Michelangelo's David

Who’s the first Italian artist that comes to mind? Michelangelo, perhaps, or Leonardo Da Vinci. Then there’s Raphael, and Botticelli. What do all of these artists have in common? Apart from their extraordinary talent, what unites them is the time period – they were all active during the Italian Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries).

The Renaissance (Rinascimento) was the golden age of Italian art, with talented painters and sculptors producing a staggering array of masterpieces. Michelangelo’s David and The Birth of Venus by Botticelli are just two of the most iconic examples.

Read on to learn more about these famous artists and their artworks in our list of the top 10 Renaissance artists of Italy!

Italian art: the best Renaissance sculptors

Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) – This Florentine sculptor and goldsmith paved the way for future generations of artists. The highlight of his career was his work on the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery. Amazingly, he was just 21 years old when he won the commission. Michelangelo later referred admiringly to the doors as the “Gates of Paradise”, and the name stuck.

Renaissance Art: Ghiberti
A close-up look on a panel of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (Picture by Jebulon, Wikimedia Commons)

Donatello (1386-1466) – Another innovative Florentine sculptor, who worked with a variety of materials, including bronze and stone. He worked in Ghiberti’s workshop and was influenced by classical sculpture. His most famous work is perhaps his exquisite statue of David in bronze – not to be confused with Michelangelo’s stone sculpture!

Renaissance Art: David Donatello
The David of Donatello (Picture by Lorenzo Mennonna)

Michelangelo (1475-1564) – A prodigiously talented sculptor, painter and architect. Michelangelo is best-known for his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and the statue “David”, which is exhibited at the Accademia in Florence. Michelangelo was hugely influential on future generations of artists and architects. He is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time due to both his technical skill and originality.

Renaissance Art: Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo’s David (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence)

For a better understanding of the fascinating life and work of Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists, we recommend booking an art tour of Florence and Rome!

Renaissance artists: painters in Italy

Early 15th century

Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) – His brother and father were both highly regarded painters at the time, but Giovanni is now generally considered to be the most talented of the three. Giovanni Bellini’s paintings are characterised by rich colours and detailed shading – a style that influenced Titian. His works are now scattered across the world, but you’ll find many of his greatest masterpieces in the churches and galleries of his native city, Venice.

Renaissance Art: Bellini
Madonna and Child with John the Baptist and Saint Elizabeth by Giovanni Bellini (Church of San Zaccaria, Venice)

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) – Mantegna (Bellini’s brother-in-law) worked in Mantua, Verona and Rome. During his career he created a wealth of remarkable paintings that featured classical, statuesque forms and optical illusions. His most famous paintings, St Sebastian and The Agony in the Garden, can be found in the Louvre and the National Gallery in London respectively. But if you visit Mantua, don’t miss Mantegna’s incredible frescoes in the Palazzo Ducale.

Renaissance Art: Mantegna
The San Lucas Altarpiece by Andrea Mantegna (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)

Mid 15th century

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) – The innovative and idiosyncratic painter best known for masterpieces such as The Birth of Venus and Primavera, both of which are rich in symbolic detail. Botticelli spent virtually his entire life in the Ognissanti neighbourhood of Florence, and many of his greatest works are still on display in the city. He also contributed to the wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel – remember, Michelangelo’s ceiling isn’t the only artwork to be admired!

Renaissance Art: Botticelli
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-1494) – A fellow Florentine and contemporary of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio was also Michelangelo’s teacher. Yes, the art world of Renaissance Florence was a small one! To understand Ghirlandaio’s importance and influence in Italian art, pay a visit to the Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. When in Rome, visit the Sistine Chapel, where you’ll find his frescoes on the wall.

Renaissance Art- Ghirlandaio
The Birth of Mary by Domenico Ghirlandaio (Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence)

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) – Referring to Da Vinci merely as a “painter” doesn’t quite do him justice. He was not only a giant of Italian art but also a polymath – the definition of a “Renaissance man” – making notes and drawings on everything from botany to palaeontology. He’s even credited by some as the original inventor of the helicopter! His most famous painting is of course the Mona Lisa, on display in the Louvre. When in Italy you can see The Last Supper in Milan, and his enigmatic unfinished painting of St Jerome in the Vatican Museums.

Renaissance Art: Da Vinci
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci (Picture by: Alamy Stock Photo/ White House Photo)

Late 15th century

Raphael (1483-1520) – Raffaello Sanzio – better known as Raphael – was astonishingly productive during his short life. He left his hometown of Urbino for a life of fame and success in Rome. In terms of painting, some argue that he was the very greatest of the Renaissance artists. Look out for his greatest masterpieces on your Vatican tour. You don’t want to miss the magnificent Transfiguration, and of course the legendary frescoes in the Raphael Rooms, including The School of Athens.

Renaissance Art: Raphael
The School of Athens by Raphael (Raphael Rooms, Vatican Museums)

Titian (1490-1576) – The Venetian painter Titian was one of the most talented and versatile Renaissance artists. He created a variety of exquisite landscapes and portraits in a range of styles. Many of his paintings featured mythological themes, such as his masterpiece Bacchus and Ariadne. On your Uffizi tour look out for the sensual Venus of Urbino – a controversial and enigmatic work that continues to attract critical debate. And while in Rome, don’t miss the equally mysterious Sacred and Profane Love, on display in the Borghese Gallery.

Renaissance Art: Titian
Sacred and Profane Love by Titian (Borghese Gallery, Rome)

For an in-depth art tour of Rome or Florence, get in touch with the team at Roads to Rome Private Tours!

Read more: Italian Renaissance Artists


Written by Alexandra Turney