Describe the main features of Early Renaissance art and architecture in style and subject matter.

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Early Renaissance art and architecture evolved out of a combination of late medieval advances and rediscovery of many elements of Graeco-Roman art and architecture along with increasing technological innovation.

The first major characteristic was increasing focus on the secular and civic as opposed to religion and military. While many of the great buildings and monumental works of the late middle ages were cathedrals and castles, many great works of civic architecture and mansions built for living rather than defense, and civic buildings (such as theaters and parliaments) flourished in the Renaissance. The Gothic style, with its pointed arches and buttresses was replaced by domes, rounded arches, tunnel vaults, and columns, and ornament, was more restrained and symmetrical, rather than expressing the individual creativity and embellishment of the Gothic (such as the imaginative and fantastic gargoyles that adorned Gothic cathedrals).

Painting became more realistic, using vanishing point perspective, portraying people as individuals rather than types, and using more natural poses and fluid drapery (often influenced by classical models). Subject matter included a wider range of secular themes, including many portraits, works on mythological themes, and domestic themes, and even religious art became more realistic.

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The art and architecture of the early Renaissance emphasized realism.  Artists wanted to faithfully depict human anatomy, emotion, and expression in paintings and sculptures.  The architecture of the time emphasized symmetry and featured arches, domes, columns, and sculptures that hearken back to the temples of ancient Rome and Greece.   Both the art and architecture of the Early Renaissance marked a return to the aesthetic values and styles of classicism.   It was inspired by the philosophy called humanism, which focused on achieving human perfection here on earth.  This was a dramatic change from the mentality and art of medieval times where the focus was always on the wonders of heaven.  Early Renaissance subject matter was still religious, but it was very much about showing the greatness of man and what he could achieve.  It was a time of great development in terms of art theory and technique as well.  Perspective theory was developed by Leon Battista Alberti and recorded in his book Della pittura (On painting) in the early renaissance.  This gave artists a system for accurately depicting three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface.  Renaissance painters in Italy learned from this new perspective theory and created works such as The School of Athens by Raphael that showcased both their own artistic skill as well as the grandness of the architecture of the time.

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