Medieval and Renaissance Art: Using art as a form of rhetoric

Prior to visiting the Uffizi, I wasn’t familiar with the importance of art during the Middle Ages and Renaissance as a form of rhetoric, especially for the church. I remember Isabella saying that art was used to spread the Christian gospel during the Middle Ages. Thinking about it now, most artist painted and/or sculpted for an intended audience. Art, during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, were essentially a form of rhetoric. Most times, the clients would either be a family with significant political and financial power, such as the Medici family, or a single, collective entity, such as the Church.

Most of the artwork from the Medieval period showed Mary holding the baby Jesus, which I found to be interesting. In the Middle Ages, many people were illiterate; therefore, art was a way for the Church to place an image on what they were preaching (also a form of rhetoric used by the Church). However, according to Chapter 6 in Herrick, European Christians were very skeptical of the practice of rhetoric. It wasn’t until Augustine showed how rhetoric benefited the Christian message, that rhetoric, appropriated by the Christian agenda, was readily accepted.

Moving towards the Renaissance era, the rhetoric of art began to shift from religion to power and wealth. Many of the clients commissioning artworks yielded from powerful, wealthy Italian families, most notably the Medici family. While the paintings and sculptures would still have a religious undertone, the artist would weave members of the family into their artwork, effectively conveying the message the family was trying to send to the public.

We discussed, in class, how art has been transformed and whether or not it still can be considered a form of rhetoric. To me, some art does convey a message; therefore, art can still be used today as a form of rhetoric today. But, I definitely believe the audience continues to change as well as the purpose. Its just one more thing to think about in the world of rhetoric.


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