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A Comparison Between Early and High Renaissance

Categorically, the Renaissance period is placed in three categories, namely: Early, High and Late Renaissance. These three phases follow each other chronologically from the Early to Late Renaissance. Also, there is a significant difference and similarities between the Early and High Renaissance in several aspects. Even though the High Renaissance is an advanced period in art history compared to the Early Renaissance, some commonalities are shared between the two periods. However, the similarities between the Early and High Renaissance have some slight differences because of the improvements made in the High Renaissance. A comparison between the Early and High Renaissance can be made in the victories of Florence, the setting of Madonna and Christ the Child, the commissioning of artworks, painting style and pastoral poetry.

First, there are commonalities between the Early and High Renaissance in Florence’s victories. In the Early Renaissance, Florence was faced with several attacks from the neighbouring cities. In those attacks and some that did not happen, Florence emerged victorious. With such victories, the then artist such as Donatello and Verrocchio would sculpt David. Biblically, the victory of Florence over its enemies was likened to the victory of David over Goliath. A similar trend happened in the High Renaissance when Florence defeated the Medici family, which was the de facto ruler of Florence. After the victory, Michelangelo sculptured another David as a symbol of Florence’s victory over the Medici family. Importantly, all the sculptures of David, as in Contrapposto, both in the Early and High Renaissance.

Secondly, another way to compare the Early and High Renaissance is by looking at who commissioned artworks. In the Early Renaissance period, much of the commissioning of artworks was done by merchants and wealthy individuals such as the Medici family. The Medici family commissioned several artworks in Florence as it sought eternal life. On the contrary, in the quest to rebuild Rome and make it a great city again, much of the artwork commissioning was done by popes. First, it was done by the Warrior Pope Julius II, and later on, his work was carried on by Pope Paul II. For example, Pope Paul II commissioned the painting of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Even though some wealthy individuals also commissioned some artworks in the High Renaissance period. For instance, Agnolo Doni commissioned Tondo Doni to Michelangelo. In Rome, all the commissioning of artwork was done by the cardinals and Popes, while in Florence, it was done by wealthy merchants.

Furthermore, there is a difference in the painting style used in both the Early and High Renaissance. During the Early Renaissance period, artists such as Della Francesca used frescos to paint, and their paintings were made from frescoes. Using frescoes was quite a difficult thing to do. This is because artists had limited time to paint before the fresco could dry- they had to paint on the wet fresco so that the paint could stick and not peel away. It was a matter of race against time for artists and, thus, could spend much time painting several high frescoes. Whereas in the High Renaissance, frescoes were still in use, there was another painting style. For example, in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted using the frescoes on the vaults of the chapel. Oil paint was used in the High Renaissance period, first by Leonardo da Vinci and later on by Titian. Painting using oil was effective because it allowed artists to paint layer after layer without them coming off. Oil paint allowed the artist to modify their painting and include other images that were initially not in the painting.

In addition, in the Early Renaissance period, Madonna was painted holding Christ, the baby. Madonna was painted seated on the throne and could be surrounded by angels and other saints. For instance, in Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Fra Filippo Lippi. While in the High Renaissance, Madonna is painted without a throne and is with Christ, the baby. In several paintings of the High Renaissance, Madonna is painted with John the Baptist and Christ, the Child. For example, the Madonna of the Goldfinch by Raphael. There is no halo or angels around them. Madonna is set in the earthly setting with trees and mountains in the vicinity. Also, it is the High Renaissance that pastoral poetry is revived.

In conclusion, the Early and High Renaissance have similarities in the use of David as a symbol of victory but differs the commissioners of artwork, style of painting and the setting of the Madonna and Christ the child. The High Renaissance period gave rise to the rebirth of Rome and the revival of pastoral poetry, which had long been forgotten. The painting style adopted in High Renaissance is very flexible to artists, unlike the use of frescoes. Much of the Early Renaissance elements are seen in the High Renaissance.


Christine Zappella, “Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” in Smarthistory, August 9, 2015, accessed June 14, 2023,

Dr. Esperança Camara, “Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel,” in Smarthistory, November 28, 2015, accessed June 14, 2023,

Dr. Esperança Camara, “Titian, Pastoral Concert,” in Smarthistory, November 21, 2015, accessed June 14, 2023,

Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, “Michelangelo, David,” in Smarthistory, December 6, 2020, accessed June 14, 2023,

Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, “Raphael, Madonna of the Goldfinch,” in Smarthistory, November 28, 2015, accessed June 14, 2023,


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