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Who are the Old Masters?

The Old Masters were European artists working before 1800. Their work was characterized by extreme technical skill and a certain sense of distinctive and sometimes haunting beauty which has kept the artwork popular through the centuries. Since the time period for works of art classified as old masters is broad, a huge assortment of artistic styles and techniques are encompassed under this umbrella term, as are a range of artists including Goya, Dürer, da Vinci, Tintoretto, Raphael, and Vermeer, among many others.

The Old Masters often worked under the supervision of guilds or collectives. Many old masters also worked for and with patrons, who were an important part of the art world during this period. The old master period reflects a very volatile period in European history, as the Renaissance marked major changes in the European way of life.

Below, you can read about some of the Old Masters and what characterized their work.


GIOTTO (1266-1327)

Giotto was a painter and architect from Florence in the late Middle Ages. He is generally considered the first in a line of great artists who contributed to the Italian Renaissance.


STEFANO DI GIOVANNI, (1392-1450)

Di Giovanni, known as il Sassetta, was known for his fusion of traditional and contemporary elements in his paintings, transitioning from Gothic to Renaissance style. Berenson owned three Sassetta panels, including Saint Francis in Ecstsy, pictured to the left,  as part of his collection.


UCCELLO (1397-1475)

Uccello was known for his pioneering work on visual perspective in art. Unlike his contemporaries who used perspective as a means to narrate stories, Ucello employed perspective to create a feeling of depth in his paintings. He also belonged to the Late Gothic tradition, emphasizing color and pageantry over Classical realism that was beginning to take hold of the art movements.


MASSACIO (1401-1428)

Massacio was the first great painter of the Quattro Cento period of the Italian Renaissance. Masaccio was considered the best painter of his generation because of his skill at recreating lifelike figures and movements as well as a convincing sense of three-dimensionality.


DELLA FRANCESCA (1415-1492)

della Francesca was an artist of the Early Renaissance. He was also known as a mathematician and geometer, and his paintings are known for their use of geometric forms in relation to perspective and foreshortening.


BELLINI (1430-1516)

Bellini was the founder of the Venetian school of painting. He moved Venetian painting to a more sensuous and coloristic style, using rich tints and shadings. His work was especially influential on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.


BOTTICELLI (1445-1510)

Botticelli is one of the most important figures of the late fifteenth-century Florentine school. His art was closely associated with humanist culture. With Botticelli begins the trend toward poetic and philosophical expression in art that depends on the interests of its patrons and that characterizes much' of the painting of the High Renaissance after 1500. His work represents the linear grace of Early Renaissance painting.


GIORGIONE (1447-1510)

Giorgione was the first to paint landscapes with figures, the first to paint movable pictures in their own frames with no devotional, allegorical, or historical purpose and the first whose colors possessed that ardent, glowing, and melting intensity which was so soon to typify the work of all the Venetian School.


LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519)

da Vinci is history's foremost Renaissance man, a master of both art and science. Da Vinci is best known as the artist who created such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa, Madonna of the Rocks, and The Last Supper. Yet he was also a brilliant scientist, architect, engineer, and inventor.


TITIAN (1488-1576)

Titian was one of the most versatile of Italian painters, equally adept with portraits, landscape backgrounds, and mythological and religious subjects. His painting methods, particularly in the application and use of color, would exercise a profound influence not only on painters of the Italian Renaissance, but on future generations of Western art.


TINTORETTO (1518-1594)

Tintoretto was part of the Venetian school. He was known for his energy in painting (earning his the nickname Il Furioso), his dramatic use of perspective space and special lighting effects which made him a precursor of Baroque art.


SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (1577-1640)

Rubens was a prolific seventeenth-century Flemish Baroque painter, and a proponent of an extravagant Baroquestyle that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. He is well-known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.  In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp which produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically-educated humanist scholar, art collector, and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.


REMBRANDT (1606-1669)

Rembrandt was a Dutch painter and etcher, generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history. His primary subjects were portraiture, landscape and narrative painting.  Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.  In both painting and printmaking he exhibited a complete knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt's knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of Amsterdam's Jewish population. Because of his empathy for the human condition, he has been called "one of the great prophets of civilization."


GOYA (1746-1828)

Goya was regarded as the last of the Old Masters and as the first of the moderns. Goya was a court painter to the Spanish Crown, and through his works was both a commentator on and chronicler of his era. The subversive and imaginative element in his art, as well as his bold handling of paint, provided a model for the work of later generations of artists.
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