The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance Artist


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At the beginning of the fifteenth century, painters and sculptors were seldom regarded as more than artisans and craftsmen, but within little more than a hundred years they had risen to the status of “artist.” This book explores how early Renaissance artists gained recognition for the intellectual foundations of their activities and achieved artistic autonomy from enlightened patrons. A leading authority on Renaissance art, Francis Ames-Lewis traces the ways in which the social and intellectual concerns of painters and sculptors brought about the acceptance of their work as a liberal art, alongside other arts like poetry. He charts the development of the idea of the artist as a creative genius with a distinct identity and individuality.

Ames-Lewis examines the various ways that Renaissance artists like Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Dürer, as well as many other less well known painters and sculptors, pressed for intellectual independence. By writing treatises, biographies, poetry, and other literary works, by seeking contacts with humanists and literary men, and by investigating the arts of the classical past, Renaissance artists honed their social graces and broadened their intellectual horizons. They also experienced a growing creative confidence and self-awareness that was expressed in novel self-portraits, works created solely to demonstrate pictorial skills, and monuments to commemorate themselves after death.

Francis Ames-Lewis is professor of history of Renaissance art at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of Drawing in Early Renaissance Italy, published by Yale University Press.

“The main merit of this book lies undoubtedly in its inclusiveness. This makes it a value resource for students who want to gain an oversight and who want to familiarise themselves with the debates on this topic. Ames-Lewis has here provided a compendium that will serve as a valuable starting point for further engagement with this topic.”—Gabrielle Neher, Art Book

“Beautifully produced, in a blissfully manageable format, . . . Professor Ames-Lewis has reopened an area that other scholars have shied away from for many years.”—Evelyn Welch, Art Newspaper

“Gorgeously illustrated. . . . [This book] is a cohesive treatment that may serve as a better introduction to the field for the curious reader than an explicit survey or primer might. . . . The relative brevity of the text, along with the beautiful art Ames-Lewis has thoughtfully chosen for the illustrations, is further help in this regard. The good result of this enjoyable foray is that the reader may use the book as a springboard either to further studies of Renaissance art, such as those of E. H. Gombrich, or to general historical treatments of the Renaissance intellectual world such as John Hale’s.”—Tim Walker, Austin, Texas Chronicle

“A treasure trove of information.”—Choice

“The result is not just a work of intellectual history, but one that also opens our eyes, in an exciting and perceptive way, to many neglected aspects of the art of early Renaissance Europe and lives of the men who made it.”—Michael Hall, Country Life

“[An] elegant book. . . . Ames-Lewis has written an excellent introduction to an important subject.”—James Hall, Independent

The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance Artist is beautifully produced. The 150 illustrations deserve special praise for stinting on the familiar in favour of unusual and interesting works that make strong points about the social meaning of art. This reviewer was delighted, too.”—Paul Raynes, Literary Review

“In the introduction to this volume, Ames-Lewis establishes that his intended audience is the nonspecialist reader. Nevertheless, the text is so engaging and so full of useful information that specialists will no doubt also benefit from it. It will be particularly useful as a teaching tool, as it clearly elucidates the efforts of Renaissance artists to elevate the status of painting and sculpture from craft to liberal art, a factor that strongly affected the development of art during the period. . . . The book demonstrates a clarity of exposition, is amply illustrated, and includes a useful bibliography—a welcome addition to Renaissance scholarship.”—Sixteenth-Century Journal

“Ames-Lewis provides an excellent guide to the ingenious and sometimes elaborate attempts by artists to raise their social profile, and so guarantee acceptance as courtiers and gentlefolk. . . . [An] informative book.”—Joseph Rykwert, Times Literary Supplement

"Carefully argued and sumptuously illustrated. . . . Elegantly and efficiently argued, [the] chapters vary widely in focus and are full of unexpected delights. . . . A must read for anyone interested in the evolution of thinking about art and the artist, this book is sure to inspire debate and discussion because of its willingness to tackle large questions and to venture generalizations."—Brian Nance, H-Net Reviews

ISBN: 9780300220476
Publication Date: February 8, 2002
332 pages, x
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