Portrait Oil Painting - Home Page



The Venetian doge

Oil on canvas, 55 x 70 cm


The usurer 

Oil on canvas, 29 x 34 cm


The youth

Oil on canvas, 30 x 35 cm


The Austrian lady

Oil on canvas, 70 x 55 cm


The Irishwoman

Oil on canvas, 30 x 35 cm


The old farmer

Oil on canvas, 30 x 35 cm


Sixteenth century

It was a century of portraits and self-portraits. The great Italian masters had already acquired the same high cultural status enjoyed by Renaissance scholars, and were no longer regarded as menial craftsmen. Their interest in self-portraiture (the cheapest type of portraiture, after all) partlv reflects their new-found status. Leonardo drew his own aging self in the wrinkled and meditative psychological self-portrait in his Merlin-like drawing done in extreme old age. At the apex of the High Renaissance, Raphael's self-portrait depicts him at case among scholars and philosophers in "The School of Athens." Decades later, utterly disillusioned with history and life, Michelangelo produced his self-portrait as St. Bartholomew, a ragged old beggar with flayed skin in his Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. The Mannerist painter Parmigianino turned his Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror into a prodigious virtuoso exercise. Titian's great series of self-portraits show a painter physically growing older but whose understanding grew ever more vigorous — an artist ready to meet eternitv with paintbrush in hand.
Without simplifying art history too much, we can say that in the sixteenth century major changes occurred about every two decades. Each change was, often deliberately, part of the process of constant renewal, for artists were still keen to experiment in any way they possibly could, untrammelled by the past. Each period contained an abundance and variety of art forms without parallel in any other century of art history, save perhaps our own. Up to 1520 the High Renaissance sparkled with the splendor of its Golden Age. From 1520 to 1540 new religious doubts and questionings on the destiny of man opened the way to new concepts in painting which later culminated in Michelangelo's Last Judgment. From 1 540 to 1 560 a dichotomy emerged between the hyper-sophisticated Mannerism of Tuscany and Rome and the sensual depiction of reality of the Venetian and Lombard schools. Between 1560 and 1580 Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese brought Venetian painting to a triumphant and dramatic climax. The last twenty years of the century were, by comparison, years of relative stagnation artisticallv until Caravaggio rediscovered the natural world with his revolutionary realism and the Carracci dynasty revitalized the classical tradition. Michelangelo and Titian were both particularly long-lived. If we compare the two great masters' early work with that of their old age, we are instantly struck by the chasm between the generally sunnily optimistic art of the early sixteenth century and the often work tortured of the second half.


© 2005  Artist Andrew Shyn. All rights reserved.