Cinquecento: 16th Century Italian Art
High Renaissance, Mannerist Painting, Sculpture, Architecture.

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David by Michelangelo (1501-4) Marble
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.
One of the greatest sculptures ever.

Cinquecento (1500-1600)


What is the Meaning of Cinquecento
Cinquecento Painting
Cinquecento Sculpture
Cinquecento Architecture
Greatest Works of Art

Further Resources

Trecento (14th-century)
Quattrocento (15th-century)

Madonna of the Harpies (1517)
Uffizi Gallery. One of the
greatest Renaissance paintings.
By Andrea del Sarto.

For a quick guide to specific
styles, see: Art Movements.

For details of the best painters:
Old Masters (Painters to 1830).

What is the Meaning of Cinquecento

The word "cinquecento" (Italian for 'five hundred') - an abbreviation for "millecinquecento" (Italian for 'fifteen hundred') - is used in the history of art as a description of the sixteenth century in Italy. Traditionally it encompasses cultural activities in the fields of Italian architecture, painting and sculpture during the period 1500-1600. The cinquecento witnessed the full flowering of High Renaissance art - in Rome, Venice and to a lesser extent Florence - as well as the related Mannerism movement which followed. Thus it may be said to represent the late Italian Renaissance. (Note: the word "Renaissance", used to describe the cultural rebirth of Europe, during the period 1400-1600, was first coined by the French historian Jules Michelet.) As it was, the first three decades of the sixteenth century saw the zenith of Renaissance art. This artistic climax was mostly about the Renaissance in Rome as it coincided with Papal ambitions to restore the city to its rightful place as the leading centre of art and culture in Italy. Indeed, Pope Julius II (1503-13), Pope Leo X (1513-21) and Clement VII (1523-34) spent so much on commissioning the greatest cinquecento painters, sculptors and architects to beautify and decorate the Vatican, as well as the city of Rome, that they nearly bankrupted the Church. Furthermore, their zealous attempts to raise money from congregations across Europe were a significant cause of the Protestant rebellion. For details, see: Catholic Counter-Reformation Art. The cinquecento also saw the sack of Rome (1527), which caused great chaos and upheaval, as well as the rise of Venetian painting under Titian (c.1488-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Paolo Veronese (1528-1588).


Cinquecento Painting

High Renaissance painting in Rome was dominated by masterpieces from the three geniuses Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Raphael (Raffaello Santi) (1483-1520), and Michelangelo (1475-1564). See, for instance, Leonardo's matchless portrait art, Raphael's perfect compositions of harmony and balance, and Michelangelo's magnificent religious paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In 16th century Venice, meanwhile, Giorgione (1477-1510), and Titian (c.1488-1576) were setting new standards in the handling of light, movement and colour in painting. High Renaissance artists also demonstrated a complete mastery of 15th century painting techniques, such as sfumato (Leonardo), chiaroscuro (Leonardo), linear perspective (Raphael), quadratura illusionism (Correggio), and sculptural figure painting, especially male nudes (Michelangelo). Above all, High Renaissance painting reflected the confidence and order that most artists, writers and philosophers had in classical principles, Humanistic ideals and the world at large. See also the provincial Parma School of painting (c.1520-50).

The sack of Rome put an end to this confidence, and was immediately reflected in the new non-conformist aesthetics of Mannerist painting, whose stylistic idiom was championed in cinquecento Italy by Michelangelo - see his compelling Last Judgment fresco (1534-41) - Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1556), Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), Giulio Romano (1499-1546), Parmigianino (1503-40), Jacopo Bassano (1515-92), Tintoretto (1518-94), Arcimboldo (1527-93) and Paolo Veronese (1528-88). Outside Italy, the greatest Mannerist painter was El Greco (1541-1614). Although the 'maniera' was criticized by contemporary artists for being artificial and for being aimed too much at connoisseurs, art critics today value Mannerist art for its ability to convey strong emotion: something the High Renaissance was unable to do nearly as well.

Note: One of the greatest Renaissance art historians of the 19th century was Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97). In addition, much of the early work concerning the attribution of paintings of the cinquecento was done by the art historian Bernard Berenson (1865-1959), who lived most of his life near Florence, and published a number of highly influential works on the Late Renaissance.

Cinquecento Sculpture

Sixteenth century Renaissance sculptors were dominated by Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of the day, and arguably of all time. Works like Dying Slave (1513-16) exuded a "feeling of brooding, of sombre disquiet" (Anthony Blunt). His marble carvings were acclaimed for their flawless beauty and polish - evidence of his absolute technical mastery. Other important figures in 16th century Italian Renaissance sculpture include Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570), Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560), Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) and the great Flemish sculptor Giambologna (1529-1608).

Sculpture, being a more monumental artform, was less affected by political events, although cinquecento Mannerist artists still managed to introduce a new expressiveness into their works - an attribute perfectly illustrated by the powerful Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1529-1608). Outside Italy, important exponents of 16th century plastic art were Juan de Juni (1507-1577), Alonso Berruguete (c.1486-1561) and Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570). French Mannerist sculptors included: Jean Goujon (c.1510-68), Germain Pilon (1529-1590) and Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611).

Cinquecento Architecture

Sixteenth century architecture was dominated by the redesign and renovation of the 1200-year old St Peter's Basilica in Rome (1506-1626) - a project which was supervised by a succession of top cinquecento architects, including Donato Bramante, Raphael, Guiliano da Sangallo, Michelangelo and Bernini, and which continued beyond the High Renaissance into the Mannerist and Baroque periods. If we can say that Renaissance architecture exactly followed classical canons of proportion, and observed the basic equality of form and function, by contrast, Baroque architecture (1600 onwards) was all about movement, drama, curves, illusion, trompe l'oeil, and accorded a much higher priority to form rather than function. Mannerist architecture was the bridge between these two opposites. Other architects of the cinquecento period include: Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536), Michele Sanmicheli (1484-1559), Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616) and Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) who designed the loggia for the Uffizi Gallery and its connecting Vasari Corridor. For architecture, sculpture and painting in Germany, see: German Baroque Art (1550-1750).


Greatest Cinquecento Works of Art

Italian painting and sculpture from the 16th century can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.

Cinquecento Paintings

Doge Leonardo Loredan (1502) by Giovanni Bellini
National Gallery, London.
San Zaccaria Altarpiece (1505) by Giovanni Bellini
Church of San Zaccaria, Venice.
Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) (1503-06) by Leonardo da Vinci
Louvre Museum, Paris.
Genesis Fresco (1508-12) by Michelangelo
Sistine Chapel Ceiling.
The Tempest (1508) by Giorgione
Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice.
School of Athens (Scuola di Atene) (1509-11) by Raphael
Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican.
Sleeping Venus (1510) by Giorgione
Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
Creation of Adam (1511-12) by Michelangelo
Sistine Chapel Ceiling.
Sistine Madonna (1513-14) by Raphael
Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18) by Titian
Saint Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
Madonna of the Harpies (1517) by Andrea del Sarto
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
The Transfiguration (1518-20) by Raphael
Pinacoteca Apostolica, Vatican.
Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1524-30) by Correggio
Underside of the dome of Parma Cathedral.
Jupiter and Io (1533) by Correggio
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
The Deposition (1526-8) by Jacopo Pontormo
Capponi Chapel, S. Felicita, Florence.
Madonna of the Long Neck (1535) by Parmigianino
Uffizi, Florence.
Last Judgment Fresco (1536-41) by Michelangelo
Altar wall of Sistine Chapel.
Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
St Mark Freeing the Slave (1547-8) by Jacopo Tintoretto
Venice Academy Gallery.
The Wedding Feast at Cana (1562-3) by Paolo Veronese
Gemaldegalerie, Dresden.
The Feast in the House of Levi (1573) by Paolo Veronese
Venice Academy Gallery.
Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus (1591) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Skoklosters Slott, Sweden.
The Last Supper (1591-4) by Jacopo Tintoretto
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice.

Cinquecento Sculptures

• Michelangelo (1475-1564)
David (1501-4) Marble, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.
Dying Slave (1513-16) Marble, Louvre, Paris.

• Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570)
Venus and Cupid (c.1550) Bronze, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

• Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71)
Perseus with head of Medusa (1545-54) Bronze, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence.

• Giambologna (1529-1608)
Mercury (1564-80) Bronze, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.
The Rape of the Sabine (1581-3) Marble, Piazza della Signora, Florence.
Hercules and the Centaur (1594-1600) Marble, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence.

• For the meaning of cinquecento pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.
• For more about 16th century painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

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