Art, Education and Training

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Art, Education and Training

The methods and materials used to educate artists changed considerably during the Renaissance. Throughout the period, most young artists received their early training as apprentices*. However, during the 1400s learning about art theory gradually became as important as mastering practical skills. By the 1600s, art had evolved from a craft to a course of academic study.


Apprenticeship. During the Renaissance, art apprentices studied under the guidance of a master artist. They usually began their training between the ages of 12 and 14, and served for a period of between 1 and 8 years. Parents of apprentices signed a contract with the master that set out the terms of the training. A typical contract required the master to provide food, housing, and clothing as well as instruction. In some cases the parents paid the master a fee, while in others the apprentice received a salary from the master.

At first, local craft unions, or guilds, set standards for apprenticeship. The guilds decided matters such the length of contracts and the number of students a master could train. Some guilds would not allow pupils to switch masters during their apprenticeship or to sell their works independently. At the end of the apprenticeship students often had to show a piece of work to the guild to demonstrate that they had mastered their craft. This is the origin of the term masterpiece.

Artistic training varied from one master to another. In Italy, drawing was emphasized. A pupil might start by copying or tracing drawings and paintings before moving on to sketching live models. Students also learned to mix paints and to prepare walls and panels for painting. In addition, many apprentices studied techniques such as perspective* and proportion.


Art Texts. The first art textbooks appeared in the 1400s. They differed from the practical handbooks about painting that artists had used during the Middle Ages. The early Renaissance texts discussed the theory of art and basic principles for art instruction. In On Painting (1435), the architect Leon Battista Alberti explained the use of geometry and optics (the study of the properties of light) in painting. He also discussed composition* and the qualities of the ideal painter. Books such as Alberti's instructed amateurs as well as professional artists, signaling a change in the public image of art. By the 1500s, most educated people received some artistic instruction.

Art texts originated in Italy, but they soon spread to northern Europe. The German painter and printmaker Albrecht Durer published two works on the subject in the 1520s. As books about art increased in number and popularity, they focused increasingly on theory. Many emphasized the Italian idea of disegno, which referred to the importance of design in painting. Others showed the relationship between fields such as mathematics or philosophy and art. Over time, knowledge of these other subjects became a necessary part of a serious artist's education.


Art Academies. Another important development in art education was the rise of art schools, or academies. The earliest academies were not formal schools but groups of apprentices who met at the end of the workday to practice drawing and other skills. Eventually such meetings grew into academies with an organized curriculum and regular classes. Over time the academies introduced new areas of study such as anatomy. They also began to set standards for training artists, a function previously performed by the guilds. For example, by 1571 artists in Florence no longer had to join a guild.

Italy led the way in founding art academies. Some of the early ones included the Compagnia e Accademia del Disegno in Florence, the Accademia del Disegno in Perugia, and the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. By the 1600s other European cities, such as Paris, Vienna, Madrid, and St. Petersburg, had academies devoted to educating artists.

(See alsoAcademies; Art; Education. )

* apprentice

person bound by legal agreement to work for another for a specified period of time in return for instruction in a trade or craft

* perspective

artistic technique for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface

* composition

arrangement of objects in a work of art

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