Back to The Master Artist story
Rennaisance Art Reference Page


Having a surname has not always been a given. In medieval and renaissance Europe, some individuals had only one name. That name might be taken from the town in which they were born or some other defining detail of their lives. Although the master artist in this tale is imaginary, there is a French town dating from medieval times called Signy l'Abbeye.


Before general demand created an open market for art in the 17th century, artists made a living by relying upon patrons. A patron could be a wealthy individual or a civic or religious group. The Pope and papacy paid for many works of art, considered to be a prestigious commission.

Before the Renaissance, artists worked as craftsmen in European cities such as Florence. During this time, patrons viewed artists only as craftsmen and their art as just a purchase. Artwork was not yet recognized as having the stamp of an individual artist.


Artists were usually expected to submit drawing plans to a patron for approval. These plans and a contract were the patron's only guarantees of a final product.

Surviving contracts do not have the detail of a legal document. They might include the date of completion, the amount and quality of materials to be used, payment terms and the requirement that the artist be personally involved. They might also include penalties for failure to meet the contract's terms. Although patrons could be very specific about what they expected, detailed expectations were just as often missing from written contracts.


A Fresco painting is a wall mural created with limeproof pigments, diluted in water, and painted on freshly laid plaster. The Minoans in Crete were the first to use Frescos in 1650 BC.

Because the pigments are absorbed directly into the surface of the wall, Fresco is one of the most permanent painting techniques. When pigment is absorbed into the plaster, it is called the true fresco technique or buon fresco. Dry fresco or fresco secco is painting done on the surface of dry lime plaster. Although similar in appearance it is not as long lasting. Michelangelo used buon fresco on the Sistine Ceiling, which is better preserved than Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper where he used fresco secco.

Artists may vary the technique somewhat, but buon fresco is usually done in four layers: (1) rough layer of lime plaster called trullisatio (scratch coat); (2) arriccio (brown coat); (3) arenato (sand coat); and (4) intonaco (painting coat).

A full-sized sketch is drawn on a wall after the arenato layer. Over that the intonaco is laid smoothly on top of the drawing in sections (called giornate, Italian for "days") only as large a section as the artist thinks he can finish in that session.


The Byzantine art style lasted from the 4th century A.D. until 15th century A.D. It began in Greece and spread to the east of Europe. More spiritual in style than worldly, Byzantine art lacked depth with its two-dimensional perspective and standardized forms of light, half-tones, and shadows. Byzantine style emphasized heavenly visions of religious entities, but they are conceptual archetypes, almost mathematically constructed and standardized. The resulting human figures could be described as almost grim because often even curved lines, such as in drapery, were drawn straight.

Sample paintings can be found at the following link:


Major stylistic changes occurred in paintings in Italy in the late fourteenth and early fifthteenth centuries. These artistic changes included more depth in representation and classically-inspired rounded figures that had a broader range of gestures. The lighting was more natural, with figures casting shadows. The style originated in Tuscany, an area around Florence.


In 14th-century Italy, two brothers, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, were famous Italian painters. They belonged to the Sienese school of art, which used the Byzantine style. They also experimented with three-dimensional space, and in that sense anticipated the artistic style of the Renaissance.

Ambrogio (1290-1348), was more influential than his brother, and is best known for his frescos of Good Government and Bad Government (1338-39, Palazzo Publico, Siena).

Pietro (1280-1348), used more traditional techniques in creating some important frescoes.

Sample paintings can be found at the following link:


Before current day patent laws, trade secrets and techniques were protected by various guilds of craftsmen which carefully trained all members. Guilds for painters were founded in Italy and established at Florence in 1339. Guilds admitted only the most talented students and supervised training to ensure professional representation. They also kept strict control over the number of artists which served to limit competition.

Becoming a professional artist in fourteenth through sixteenth century Italy, was not easy. It required earning membership in an appropriate guild, which process took years of hard work and training. After their fathers had negotiated arrangements with a specific master artist, boys of ages 7 to 15 years old lived with a master for 5-6 years. As an apprentice they learned how to draw, grind pigments, prepare wood panels for painting, gild, and lay plaster for fresco.

After completing their apprenticeship, artists were qualified to join a guild and become certified. Once certified they could finally assist a master artist in painting some of the less important or marginal figures, although their work was always supervised. They aspired to attract patrons and become master artists themselves.

Guilds limited creativity by having strict rules. They often regulated their members' education, contracts, patrons and religion. It wasn't easy for an artist to assert individuality or break the rules. The guilds also contributed to the way artists were viewed in society. At this time they were thought of as "craftsmen" rather than talented artists.

The rise of the middle class beginning in the fourteenth century caused the image of painters as craftsmen to slowly change into the image of painters as individual artists. The middle classes in cities like Florence wanted a more cultured style of living and this required artists. The increased demand translated into artists gaining prestige and independence from guilds by the 17th century.


Painters joined a guild and such membership attested to the artist's competence and certification. Once certified artists often affiliated themselves with established workshops, as assistants to master artists.


In 1300, Florence was established as the banker of Europe, and its coin, the florine (or florin), became the first international currency.

PABLO PICASSO, Spanish artist 1881-1973

Picasso is almost synonymous with modern art. An imaginative and revolutionary artist, he dominated Western art in the 20th century.

Throughout his career, he used such various art styles (and stages of art) as realism, caricature, the Blue Period (mostly blue colors with subjects of outcasts and beggars), the Red Period (brighter colors of pinks, beige, light blues and rose with subjects of harlequins and clowns) and cubism.

Pablo Picasso became interested in the simplicity of pre-Christian and African art and began experimenting with space and basic shapes. He also experimented with three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional surfaces as used in the cubist style. In the 1930s, Picasso added surrealism, by metamorphosing figures and using double images.


Cubist art, or cubism, is where space is expressed in geometrical terms by looking at an object from different angles. This art style shuns realism and traditional ways of showing light and perspective, to represent forms in their most basic geometrical sense.

Sample paintings can be found at the following link:


Gardner's Art Through the Ages, by Fred S. Kleiner and Christin J. Mamiya
Internet links

Back to The Master Artist story
Back to Children's Storybooks Online
Copyright ©2003 Carol Moore. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any process without prior written permission from the publisher.