Contemporary photograph of the Florence Cathedral, with Brunelleschi’s dome on the right.While the dome is usually considered Brunelleschi's greatest achievement, he was also the (re-)inventor of one of the most important artistic concepts in history: linear perspective. He was the first person in the Western world to determine how to draw objects in two dimensions, on a piece of paper or the equivalent, in such a way that they looked realistically three-dimensional (i.e. having depth, as in looking off into the distance and seeing objects that are farther away "look smaller" than those nearby). Here, Brunelleschi was unquestionably influenced by a medieval Arab thinker, Ibn al-Haytham, whose Book of Opticslaid out theories of light and sight perception that described linear perspective. The Book of Opticswas availableto Brunelleschi in Latin translation, and, crucially, Brunelleschi applied the concept of perspective to actual art (which al-Haytham had not, focusing instead on the scientific basis of optics). In doing so, Brunelleschi introduced the ability for artists to create realistic depictions of their subjects. This innovation spread rapidly and completely revolutionized the visual arts, resulting in far more lifelike drawings and paintings.72
Western Civilization: A Concise HistorySandro Botticelli (1445 - 1510)Botticelli exemplified the life of a successful Renaissance painter during the height of themost productive artistic period in Florence and Rome. Likewise, his works focused on themes central to the Renaissance as a whole: the importance of patronage, the celebration of classical figures and ideas, the beauty of the human body and mind, and Christian piety. Botticelli was patronized by various members of the Florentine popolo grossi, by the Medici, and by popes, producing numerous frescos (wall paintings done on plaster), portraits, and both biblical and classical scenes. Two of his most famous works capture different aspects of Renaissance art:The Adoration of the Magi(1475), above, depicts members of the Medici family, Botticelli’s patrons, as taking part in one of the key scenes from the birth of Christ. Botticelli even included himself in the painting; his self-portrait is the figure on the far right. Note how all of the figures are dressed as wealthy Italians of the fifteenth century, not Jews, Romans, and Persians of the first century. Despite the abundance of biblical scenes in Renaissance painting, no attempt was made to depict people as they might have appeared at the time. Instead, the paintings projected the world of the popoli grossiback in time, sometimes (as with this example)even including portraits of actual important Italians.73
Western Civilization: A Concise HistoryThe Birth of Venus(1485) celebrates a key moment in Greek mythology when the goddess of love, sexuality, and beauty is born from the sea. Here Botticelli pushed the boundaries of Renaissance art (and what was culturally acceptable his contemporaries) by glorifying not just the beauty of the human body, but by openly celebrating Venus’s sexuality.