An age declares itself "reborn" and sets out on forging what is at once a new path and yet at the same time a journey backward into the past. As the vestiges of Medieval mysticism continues to decline the Renaissance man sought to remake humanism into the rediscovered aesthetic of his age. No place is this better observed than in the art works of the great Renaissance masters. Longer restrained by ancient mediums of stone and painted plaster, the new artist explores the infinite possibilities in color and modeling of oil paint on canvas. Adding to the variety of the age was an emerging Northern European style driven by the Reformation.
Whether it was the Christian narratives of the Gospels or the mythic allegories recorded by Ovid, the Renaissance artist sought to bring them to life through the mastery of paint. Subjects which unfortunately have become recondite though time, we seek to rediscover. What was the artist saying in the arrangement of symbols on the canvas? How was the depiction of any given narrative reflective of the theology or philosophical thought of the day? Given the right tools and practice a painting can be unlocked revealing a rich assortment of interpretive possibilities.
The Platonic Ideal is ever present in the Renaissance. The purity of ideal forms melded with Christian thought becomes the foundation of this philosophical concept. As seen in The Courtier, Castiglione presents a gathering of enlightened Uomo Universale in search of perfection. Four dialogues in the truest tradition of Plato explore such vast topics as the ideal courtier, perfect government, to Platonic love itself. But beyond the literary, even the art works of Michelangelo himself show the philosophy's influence. To attempt to understand Renaissance humanism without Neoplatonism would be incomplete.
Like the painters of the age, the Renaissance composer was equally at ease working in the profane as well as the sacred realm. Stylistically there are common threads uniting the age with a distinct musical sound, though there will be no mistaking the religiosity of the motet from the playfulness of the madrigal. Never had a society created such an unprecedented musical vitality.