Medieval Renaissance Painting Techniques

Written by alicia prince
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Medieval Renaissance Painting Techniques
Chiaroscuro is just one of the art techniques developed during the Renaissance. (Christopher Robbins/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Before the Renaissance, artists had limited tools and materials with which to create art; many works lacked a lifelike quality. In addition, pre-Renaissance artists had not fully explored anatomy and perspective as it related to their work. When artists during the Renaissance overcame these limitations, paintings were made that are far more lifelike and brilliant. Techniques developed during the Renaissance changed art materials and theories significantly.

Linear Perspective

Linear perspective is an artistic principle that describes how objects appear depending on from where they are viewed. For example, an object appears smaller and higher the farther it is from the viewer, and all lines of perspective converge on a single point. Paintings prior to the Renaissance tended to focus on religious figures with simple two-dimensional backgrounds; Renaissance artists began trying to paint their everyday surroundings and discovered ways to make buildings and other objects appear more lifelike.

Oil Paints

Paints prior to the Renaissance were generally made of unprocessed compounds, and did not have the same saturation and range as later media. As painters experimented with different materials, paints slowly became more wear-resistant and brilliant. Oil paints as we know them today, which began to appear in the early 1400s, are largely unchanged from those developed during the Renaissance.


Along with limited perspective, figures in early paintings could not be rendered in lifelike poses. Figures were painted from the front with relaxed arms, as artists could not accurately depict the relative sizes of body parts. Foreshortening is an illusion by which body parts appear larger or smaller than usual -- for example, with an arm held toward the viewer, a hand appears to be larger than usual, and the arm shorter. Foreshortening techniques in painting were influenced by scientific and biological discoveries of the Renaissance age.


Chiaroscuro is the use of light and dark tones in a painting to suggest three-dimensional qualities. Paintings from earlier ages appear flat by comparison, as artists during the Renaissance were gradually able to accurately depict greater and greater distances. Chiaroscuro was fully developed during the 15th and 16th centuries.

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