The Renaissance Connection The Artist's Life
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Remember the great artists of the Renaissance?

   Leonardo da Vinci...
         Michelangelo Buonnarotti...
                  Ugo da Carpi...


Diogenes, Ugo da Carpi
Ugo da Carpi made this woodcut depicting the Greek philosopher Diogenes as a muscular, heroic figure.

Ugo was a master woodblock artist of the Renaissance, but he never became a household name like Michelangelo or Leonardo. Just like actors or athletes today, most Renaissance artists labored in obscurity their entire lives. Artists were tradesmen—like carpenters or stonemasons. But through sheer force of talent, this began to change during the Renaissance

Apprentices and Workshops
All artists spent their youth as humble apprentices, learning their craft in their master's workshop. If they learned well, an artist might attempt a masterpiece. If it was recognized as such by their guild, they would officially become a master artist. Then they could open their own workshop.

The road to becoming a master artist was often a long one. Most artists were sons (very few were daughters) of shopkeepers or traders. Around age twelve, a boy's parents would send him to work as an apprentice. If he were lucky, he would join the workshop of a master artist and work for many years, learning the trade and assisting him in his work.

Baccio Bandinelli's Studio
Apprentice and master artists are busy working on many projects in this engraving by Enea Vico of Baccio Bandinelli's Studio.

An apprentice's first tasks were humble: sweeping, running errands, preparing the wooden panels for painting, and grinding and mixing pigments. As the apprentice's skills grew, he would begin to learn from his master: drawing sketches, copying paintings, casting sculptures, and assisting in the simpler aspects of creating art works.

The best students would assist the master with important commissions, often painting background and minor figures while the Master painted the main subjects. The few apprentices who showed amazing skill could eventually become masters themselves. A very few became greater artists than their masters. One legend tells of the young Leonardo da Vinci painting an angel so perfectly that his master Verrocchio broke his brushes in two and gave up painting forever in recognition of his pupil's superior abilities.

Once an artist became a master, he could open his own workshop and hire apprentices of his own. Many workshops were versatile and could tackle many kinds of work: painting, sculpting, goldsmithing, architecture, and engineering. Artists were called to homes to paint portraits, decorate furniture, make silverware, paint banners, create sets for plays, make book covers or even design military machinery for war. In a brochure to patrons, Leonardo da Vinci listed thirty-six services that he could perform for his patrons.

Serving Patrons
But artists were still a service business. Unlike today, artists did not create whatever they liked then put it up for sale. Art served specific functions, which were mainly religious at the beginning of the Renaissance. Artists were paid to produce exactly what the patron wanted.

Portrait of George, Duke of Saxony
The Duke of Saxony was a patron of the arts. He hired an artist to paint this portrait of himself.

Without a patron, artists would not be able to make a living. Wealthy and powerful patrons would pay a master artist (and his workshop of assistants) to paint portraits, landscapes, altarpieces, or wall murals for their church or home. These rich families would sponsor public works of art as well, commissioning paintings, sculptures and even architecture. Patrons most often paid for the creation of art to glorify God, glorify their city and to commemorate themselves—that is, to make themselves look good and be remembered forever.

Innovating the Artistic Life
The Renaissance was an important time for artists. They developed new techniques and skills. Soon people began to admire their artistry as well as the subject of the artwork. By the late Renaissance, artists were no longer thought of as tradesmen. A master artist could become a highly respected member of the community. He could dictate his own terms in his work and enjoy a much higher social status than a mere craftsman. And superstar artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo became famous throughout Europe, helping create the modern image of the artist as an independent creative genius.

Art students today
Today, young artists go to school rather than an apprenticeship to become an artist, but much of the training remains the same.

Becoming an Artist Today
Young people who want to be artists today are trained in ways that are similar to Renaissance Europe, but art students attend school rather than apprentice in a master artist's workshop. An artist's training today can start with art classes in grades K-12, and some children receive special lessons at museums or from artists in their communities. Students who want to continue their studies as an artist can attend art school or a college or university offering a fine art program. Professors in these schools are expected to be practicing artists, and students often choose a program based on their desire to study with a certain professor. Students in college level programs learn drawing as a basic skill, and then branch out into other areas of interest such as painting, photography or sculpture. Students who receive a master's degree in fine art are qualified to teach at the college level.

While there are many similarities between learning to be an artist during the Renaissance and learning to be an artist today, there are also differences. Artistic careers today are open to both men and women. Artists begin their professional training as young adults today, while apprentices during the Renaissance often began their studies at a much younger age. What ever the differences and similarities between a Renaissance artist's training and an artist's training today, the goals for artists that were formed during the Renaissance—creativity, originality and innovation—are still what artists strive for.


In Medieval and Renaissance times, professional and trade organizations were called guilds. Artists, merchants, lawyers, doctors, and many other professions and trades had guilds. Each guild established rules of behavior and quality for their members. Some also helped out members who fell sick. Members had the benefits of full citizenship, unlike other workers, could serve in the Signoria, the city's legislature.

Patrons were the clients, and during the Renaissance they were generally considered to be the true "creator" of an artwork. The patron hired the artist and specified what they wanted and how much they would spend on time and materials. Contracts between patrons and artists often stipulated the quality and quantity of the more expensive colors like gold and ultramarine.

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