Renaissance, n. A time of intellectual rebirth, when many things --
from philosophy to art -- were rethought and infused with new energy.
The movement in art is perhaps most striking. On one level, there was
an awesome mastery of technical detail, from the use of perspective to
da Vinci's subtle use of blue to create distance in the Madonna of the
The skill which they used succeeded in creating more convincing
illusions than ever before. The term "Renaissance Masters" is quite
justly applied to these artists, but the most profound rethinking of
Renaissance art was not on a technical level.
Jesus was a Middle Eastern peasant, with calloused hands and skin
darkened by years' beating in the sun. The Renaissance Masters
invariably showed him to be a soft and fair skinned Caucasian, who
most definitely did not look Jewish; the Jews (in the rare instance
that they were painted) were a symbol of conniving, greed, and
rejection of everything that is good, and so they knew far better than
to paint Jesus as a dark-skinned Jew.
Jesus was a carpenter by profession, and he completely violated
people's expectations of a rabbi. He chose disciples, but not from the
scribes and lawyers, the educated and literate. Instead, he chose a
very motley crew of manual laborers -- fishermen and whatnot, even one
terrorist thrown in for good measure. The Renaissance Masters, in
painting the disciples, knew that Jesus would only choose men attired
in dignity; his disciples are invariably painted as Greek
His birth was announced to shepherds, in one of the great images of
the last being first. A shepherd was crude, dirty, smelly, and
uncouth; he could outswear a Roman soldier, and his testimony was not
legally valid in a court of law. They might be described as the
ancient equivalent of used car salesmen, except for the fact that the
modern used car salesman does not have quite that bad of a reputation.
From the Renaissance onwards, the image of the shepherd has been used
as an image of the pastoral, to symbolize everything that is calm,
serene, peaceful, and idyllic; the angels are painted as joining this
beautiful scene to sing of the newborn Messiah because of how perfect
An angel, as described in Scripture, is invariably majestic, awesome,
and terrifying. Their first words are almost always "Fear not!", to
calm the great fear that comes in response to such a magnificent
creature of power and light; when they appeared at the Resurrection,
their presence was sufficient to make soldiers faint from terror, and
John, after seeing all things in Revelation, fell down at the angel's
feet to worship him. The Renaissance Masters had the skill of brush to
capture something of this majesty, and painted angels as voluptuous
women whose clothing is always falling off.
The Renaissance Masters would be pleased to see the wonders of
television news reporting.
- -- Hayward's Unabridged Dictionary