Listen to part of a lecture in an art history class.
As I was saying, the Renaissance period-which started in the fourteen hundreds in Europe-the Renaissance was still a pretty religious period.
And that's reflected in the artwork of that time.
But artists were starting to experiment with a more secular point of view as well-a tendency to also use the natural world as the subject matter for their art.
And there were different ways that these natural themes were explored.
For instance, many artists would paint portraits, while others-although this was more common in northern Europe-would make landscapes the subject of their works.
But today I'd like to consider an influential Italian Renaissance artist, Leon Battista Alberti, who took a slightly different approach.
Leon Battista Alberti was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, poet-very wide-ranging interests-like daVinci or Michelangelo, the sort of guy for whom the term "Renaissance man" was in fact created.
Alberti believed that the most important approach for a painter was to capture a story or narrative.
Now, as I've indicated, this narrative could be either religious or secular, depending on what the work of art was for.
If the work was to be placed in a church then obviously it'd have a religious theme, whereas if it was for someone's home then it could deal with a different subject matter.
The exact narrative didn't really matter, so long as it was one that captivated the audience-that held the viewer's attention.
So what is actually needed to tell a story?
Well, Alberti needed characters, right?
And he wanted to represent them as realistically as possible to capture the viewer's attention.
One way he achieved this was to make use of what's known as the contrapposto pose.
A contrapposto pose basically entails showing a slight twist in the body.
The shoulders and hips are usually bent in different directions.
In other words, if the left shoulder is bent so that it's slightly higher than the right shoulder, then the hips will be bent so that the left side will be slightly lower than the right side.
Similarly, in sculptures, most of the weight seems to be on one foot, which also results in this slanted position-making it seem like the figure is about to walk or move.
This adds to the realistic aspect of the figure.
But there are actually a lot of things that could go wrong in the attempt to create such a pose.
You could make a figure's arms bigger than its legs, or the head too small for the body.
Messing up the proportions can leave a figure looking cartoon-like and unnatural.
But Alberti had a solution: He encouraged artists to visualize a figure's bones and structure.
This would give the artist an idea of the proportions of the figure.
From there, Alberti suggested the artist imagine attaching the tendons and muscles, then covering those with flesh and skin.
Now, although this method may seem complicated, artists since antiquity have used anatomical observations to try to get the proportions of the human figure as accurate as possible-though obviously not to the degree that Alberti was recommending.
Now, in addition to characters, the setting is extremely important, especially when attempting to tell a story realistically.
Renaissance artists essentially needed to create a three-dimensional scene on a two-dimensional surface.
They accomplished this by the use of perspective-a relatively new idea for artists at the time.
In particular, the type of perspective that Alberti advocated was called linear one-point perspective.
In fact, Alberti was one of the artists who developed the geometry behind linear one-point perspective.
Linear perspective basically consists of drawing straight lines that extend from the forefront of the painting into the background-lines that seem to be parallel to each other, but which actually converge on a single point in the horizon, called the vanishing point.
By drawing figures and objects smaller and smaller as the lines get closer together, the artist is able to create depth in a painting.
This gives the illusion of a third dimension and makes the work of art more realistic.