They were: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio). These are the very first artists that come to mind when ever the term "Renaissance" is uttered. Towering geniuses of staggering talent, these three.
But, before we go any further, keep three things in mind. First, while the Big Three deserve every bit of lasting fame they enjoy, they were not the only artistic geniuses of the Renaissance. There were many dozens, if not hundreds, of "Renaissance" artists.
Secondly, during this period, the "Renaissance" was happening all over Europe. Venice, in particular, was busy with its own artistic geniuses.
Finally, the "Renaissance", was a long, drawn-out process. It happened over centuries, not twenty-five to forty years. If little else from this series of articles sticks, please remember this point.
That said (and it had to be said), let's return to the Big Three. We're going to play around a bit with that infamous essay question, the one which begins: "Compare and contrast..." Enjoy.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519):
• Trained in Florence.
• Is best known as a painter, but did absolutely everything else as well.
• Studied human anatomy, via dissection (completely illegal, unless one was a physician), and used the knowledge of such to glorify man.
• Believed only in that which he could observe.
• Had a Duke (of Milan) as his first patron.
• Painted beautiful women, most of whom seemed to be enjoying delicious secrets.
• Disliked Michelangelo, but was somewhat of a mentor (albeit unseen) to Raphael.
• Worked in Rome from 1513 to 1516.
• Was commissioned by Pope Leo X.
• Wild guess: As a dinner guest, would monopolize all conversation (but so interestingly, none would complain), enjoy the soup (and write down half of a new, improved recipe - wandering off, midway through, to fix the leaky faucet - never to finish writing the other half), linger long enough that all would beg him to stay and leave to a loud chorus of "Come back soon!", whilst misappropriating a wine glass and forgetting his hat.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564):
• Trained in Florence.
• Is best known as a painter and sculptor, but worked in architecture and wrote poetry as well.
• Studied human anatomy, via dissection (completely illegal, unless one was a physician), and used the knowledge of such to glorify God.
• Believed deeply and devoutly in God.
• Had a Medici (Lorenzo) as his first patron.
• Painted women who looked a lot like men with breasts slapped on.
• Intensely disliked Leonardo, but was somewhat of a reluctant mentor to Raphael.
• Worked in Rome 1496-1501, 1505, 1508-1516 and from 1534 until his death in 1564.
• Was commissioned by Popes Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, Paul III Farnese, Clement VIII and Pius III.
• Wild guess: As a dinner guest, would participate in conversation just enough to avoid outright rudeness, slurp the soup (probably complaining about its lack of salt to others, after the fact) and leave early, after eating two desserts and squirrelling a third into his napkin-lined pocket.
• Trained in Umbria, but studied in Florence (where he picked up his draftsmanship and compositional skills by studying Leonardo and Michelangelo's works).
• Is best known as a painter, but worked in architecture as well.
• Studied human anatomy only to the extent that his figures were proportionately correct.
• Believed in God, but didn't alienate the Humanists or Neo-Platonists.
• Had, as his first patrons, those who actually wanted either Leonardo or Michelangelo (whose time, respectively, was being monopolized by their patrons), but settled for Raphael.
• Painted beautiful, gentle, calm women in a courteous manner.
• Idolized Leonardo and managed to get along with Michelangelo (no mean feat, that).
• Worked in Rome from 1508 until his death in 1520.
• Was commissioned by Popes Julius II and Leo X.
• Wild guess: As a dinner guest, would bring a hostess gift, engage everyone at the table in delightful conversation, praise the soup, stay exactly the perfect amount of time and send flowers the next day.