Evolution vs. Creation

The transition between the Medieval to Renaissance times was an amazingly abrupt one, but I feel like some people believe that people like Michelangelo and Rafael were born and simply decided to start a new age called the Renaissance just like that. What I think is that the Renaissance was actually based off of medieval themes; more of an evolution than a creation. If you ask me, I believe the Renaissance was not created by artists overnight, but an evolution of thinking based off of medieval themes shown in a new light.

As some of you may have noticed there are some aspects of medieval times that managed to find themselves a new home in Renaissance art. New age Renaissance artists often used medieval characters and themes either subtly in backgrounds or out-front as the star piece of their art. What I found curious is that Renaissance artists played with these medieval themes and found new ways to express their meanings.

One interesting piece I found that has these characteristics was the Ghent Altarpiece painted by Jan Van Eyck. Basically, the Ghent Altarpiece was many panels connected by hinges, each panel with its own individual painting. I won’t go into detail about the whole altarpiece now, but it is a very magnificent piece of art and I encourage you to take a look. What I would like to talk about is the centermost piece on the inside of the altarpiece, which portrays God dressed in kingly robes and jewelry. Many of you may think, “what’s so significant about God in art,” but I’ll tell you that back then portraying God in this heavenly, gracious sense was almost unheard of. In Medieval times, “God was often a symbol of wrath and plagues were thought to have originated from His spite” (Dogra, 2011). But, In Renaissance art, artist evolved the theme of a higher being, God, and portrayed God in this new Renaissance sense. He helped bring humanity out of the Dark Age and He, as well as Jesus, should be seen as our saviors.

Going back to the whole ‘seeing God as our creator and savior’, I would like to point out that in the tapestry behind God, there is a pelican pattern. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree that when I first saw it I thought that maybe it was a mistake on the artist’s part. Pelicans seem like such odd animals to portray with the Almighty God, but after further research, I learned this was perhaps one of the cleverest subtleties in art. Something you may not have known was that pelican mothers “in Medieval times were known to use their own flesh to feed their young if no food was available” (Jan Van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, (Open), completed 1432). This is a lot like God who sacrificed his own flesh and blood in the form of his only son, Jesus. I’m not saying God is a pelican or anything like that though. To make the connection between the two but show them both in a new positive light is ingenious. It just goes to show how creative their new age of thinking and belief really was.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this blog is the Renaissance was not born out of thin air. Pieces like the Ghent Altarpiece show that Renaissance artists often based their art off of medieval themes, unless you know something about pelicans that I don’t? Anyways, all I can say is that all new ideas are based off of old ones and this is no exception. I believe that the Renaissance – which literally means rebirth – was not a time of fundamental creation as some people think, but rather one of evolution where the basis was medieval themes shown with a new reasoned perspective.

Works Cited:

Dogra, Aastha. “Renaissance Art Characteristics.” Buzzle.com. 05 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. <http://www.buzzle.com/articles/renaissance-art-characteristics.html&gt;.

Jan Can Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, (Closed), completed 1432. Smarthistory.org, 2010. Web. 27 Feb 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBfMweJPBrQ&list=PLAAEFE618A27E29D2&index=3&amp; feature=plpp_video

Jan Van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, (Open), completed 1432. Smarthistory.org, 2010. Web. 27 Feb 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwJKfhLMhEk&list=PLAAEFE618A27E29D2&index=21&feature=plpp_video



  1. natalie518

    Hi Harry, nice blog post!
    I think that your point that “Renaissance artists played with these medieval themes and found new ways to express their meanings,” and that new things evolved from old (rather than just appearing) is very interesting. Do you think this principle applies today as well? Is there art (or other inventions or ideas) today that is very clearly based off of earlier concepts?
    Also, on an entirely different note, was it viewed as sacrilegious to portray God in a painting? I know that in some faiths (such as Judaism and Islam), a portrait of God would be strictly forbidden. What did the Renaissance Christians think about this?
    Thanks again for the great post!

  2. vinay1496

    Hey Harry,
    I really enjoyed this post. I find it very interesting that you think of the renaissance as simply a time of evolution. Do you find that there are any other non-art example that support or refute this thesis? Thanks,

  3. josh1818

    Hey Harry,
    Really interesting post with original ideas. I agree with you on that the style and attributes of Renaissance art did not come out of thin air. You did a very good job making connections to the Medieval times, especially when you mentioned how some Renaissance art shows Medieval art in a “new light”. Is there anything you see in today’s world that shows something from the Renaissance in a “new light”?


    • harry242424

      Hey Natalie, thanks!
      I feel that today there haven’t been any major changes in art evolution since the Renaissance but I do feel that art is still evolving today in a sense that people are creating new styles and people’s interests are changing.

      Hey Vinay,
      Off the top of my head all I can think of is music and how no one really ‘creates’ new music but bases like their background melody or beat off of earlier songs.

      Hey Josh,
      I’m glad you found my blog interesting. That’s a really good question. Maybe some new age art takes the ideas of the Renaissance but I’m not too sure.


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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: