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What made Renaissance art different from any of the art that preceded it? 

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Art critics agree that in three works done between 1424 and 1428, The Holy Trinity, The Tribute Money, and The Expulsion of Adam, and Eve, Masaccio established what is today termed Renaissance painting.  Introducing into public art Brunelleschi's experiments with geometrical perspective, Masaccio revived sculptural modelling in the style of Giotto and translated Donatello's strict characterizations into paint.  Above all, he made more noble what had usually been grave figures through the use of controlled light.

Modeling his characters by light and shade, in his painting The Expulsion of Adam and Eve, Masaccio demonstrates that he has learned from classical art; however, there is nothing heroic in his figures. Instead, they display great emotionalism. Further, in his painting The Tribute Money, the line from the weight-bearing foot to the head is perpendicular, giving the figures in the painting a solid appearance, and the heads of these figures is based on classical heads.  This geometrically exact perspective is characteristic of Masaccio's plotting. 

Renaissance art, a "rebirth" of interest in the pagan classics, put a new emphasis on man, and its ideals were expressed in a changed conception of the human figure.  Thus, the study of anatomy that produced three-dimensional figures, the logical analysis of proportion and the invention of geometrical perspective were introduced.  In addition, the original contributions of Renaissance art were the introduction of oil painting on canvas, the subject matter of mythical and nature scenes, and a new perspective upon classical themes.

[Source:  The Illustrated Library of Art, Mitchell Beazley Publishers.]

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