by Gainsborough, Canaletto and Turner. However, despite their simplicity there is an innate charm about them and a beautiful clarity about the world around.
Other noteable artists of the age –
- Giotto 1267 – 1337
- Fillippo Lippi 1406 – 1469
- Paolo Uccello 1395 – 1475
- della Francesco 1415 – 1492
- Botticelli 1445 – 1510
- Bosch 1450 – 1516
- Brughel the Elder
- Ghirlandio 1449 – 1494
- Signorelli 1450 – 1523
- Perugino 1448 – 1523
- Dieric Bouts 1415 – 1475
- Van der Weyden 1399 – 1464