The Secret Language of the Renaissance: Decoding the Hidden Symbolism of Italian Art

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More About This Textbook


During the Renaissance, artists traditionally encoded meanings into symbols, some of which drew upon a traditional repertoire available to educated people in the era. These hidden messages—which ranged from the esoteric to the political to the religious—could be communicated in everything from the position of a hand to the placement of the sun and moon. The Secret Language of the Renaissance helps us discover them anew, as lecturer, author, and director Richard Stemp teaches you the art of reading these paintings.

Magnificently illustrated throughout, and with a six-color gold-foil cover, this remarkable book has three distinct parts. The first surveys the literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, and decorative arts of this remarkable period. Section two reviews the essential elements of symbolic language in Renaissance art, including the use of color, geometry, light and shade, composition, proportion, perspective, and body language; the explanatory examples reach from Crivelli’s Annunciation to Donatello’s Mary Magdalene. And the final part features themes including Mythology, War and Peace, and Death and Eternity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844833221
  • Publisher: Osprey Publishing, Limited
  • Publication date: 10/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 9.60 (w) x 11.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2007

    Richly Rewarding Reading

    I am an Art History lecturer specialising in the Renaissance. I travel all round Italy for my work, both for research and lecturing purposes. It would rarely occur to me to write a review but for this book i have made an exception. Because it is exceptional. I have read most introductory Renaissance books and they are usually generalised, sweeping affairs, and often actually a little dull. This book on the other hand has pulled off the incredibly sophisticated task of being both an accessible and most enjoyable read for the newcomer and yet offering depth and originality to the more informed reader. You will find all manner of gems here regarding the very fabric of Renaissance culture - the popular ideologies of the time, the nature of society, the politics of the day, and of course religion, along with more unusual sections addressing matters such as astrology, sacred geometry, and the promise of Eternity. Richard Stemp veers effortlessly from close analysis to a broad all-seeing perspective. Satisfyingly laid out in 3 sections 'New Art from Old Ideas', 'The Language of the Renaissance' and 'the Thematic Decoder', it is also beautifully illustrated throughout. Sections of paintings are isolated and enlarged for greater clarity of communication and in many cases the paintings are given a whole page or even two. I highly recommend this to you as i do to all of my students. It is not merely recommended reading, but essential. A joy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2006

    Engaging, enlightening and beautiful

    This is a fascinating introduction into renaissance art. For anyone not already an expert in the field (like me) this was a wonderful way in. The presentation is of course beautiful and the way the detail is highlighted through commentary and visual illustration makes the subject really come to life. What I found most enthralling however is the way that a subject (Art) that on the surface could come across as elitist and marginal is shown to be a central part of renaissance history. Mr Stemp brings to life a time when art was not something that was hidden away on gallery walls, merely decorative or a record of history but as very much part of the shaping of history and his book gives you an insight both into the influences inherent in these works and also the influence of these works upon the world in which they existed. The secret of title is the very lives, events and desires of the period. The author's range of knowledge of the people and the wide range of influences which affected them effortlessly (for us) unlocks this secret. As a first step into a many faceted subject or a satisfying overview either way you will be fascintated by the subject and delighted by its delivery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2006

    A teacher's wish come true.

    As a teacher of the history of art to seventeen and eighteen year-olds I have long wished to find a book - on any period, but particularly on one of the periods most studied, the Renaissance or French art in the Nineteenth Century - which opened the door to a real enjoyment of the subject. Gore Vidal said that if you wanted to meet someone who hated books, find a critic. Equally, if you want to find someone who hates pictures, find an academic art historian who will suck the life out of them. This author wears his learning lightly and shows us how understanding is the key to great pleasure. This book may change lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2006

    Beautifully produced and fascinating.

    This is an exquisitely well-produced book that will fascinate anyone interested in Renaissance art. Assuming that the reader has no previous knowledge, the author explains how to look at Italian art and understand both the artists' intentions and the cultural and geographical context of their work. The text is clear, witty and interesting, and the artwork is really outstanding. There are many double-page spreads of renaissance paintings, followed by reproductions of some of the details of these paintings, helping us to understand how and why the artist created them. I picked up this book as a novice to the subject and really enjoyed it. I finished the book with a real urge to look at more renaissance art and felt very informed about how to look at it. It's such a beautiful work that I've already bought copies for some friends. I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2006

    The definitive work

    I have always wanted to enjoy wandering round galleries and understanding what I was looking at - this book is just *wonderful* and fills in the gaps in my knowledge in a great way. Stemp is neither superficial nor patronizing but just has a knack of bringing something to life. The illustrations are gorgeous and even if I can't travel round Europe seeing these things for myself at least this book gives me a lovely way to enjoy them from home. Have bought copies for three friends for Christmas and would recommended to *ANYONE* who just wants a better insight.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2006

    Lacking in substance

    This is a superficial attempt to cover an extraordinarily complex subject. Many subject areas are introduced with little or no substantive analysis. The reader would be better off reading such works as Jocelyn Godwin's The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance or works by Frances Yates and Hilary Gatti.

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