Art: Humanism in Disguise

I just thought of something today: Was art simply used as a tool to develop the ideas of humanism…and control the world…and the future? Well, in other words, I think that humanism was the catalyst for the flourishing of art during the Renaissance, as well as the inspiration for all the art we have in our society today.

I admire the effort Renaissance humanists made to develop and appreciate the individuality and creativity of an artist. Our textbook says that “art was the deliberate creation of a unique personality who transcended traditions, rules, and theories” (McKay 425). There are two pieces of work that deeply reflect the rise of humanism and realism in the Renaissance period. Summer, by Pieter van der Heyden, is like an illustration: something you would find all the time nowadays, but in fact his engraving was a very different approach to art during the Renaissance. By a different approach, I mean that many aspects of humanism were reflected in this engraving because it depicts real life, emotions, and expressions. The realism is clearly conveyed through the people hard at work, the burning sun, and the idea of overstepping boundaries during a time of labor. I find that this artwork is very realistic and relatable to all the viewers who see it.

"Summer" by Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1570)

The fact that humanism becomes alive through paintings is really amazing, in my opinion. Looking at other paintings and reading about them, I realize that paintings have such a deep meaning and truly reflect reality. Next, let’s take The Moneylender and His Wife by Quentin Metsys for example, a painting with sincere morals deeply rooted in each detail of the painting. If you see this painting zoomed out, you simply see a man and his wife, looking at some jewelry. But, if you zoom in and start to discover the abundance of human morals and principles jumbled into this tight frame…the artistic vision of humanism slaps you in the face. The whole point of the painting is to remind viewers of our sins and vices, and that human morality is extremely fragile and weak. So much humanism in one painting! In addition, the works by Leonardo da Vinci (take a look at his notebooks, vol. 1 and vol. 2), which include a plethora of sketches, inventions, and paintings, demonstrate the growth and discovery of painting with accurate anatomy, linear perspective, and measured proportions. Remember that one distinct aspect in Renaissance art is human expression. Da Vinci tells readers that “when representing a human figure or some graceful animal, be careful to avoid a wooden stiffness” (da Vinci 295). Good point. The last time I checked, humans aren’t pieces of wood.


In conclusion, both Summer and The Moneylender and His Wife are perfect examples of how the genre of real-life drawings, landscapes, portraits, and depictions of daily life expanded during the Renaissance. Of course, there are many more paintings, drawings, or engravings out there–(check out the extensive gallery of paintings and video commentary at SmartHistory, or explore various pieces of artworks categorized by genre, time period, or artist at WikiPaintings). I want to remind you that while capturing an image now with a camera is a simple task for us, painting with photo-like detail in the mid-16th century was an extremely impressive feat. I think it is important for people to be aware that these genres of realistic art were new and radical ideas in the Renaissance, since nowadays we take for granted the art classes we have at school, and the media and technology we are surrounded by in our society.

Works Cited:

“Summer”, Pieter Bruegel: Metropolitan Museum of Art,
“A Money Changer and His Wife”, Quentin Massys: The Louvre Museum:

McKay, John P. , et al. A History of Western Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. Print.

da Vinci, Leonardo. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. 1. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1970. Web.

da Vinci, Leonardo. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. 2. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1970. Web.

Picture Citation: “Scrooge McDuck.”



  1. austin0907

    Hi Kristin!

    Your blog post is great; I’m really happy you chose this topic because I was wondering this as well! You have done a terrific job answering my questions and I liked how you commented on some of the evidence that you found.

  2. kristin888

    Hi Austin!
    Thank you so much for reading my post! I’m glad you liked it! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask me.
    Thanks again!

  3. avaz121

    It is a great article and I totally agree with it. The Renaissance is a giant leap in western art history which includes a new way to present art—through human experience, morality, emotions—it conveys the thoughts of artists to the audience more effectively than before. You have done an insightful evaluation to the humanism behind the paintings!

  4. kristin888

    Hi Ava!
    Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post! I agree–artists were definitely influenced by human experience and therefore human expression in Renaissance paintings are so vivid and realistic. Like many other forms of art, painting is a matter of expressing one’s thoughts and emotions.
    Thank you again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: