An Exploration of the Renaissance Trend in Web Design and Other Modern Media
The Renaissance was an all-encompassing movement that flourished in Florence, Italy in the 14th century, in no small part thanks to shifting political, economical, and cultural changes. After the long period of scientific, intellectual, and artistic stagnation better known as the Dark Ages, people were ready for a rebirth, i.e. a renaissance in all aspects of life.
One of the most significant things to be reawakened during the Renaissance was culture, in particular art. Rich merchants (as well as the Church) financially supported most works, which were heavily influenced by the ideas of humanism. The humanists considered the ancient world to be the peak of human civilization, and that belief translated onto art.
Renaissance works of art often depicted classical gods and mythological creatures. Portraits became popular along with depictions in the nude. Artists wanted to create deep, complex works and realistically display emotions through their paintings and sculptures. Striving for realism, they developed ways to emulate perspective, as well as advanced techniques for recreating natural light and shadow.
The Renaissance masterpieces have left an ever-lasting impact on all forms of art and their beauty remains breathtaking to this day. They never cease to amaze, continuing to inspire creatives several centuries later. In fact, implementing Renaissance elements in your work is currently a popular trend in web design.
In this article, we would like to take you on a journey to explore just how much the Renaissance has influenced modern media. Some of the projects on our list were inspired by the Middle Ages and Baroque period. The former was the predecessor of the Renaissance, while the latter followed it in the 17th century. These three eras have made a huge impact on all modern forms of art, including contemporary web design, as you will see in the following examples:
Le Cantiche 1320 is a website created in honor of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s momentous Divine Comedy, completed in 1320. This work acts as somewhat of a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Dante wrote it predominantly in the Tuscan dialect. At the time, that was a controversial thing to do because Latin was believed to be the only suitable language for literature. Dante’s radical move paved the way for the widespread use of vernacular languages in Renaissance literary works. The Divine Comedy is imbued with religious themes, but Dante made it clear he did not believe enjoying this life and obtaining salvation upon death were two mutually exclusive things. He wanted people to become more involved in political life and considered religion should have nothing to do with politics. These ideas heavily influenced humanists and became widely popular during the Renaissance.
The Divine Comedy is considered by many the greatest literary work of all time. The Le Cantiche 1320 website celebrates this masterpiece and is purposefully designed to look like an open book. You can go through it by dragging the cursor left and right or by using the horizontal scroll. The site is divided into five sections which can be navigated using the unobtrusive vertical menu. The pages contain large typography and predominantly full-height images and illustrations depicting Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The transition and hover effects are highly enjoyable, with pictures and letters often assembling before your eyes. And if you click on the asterisk in the top left corner, again, a book-like, horizontal-scrolling layout will appear, containing memorable verses from the poem.
Bruegel – Once in a Lifetime is a project created by the Art History Museum in Vienna to mark the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder – one of the most important representatives of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. This audio-visual and interactive presentation contains some of his most notable works, such as “The Tower of Babel”, “Two Monkeys”, and “Hunters in the Snow”. But what leaves a lasting impression is the first painting we see on the site – “Peasant Wedding”. The characters depicted on it are animated so that they appear to be engaged in a lively conversation. You can hear soft chatter, laughter, the clatter of dishes, and music, all of which instantly transports you to the depicted Renaissance wedding. The site contains a mixture of audio, photo, and video materials, introducing you to this remarkable artist and the way he created his paintings. The designers went far and beyond to highlight Bruegel’s magnificent artistic skills and his great attention to detail. On some highly intricate images, they made certain areas clickable. There are pulsating white dots that on click reveal the story about the selected part of the image while simultaneously zooming in on it, fully immersing you into the depicted scene.
The Gucci Marmont website gives us an overview of the famous brand’s Renaissance-style bag collection. The bags are presented as parts of still life paintings that appear to be hung on a gallery wall. While the background on the site is dark, the colors on the paintings are in contrasting rich colors. On scroll, you start to move from one painting to the next, while the chiaroscuro effect, which originated during the Renaissance era, takes on full effect. Once you place your mouse on any of the displayed paintings, the interplay of light and shadow becomes even more prominent.
Gucci Hallucination introduces us to Gucci’s Spring / Summer 2018 collection through a series of imaginative visuals inspired by the works of Old Masters, i.e. painters who worked in Europe before the 19th century. The famous Renaissance artworks, such as Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Marriage” and Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” were digitally manipulated so that the depicted characters appear to be wearing Gucci clothes and accessories. Aside from these Renaissance paintings, the site contains several other works of Old Masters, placed in a modern setting and brought to life with interesting animation effects. This whimsical website mixes classic art with pop culture, surrealism, utopism, and cutting-edge designs, resulting in an unforgettable showcase of Gucci’s creations.
The Käthe Kollwitz Memorial website tells us the story of the life and work of this great German artist. While her artistry is most commonly associated with Expressionism, she was also influenced by early Renaissance art. While you scroll your way through this one-page website, countless scroll-triggered animations, transitions, and interactions will appear. Once you get acquainted with Käthe’s artistry, you will reach the “Let’s Draw” section. As you move the pencil across the virtual board creating your own work of art, you will notice that the strokes reminisce Käthe’s style.
The Witcher is a medieval fantasy drama on Netflix. Due to the show’s intricate structure, spanning several time periods and often jumping suddenly from one to the other, Netflix released an interactive map, to help viewers better understand where and when each episode occurs. Besides a hand-drawn map, resembling those from the Middle Ages, the creators also added a timeline to make the site easier to navigate. The timeline is marked with important events you can learn more about. The site includes a search bar as well, so you can quickly find information on characters, events, and places of your interest, and connect the dots about the show more easily.
Yuto Takahashi is a web and graphic designer as well as an art director. His eclectic website oozes Renaissance vibes. The homepage contains a background picture of a woman seemingly submerged under water. The way Takahashi edited that image makes it look as if it were painted by a Renaissance artist. The chiaroscuro effect is in full swing and can be seen in the majority of photos featured on the site. The fonts he used on the pages slightly resemble the “cursiva humanistica”, i.e. the formal style of writing developed by the humanists during the Renaissance era. The scroll-triggered, liquid-like animations add a contemporary touch to the site and make it exciting to explore.
Ludmilla Maury is a French art director and web designer. Her website is simple, clean, and typography-heavy. The serif fonts look like Renaissance-style cursive letters. They are colored in golden hues, which were often used in Renaissance paintings. Whenever the artists wanted to depict celestial and heavenly settings, they used a golden palette. Even though this is a portfolio site, the previews of Maury’s projects appear only when you hover over their name in the portfolio list. The homepage also contains several illustrations of circles, where the smaller circle lies inside the bigger one. They start to rotate on scroll. During the Renaissance, the circle symbolized perfection, just like it did in Antiquity.
The Centre for French baroque music has launched “Expodcast”, a virtual exhibition on French baroque music. The interactive website introduces visitors to the music and musicians of the Royal Chapel, the jewel of the Palace of Versailles. While listening to any of the six featured podcast episodes, it is possible to explore the accompanying photo and video content. That way, you can enjoy the Chapel’s wonderful artworks, which symbolize the beauty and the sumptuousness of the French Baroque, learn about musicians who played for the King, find out how they were paid, and discover many other interesting details.
Giampiero Bodino is an artist and a jeweler whose work is heavily influenced by the Renaissance. His website is adorned accordingly, with jewelry showcases accompanied by illustrations of famous antique sculptures, which were popular during the Renaissance era. This is a one-page site, with a timeline displayed in the sidebar. You can use it to instantly skip from one section to the next. Alternatively, you can scroll through the site and enjoy photographic and video showcases of Bodino’s collections.
Browser History 2020 celebrates successful creatives and Squarespace customers who made the most of 2020. The company hired the Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal to create portraits of the selected few in the Renaissance style, a trait his works are famous for. He presented common users as heroes and made them a part of Renaissance settings. You can see them posing as sculptures from antiquity or riding chariots in the style of Greek gods. All this is depicted using the fresco technique, which was popular during the Renaissance era. Each slide contains an “Explore Story” button, inviting you to learn more about the users while Classical music plays in the background. The hidden menu includes direct links to the presentations of all the featured creatives. As you move the cursor from one name to the next, the background color changes accordingly.
The Obys Agency created the Typography Principles website to share their tips on typography with users. They opted for scroll navigation, which, in addition to the fun animation and transition effects, helped make the browsing experience smoother and more enjoyable. The site contains four sections, three of which are about fonts and how to use them, and one representing a ‘thank you’ page. The informative and helpful copy is paired with striking and recognizable works of art, including those from the Renaissance era, such as the iconic “Mona Lisa”. Paintings also appear on hover, which is best seen in the hidden menu (images appear while you hover over the links) and in the ‘thank you’ section. When you place the cursor on any letter, that letter will rise higher above others and the painting attached to it will appear on the screen.
Dieu Neo is a Behance project created by Rron Berisha. This project celebrates classical art and the works of some of the best-known painters, including Rembrandt, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Baugniet, J. R. Miles, and many others. The site contains information about each artist, a collection of their best-known works, as well as information about exhibitions where their paintings are displayed. The layout is modern and attractive, with just the right amount of text mixed with compelling visuals. Large, serif fonts used in headlines are an excellent match for a website dedicated to art and they further enhance its elegant appeal.
The Behance project created for the Prado Museum is nothing short of stunning. This art museum located in Madrid, Spain contains a vast collection of European art, in particular Spanish, Italian, and Flemish works. The project introduces you to both the artists and their art pieces through a series of large, often fullscreen images. As for typography, the designers opted for the sleek and elegant combination of serif and sans-serif letters, beautifully complementing the sophisticated vibe of the exhibited paintings. The goal of this project was to enable people to explore the museum’s collection without visiting the place. And what better way to do that than with virtual reality. The designers included a 360° VR simulation of the museum, allowing you to move through the halls and explore the art. There are clickable objects wherever you turn, enabling you to learn more about everything that interests you.
Caravaggio – Art Brutalism UI Concept is a creative Behance project made by Nikita Resh. It is dedicated to one of the most influential painters of the late 16th and early 17th century – Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. This great artist had the power to vividly and realistically capture human emotions on canvas. He achieved that mostly by playing with the chiaroscuro technique, often taking the contrast between the light and the dark to the extreme. Many people believe that the Renaissance ended and Baroque began when he rose to prominence. Caravaggio is known for introducing tenebrism to painting, a style perfectly complemented by the brutalist vibe of Resh’s project. The designer uses large typefaces and long chunks of texts contrasted by mostly white, grey, or black backgrounds, depending on the color of the letters. This site provides an overview of Caravaggio’s creative oeuvre and is imbued with his masterpieces and details about them. Resh displayed the great artist’s paintings as backgrounds, magazine covers, and as parts of a book on his art, introducing people to Caravaggio in a striking and creative way.
Helen Sobiralski is a photographer that primarily focuses on fashion photography, portraits, and conceptional stagings. Cockaignesque is her series of pictures about opulence. The title of the project is connected to the word cockaigne, i.e. the name of a medieval mythical place of great luxuries and pleasures. The photos are idiosyncratic, with lots of rich, deep colors. They contain fauna and elements typical of still life paintings, such as vases and fruit. The contrast between light and dark is particularly prominent. With these pictures that look like artworks from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Sobiralski managed to blur the lines between paintings and photographs.
Dominique Agius is a French photographer and a university teacher. He came up with the idea to pay homage to the Grand Masters of Renaissance and Baroque painting. To that end, he created Vanité – a project that consists of a series of images inspired by these two magnificent eras. Agius’ photos feature recurrent subjects of Renaissance and Baroque art, such as an alchemist (alchemy flourished during the Renaissance, with alchemists reviving the knowledge of the old Greek and Islamic scholars). Some images are a direct nod to several masterpieces, including Georges de la Tour’s “Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” and Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus”. Just like the great painters before him, Agius incorporated the elements of perspective and chiaroscuro into his work. The photographs look rich, intimate, with lighter elements and subjects juxtaposed with dark backgrounds. Vanité is an impressive project that instantly transports you to the compelling art world of several centuries ago.
Christy Lee Rogers is a visual artist from Hawaii. She is known for creating Baroque-inspired photographs of subjects submerged underwater. The images look dramatic and suspenseful, as if hand-painted. Christy uses rich, vibrant colors. The refraction of light in water helps her enhance the interplay of dark and light in each shot. Some photos are colored entirely in a golden palette, giving off a Renaissance vibe.
Aguilar Studio’s Caravaggio project consists of a series of images inspired by the great artist’s work. With the help of models and modern technologies, the studio managed to successfully enact some of Caravaggio’s best-known paintings, including “The Calling of Saint Matthew”, “Supper at Emmaus”, “Saint Jerome Writing”, “The Lute Player”, and several others. The photographs look exciting and the chiaroscuro effect enhances the drama of pictured scenarios.
Thierry Bansront’s Neoclassical project is a collection of photographs inspired by Neoclassicism. This cultural movement developed in the second half of the 18th century and it was heavily influenced by classical antiquity, just like the Renaissance was. It also adopted symmetry, harmony, clarity, and proportion, all of which were celebrated during the Renaissance era. Bansront said that his goal was to create “artworks modeled as neoclassical paintings”. He loves that era, and this project was his way of paying homage to it. The shots of models in the nude look clear and harmonious, which are the unmistakable traits of neoclassical art. Bansront experimented with colors and light while using little to no ornaments. He went for simplicity and natural looks, knowing that the use of subtle hues and specific body poses will be enough to make people think of Neoclassicism.
Josef Fischnaller is a fashion and advertising photographer. His portraits and still-life images are inspired by the works of the Renaissance artists and Old Masters. That is evident in the color palette he’s using, the model’s posture, and overall photo compositions. Fischnaller’s work looks refined and timeless, but almost every photo comes with a modern twist. He often adds contemporary objects to his works, such as pieces of plastic, a toy helicopter, tiny figurines, tissue papers, and many others.
Nima Benati is a photographer that worked on Dolce & Gabanna’s Rubens-inspired project. Peter Paul Rubens was possibly the most important representative of the Flemish Baroque era. His paintings often portrayed great movement, but he was no stranger to erotically depicting his subjects, surrounded by great opulence. Rubens often painted women with fuller bodies, presenting them as symbols of beauty and fertility. That sentiment translates onto Benati’s project, which oozes romantic and tranquil vibes, even on photos that feature male models. Overall, the photographs look elegant and inviting. The pink-ish color palette makes them appear particularly soft and it also helps enhance the models’ femininity.
Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” video was directed by Hype Williams. In it, the band is seen performing in front of Eugène Delacroix’s painting “Liberty Leading the People”. Although Delacroix belonged to the romantic era, his inspiration came from Rubens and the artists of the Venetian Renaissance. “Liberty Leading the People” epitomizes the spirit of the French 1830 revolution. It shows revolutionaries led by a woman personified as Liberty. The song “Viva la Vida” tells the story of the final moments of King Louis XVI, who was the last king of France before the monarchy fell apart during the Revolution. The video itself looks like a painting came to life. The screen resembles a canvas, with all its dents and imperfections. Band members are dressed similar to revolutionaries, with colors and lights matching the style of the painting.
“70 Million” is a remarkable video by the band Hold Your Horses, directed by l’Ogre. It is a beautiful ode to art that sees band members enact some of the best-known paintings of all time, including Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp”, Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of Dora Maar Seated”, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, and many others. Every painting reconstruction matches the original to the smallest of details, taking viewers on a beautiful journey through art history.
R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” video was directed by Tarsem Singh. The director drew inspiration from Gabriel García Márquez’s short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, Andrei Tarkovsky’s film “The Sacrifice”, and Caravaggio’s paintings. Light and dark are beautifully juxtaposed in the video. Some scenes are recreations of Caravaggio’s well-known works, including “The Entombment of Christ” and “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”. There is also a direct reference to the Renaissance painter Il Sodoma and his famous work “St Sebastien”, as well as scenes with Hindu deities. The director masterfully combined all of these elements into a commanding video that continues to impress viewers even several decades after it was released.
In June 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z dropped a surprise joint album. “Apes**t” was released as the first single, and the spectacular video for it was filmed in the Louvre. The museum’s outstanding art collection plays a huge role in the video. The opening scene features The Carters standing in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. Over the course of six minutes, we witness spotless performances of the pair and their dancers before astonishing art pieces, such as “Oath of the Horatii”, “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Josephine”, “The Intervention of the Sabine Women”, and “Madame Récamier”, all by Jacques-Louis David, then “Pietà” by Rosso Fiorentino, “Portrait of a Black Woman” by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, and many others. The video was directed by Ricky Saiz and is incredibly well-thought-out, addressing modern-day social and political issues, in particular the position of two sexes and people of color in society.
Joji’s beautiful video for “777” was directed by Saad Moosajee. The scenery, costumes, and lighting capture the essence of the Renaissance spirit. 777 is believed to be the angel number, which is why we see creatures of the afterlife and the depiction of Heaven in the video. Joji, Moosajee, and their team created an astounding project that feels like witnessing a remarkable Renaissance painting come to life in the full chiaroscuro effect.
The surreal video for “Benzo” was directed by Blood Orange a.k.a. Dev Hynes himself. It features characters wearing powdered wigs, turtlenecks, gowns, culottes, and elegant jewelry, all typical of the French nobility. Hynes created a gender-bent representation of the French court, in which he is the entertainer who needs to amuse the queen, i.e. Marie Antoinette, who is actually a black man. All other characters are black, too. Playing with the Renaissance aesthetic, Hynes created an imaginative work of art that celebrates black and queer culture.
The Renaissance is an important era in human history during which culture and art reached impressive heights. People felt liberated from the confines of the Middle Ages, and art mirrored their newfound sense of freedom. Painters depicted humanist ideals, nature, and still life in a way that continues to inspire artists to this day.
The primary focus of our article was to show you how big the Renaissance trend is in modern web design. We also wanted to highlight how Renaissance elements are celebrated through and incorporated into contemporary media, but we couldn’t help but mention works inspired by the Middle Ages and Baroque, as these two eras are so closely tied to the Renaissance.
In the end, our artistic adventure showed us that combining the old with the new leads to the creation of distinct, awe-inspiring, and memorable projects. So don’t be scared to experiment in your work and combine seemingly incompatible styles. Play, use art to tell your story and address issues you can relate to, and your work surely won’t go unnoticed.