The Renaissance period, which took place between the 14th and 17th centuries, was a time of great artistic, cultural, and intellectual development in Europe. During this period, religious art flourished and many beautiful and influential Renaissance religious paintings were created. These works of art not only captured the essence of the Renaissance period but also spoke to the beliefs and values of the time. From iconic religious images to more subtle works, here are 16 famous Renaissance religious paintings everyone should know about.
1. The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci
“The Last Supper”, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the most famous and renowned paintings in the world. The painting depicts the moment immediately after Jesus announces one of his disciples will betray him. The scene captures the shock, confusion and emotion of the moment, and has inspired generations of artists, writers and scholars.
2. The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo
“The Creation of Adam” is a fresco famous painting by Michelangelo, located on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The painting depicts the biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God breathes life into Adam, the first man. The painting is renowned for its iconic depiction of the hands of God and Adam, which has become a symbol of humanity.
3. The Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio
“The Baptism of Christ” by Andrea del Verrocchio is a painting depicting Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The painting shows a strong contrast between the heavenly light surrounding Jesus and the dark, earthy tones of the other figures in the painting. This contrast highlights the divine nature of Jesus and the momentous occasion of his baptism. The painting is full of details, with each figure in the painting having its own unique facial expressions and gestures that contribute to the overall composition.
4. The Entombment of Christ, Caravaggio
“The Entombment of Christ” by Caravaggio is an oil painting depicting the scene of Jesus being laid in the tomb following his crucifixion. The painting is full of emotion as Jesus’ body is carried by four figures, some of whom are grieving for their lost friend. This painting is a powerful and striking work of art, full of intense light and dark shadows, and Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro adds to the impact of the painting.
5. The Annunciation, Fra Angelico
“The Annunciation” is a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Fra Angelico. It depicts the moment when the Archangel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary to announce that she will bear the son of God. The painting is filled with symbolism, such as the lilies representing purity and the dove representing the Holy Spirit. The painting is remarkable for its vibrant colors and attention to detail, and has become one of Fra Angelico’s most famous works.
6. Massacre of the Innocents, Peter Paul Rubens
“The Massacre of the Innocents” is a painting by the Flemish Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens. The painting depicts the biblical story of King Herod ordering the killing of the innocents of Bethlehem. It is a large-scale piece painted on a canvas measuring 11 ft 8 in x 13 ft 5 in. The painting is full of dramatic gestures and vibrant colours and is an example of Rubens’ mastery of the Baroque style.
7. The Death of the Virgin, Caravaggio
“The Death of the Virgin” is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio. It was created in 1606 and is now housed in the Louvre. The painting depicts the death of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by her grief-stricken friends and family. The painting is a powerful and emotional representation of the moment of death, with its dramatic lighting and realistic figures. It is an important example of Caravaggio’s use of light and shadow to create a dramatic atmosphere.
8. The Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano
“The Adoration of the Magi” is a painting by the Italian artist Gentile da Fabriano, created in 1423. It is a tempera and gold on wood painting and depicts the biblical story of the Three Wise Men, who have come to pay homage to the infant Jesus. The painting is set in a deep landscape, with rolling hills and mountains in the background, and the figures are all depicted in vivid, detailed costumes and showing expressions of awe and reverence.
9. The Conversion of St. Paul, Caravaggio
“The Conversion of Saint Paul”, by Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio, is a masterpiece of 17th-century art. This painting depicts the moment when the Apostle Paul is struck by a beam of light from heaven and falls to the ground. Paul is shown in a dramatic pose, his body contorted and his face twisted into agony. The intense light illuminates the dark, brooding landscape and the surrounding figures, and creates a powerful and moving image of the spiritual transformation of Saint Paul.
10. The Calling of Saint Matthew, Caravaggio
“The Calling of Saint Matthew” is a painting by Italian Baroque master Caravaggio, completed around 1599-1600. It depicts the story of Jesus Christ calling a tax collector, Matthew, to be one of his apostles. The painting shows a dramatic moment between Christ, the angel, and Matthew, who is surrounded by other men in a darkened room. The painting is characterized by its intense lighting and the contrast between the brightly lit figures and the darkness of the background.
11. The Healing of the Lame Man, Raphael
“The Healing of the Lame Man”, painted by Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, depicts the healing of a lame man at the pool of Bethesda. The painting is full of religious symbolism, with the traditional representation of Jesus in the center. Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people, some of whom are helping the man to his feet. The painting conveys a sense of hope and compassion and is a reminder of the power of healing.
12. The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, Michelangelo
“The Crucifixion of Saint Peter” is a painting by Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo. It was painted between 1540-1545 and is currently held in the Vatican Pinacoteca. The painting depicts Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples, being crucified upside down, his feet resting on a wheel. He is shown in a state of agony and resignation to his fate, with his eyes closed and his arms outstretched. The painting is a powerful and moving image, both of Peter’s suffering and of the power of faith.
13. The Flight into Egypt, Giotto di Bondone
The “Flight into Egypt” by Giotto di Bondone is an Italian painting from 1305 which depicts the biblical story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. It shows Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus on a donkey with an angel guiding them. The painting has a distinct Byzantine influence and is considered to be an important example of Giotto’s early style.
14. The Transfiguration, Raphael
Raphael’s one of the famous renaissance religious paintings “The Transfiguration” is a painting depicting the biblical story of Jesus’ transfiguration. It is painted in the Baroque style and is one of the artist’s most renowned works. It is housed in the Pinacoteca Vaticana in Vatican City, Rome. The painting is divided into two distinct parts, with the upper part showing Jesus in a heavenly light while the lower part showing the apostles in a state of panic. The painting is a masterful blend of light and dark, with intense colors and dramatic gestures used to convey the awe and power of the moment.
15. The Last Judgment, Michelangelo
The Last Judgment is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, located on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It depicts the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The work is a dramatic composition of figures, showing the saved ascending to heaven on the right and the damned being cast down to hell on the left, with Christ in the center, judging the souls of mankind. It is one of the most famous works of art in the world.
16. The Sistine Madonna, Raphael
The Sistine Madonna is one of Raphael’s most famous and iconic works of art and Renaissance religious paintings. The painting, created in 1512-1513, is an oil and egg tempera painting on canvas and depicts the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus flanked by two cherubs. It is currently housed in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany, where it has been since 1754. The painting is renowned for its intricate details, use of color, and composition. It is considered a masterpiece of the High Renaissance period.
The Renaissance period was an age of rebirth and renewal in the arts, and religious paintings were a major part of this. These paintings depicted stories from the Bible and other religious texts and often featured images of saints and angels. They were highly symbolic and served as a visual representation of the Christian faith. This period of art was influential in depicting religious themes and stories, and these works of art have left an enduring mark on art history.