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Renaissance art is sometimes thought to be an acquired taste. But unless you think there’s something wrong with staring at naked people in strange poses, then you will appreciate Renaissance art for the beautiful, sumptuous over-the-top treasures most of us agree they are. But why suffer through another Dan Brown novel when you can become better informed than the so-called writer about the movement in even less time than it took him to research Inferno—ie. five minutes. After all, you don’t have a book full of clichés to sell; you have an audience to dazzle with your impressive knowledge of Renaissance masters.

5 Italian Words You Can Impress People With

  1. Contrapposto – A classic artistic pose. The subject puts all their weight on one leg while the other is relaxed, their pelvis faces one direction, and their shoulders face another. Used best while naked.
  2. Cinquecento – ‘Five hundred,’ how Italians referred to the Renaissance during the 1500’s. Or a stylish little Fiat.
  3. Chiaroscuro – The use of ‘light and dark’ contrasts in painting, particularly to make a surface appear three-dimensional through shadows/shading.
  4. Campanile – A bell tower. For example, ‘I climbed Giotto’s campanile!’
  5. Cupola – A dome-like structure atop a building, usually a church. Nothing to do with an undistinguished Italian football manager called Capello, or a song without accompanying instrumentation called A Cappella.

What are Renaissance masters?

Renaissance masters are 15th and 16th century artists who lived in Italy, and in the context of the visual arts were the late medieval equivalent of great filmmakers. This is a useful analogy for bluffers to make. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, was the Stanley Kubrick of painting, putting unbelievable precision into his works that become more impressive with time. Michelangelo, meanwhile, was more like Orson Welles: inordinately gifted and superhumanly versatile, creating some of the greatest paintings and sculptures in the history of art. As for the divinely talented Raphael, who was a contemporary of Leo and Mike, he was the Errol Flynn of his time, a notorious swordsman (of the sexual kind) who is rumoured to have died aged 37 from too much bed action. Gain extra bluffing points for knowing his real name was Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino.

So, that’s three Ninja Turtles… and who else?

There were hundreds of Renaissance masters whose most famous works included entire frescoed buildings as well as paintings and statues. Giotto, an Early Renaissance painter who abandoned medieval styles in exchange for more realism, also designed the enormous bell tower in Florence that Assassin’s Creed gamers love to leap from. Some other names to remember during your study abroad are Botticelli, whose The Birth of Venus and Primavera meld Pagan myths with Christian imagery; Titian, the Venetian master who used bold colours as well as bold Venuses who masturbated (tut-tut); Cellini, who cast Florence’s bronze statue of Perseus and authored one of the naughtiest autobiographies of all time; and Caravaggio, a madman and murderer who just happened to be one of the most talented painters in his lifetime.

Was all Renaissance art made by Italians?

No. Although the term ‘Renaissance’ usually refers to late-15th/early-16th century Italy, many artists throughout Europe can be considered Renaissance masters. Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder were famous painters during the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance, although their subjects focused less on voluptuous naked ladies and more on surreal, horrific scenes involving eternal damnation.


‘Sfumato,’ a Renaissance painting method used to give subjects a smoky, hazy look along their edges, which Leonardo famously employed in his Mona Lisa. Leonardo described the technique as ‘without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke.’ It’s also a fun word to say, especially if you’re smoking.

DO SAY ‘The majority of great Renaissance artworks were commissioned by wealthy patrons – including the pope.’

DON’T ASK ‘Where can I find a copy of The Da Vinci Code in American?’


Happy Bluffing!

Jacopo della Quercia


All bluffed up on Renaissance art? Here’s how to get your head around contemporary art

Or, go one step further and become a modern master of painting. How hard can it be…you’d better enter our competition to win an Introduction to Painting Weekend at The Art Academy and find out.