European art was greatly influenced by the rediscovery of ancient sculpture and the renewed interest in classical texts. Through reproductive media such as books, prints, medals, and statuettes, antiquarian knowledge spread north and south of the Alps. In these galleries, the revival of antiquity can be seen in small-scale objects that circulated between Italian and northern courts and in paintings of mythological themes. Antiquity could be used in allegorical portraiture and in other domestic contexts; mythological stories could also serve as moralizing reminders in the home.
Conventions associated with earlier religious art, such as the triptych format for altarpieces, remained, and many artists took as much inspiration from the natural world as they did from antiquity. The works on display here reveal a growing appreciation for landscape painting; for instance, Filippo Lippi uses a landscape to establish an ascetic frame for the penitent St. Jerome, and an Arcadian setting is featured in the pastoral idyll attributed to Titian. Small-scale paintings such as these were often admired in the context of the studiolo, a private domestic space where precious possessions—books, coins, drawings, prints,sculptures, natural curiosities, and fine scholarly paraphernalia—were displayed for contemplation.
This period also witnessed the slow disappearance of artistic guilds and the increased emphasis on personal style, whether revealed in finely crafted drawings or in the energetic strokes of a painter’s brush. Artists were often called to serve foreign courts, and their work came to reflect these new contexts and environments. The vibrant exchange between Spain and Italy is evident in the large wooden reredos, or altar backdrop, the design of which demonstrates an awareness of Roman architecture and other artistic currents.
Around the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Florence came under the spell of the prophecies of the charismatic preacher Savonarola, and in the north, Martin Luther brought about ecclesiastical reform, more widely termed the Reformation.