Art and Architecture

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Experience Italy's breathtaking art and architecture stretching from Ancient Rome to the present

Experiencing Italy's art and architecture will be among the most fulfilling parts of your vacation. Whether you choose to explore the Coliseum as if you were Ben Hur, contemplate the works of St. Peter's Basilica in speechless amazement, or jump through each of Italy's museums to try to find which Italian artist you find most inspiring, you can rest assured that Italy&'s captivating spirit will leave its mark on you!

Walking through the ruins of Rome, Pompeii, or any one of Italy's many archeology museums, you will find that portraiture was very prevalent in Ancient Roman art. Often such pieces would represent the emperor with a message of propaganda meant to sway Rome's conquered into embracing his rule, or converting them to his widely believed divine origin. Another common practice was to depict epic scenes from mythology and literature, along with portraying images of Antiquity's everyday life. Excellent murals of this sort are extremely famous in places like Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Ancient Roman architecture had the objective of adapting grand structures to social ritual and religion. While Ancient Rome inherited many of the advanced techniques of the Etruscans and Ancient Greeks, they brought the added ingenuity of masonry, and techniques such as the vault and arch. Rome's advancements are clearly distinguishable when considering the differences between the Greek theaters in Sicily, which are built into the ground, versus the Roman amphitheaters, which are constructed from, and extend out of, the ground. Another Roman innovation was the aqueduct, the brick channels built to transport water. Through these amazing structures, which still stand in many instances, Ancient Romans actually enjoyed running water!

The great artists of the Middle Ages, Cimabue and Giotto, inherited the traditions of the late Roman civilization. From the Western Empire came confused perspective and scale that was a product of Ancient Rome's switch from realism to more symbolic art. Whereas battle scenes were once depicted as they might have actually looked, by the time of Constantine, generals would be taller than their soldiers, and Rome's imposing armies were towering compared to the castle walls of their enemies. Then there were the influences of the Eastern Byzantine Empire, which reflected both Oriental and Ancient Greek styles. Results include the beautiful, stoic-faced, imposing Madonnas in Siena and Giotto's brilliant frescos in Assisi with their distinct treatment of scale and perspective made all the more exceptional by the added genius of painting emotion onto the faces of his images.

Architecture in Italy after the Fall of Rome is known as pre-Romanesque,

which describes the varied influences imparted by both the invading barbarians and the traditions of the Byzantine Greeks. The era's first unifying tradition, rising to prominence in the 10th and 11th centuries, was known as Romanesque, which, as the name implies, means resembling the architecture of Ancient Rome both in design and the materials used. This style was prevalent throughout Europe and existed in many subtle variations in Italy. By the 12th century the Gothic tradition made its presence felt, particularly in religious buildings like Milan's famed Cathedral, with an imposing yet graceful design, garnished with lacy flying buttresses, belfries, gables, and steeples willing themselves up to the heavens as the era's religious doctrine had designed for the human spirit.

The Renaissance:

Like no other period in the history of Western Civilization, the Italian Renaissance produced a veritable deluge of artistic and intellectual output. It began with the rediscovery and mastery of artistic techniques like perspective, which lead to the Renaissance masters producing art of unprecedented virtuosity and vision. In this epoch we also find a shift of theme, from the strictly religious to that of the humanistic, revealing a profound curiosity in the power, not weakness, of the human spirit. The shining results of the Renaissance are found throughout Italy, but are most concentrated in Tuscany, Rome, and Venice.

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Italian Renaissance architecture, much like the period's art, marks a conscious recommitment to Ancient Greek and Roman principals. Like its antecedent, the Renaissance put a particular emphasis on symmetry and proportion, generally involving the number 3, both for its architectural/mathematical perfection and its many correlations to the Christianity (the Holy Trinity, theological virtues, etc). For such reasons a major distinction between Renaissance and Gothic cathedrals, for example that of Florence and Milan, is that the former do not stretch endlessly to the sky, but, due to a reliance on fixed proportions, are rounded off with domes, arches, and vaults.

The Modern Era:

Since the Renaissance, Italy has seen several revolutionary artistic movements. Beginning with Caravaggio's controversial portrayal of classical and religious themes, to the more conservative Baroque style, through Italy's grand contribution to Impressionism and the Cubist/Futurist/Surrealist art of the 20th century, Italy has continued to impart to the world an artistic vision that advances the dual purpose of inspiring and challenging its observer. And more modern marvels still exist, perhaps most famously the imposing and luminous Piazza di Spagna that salutes Italy's 1861 unification.

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