Famous Renaissance Paintings

Famous Renaissance Paintings – 16 Iconic Renaissance Paintings

Lasting for over three centuries, the Renaissance proved to be one of the most popular art movements to come from Europe. Seen as a revival of classical learning and wisdom, many artists created paintings and sculptures in the typical Renaissance style. This has led to countless artworks from this era being studied through art history, as Renaissance works have proved to be incredibly influential. Some of the most famous paintings to ever be made have come from the Renaissance period, demonstrating the movement’s unending significance.



What Did the Renaissance Art Movement Stand For?

European art was dominated by the Renaissance movement from the 14th century through to the 16th century, influencing many areas of society. During the Renaissance, a variety of aspects beyond art, such as religion, literature, and politics, shifted in a significant way, which demonstrated the movement’s significance. The Renaissance brought an increased awareness of nature due to the resurgence of Greek and Roman art techniques, which saw many artists start to create truly glorious sculptures and paintings.

Starting as a cultural movement in Italy, the Renaissance quickly extended to the greater parts of Europe.

As the Renaissance movement spanned around 300 years, the type of paintings that were created signified a period of revolution in art that has yet to been equaled. Many of these artworks are still admired today, with several famous Renaissance paintings being thought to represent the pinnacle of what traditional art stands for. Renaissance art has proven its ability to stand the harsh test of time, which has further indicated its longevity.

Art From the Renaissance Timeline

As numerous works were commissioned by the Catholic church, many of the most iconic Renaissance paintings were found in the form of frescoes. This was because the country was considered to be the center of the Catholic church at the time, with the fresco paintings on the ceilings meaning to draw the gaze of audiences up into the heavens. Most of these famous Renaissance artworks are still in good condition and adorn the interior of Italy’s finest churches and cathedrals today.

The Renaissance played a crucial role in guiding Europe out of its Dark Ages and into a modern era of enlightenment.

This golden age saw the concept of painting take a great leap forward in terms of its materials and techniques, with exact anatomical depictions of the human form and linear perspective emerging as the main focal points. The philosophy of Humanism arose, which compelled artists to look to the techniques of antiquity. This allowed them to honestly represent the universal man and his place in the world in their artworks.

Characteristic Renaissance Artist Paintings The Flagellation of Christ (1460) by Piero della Francesca, demonstrating many characteristics of Renaissance art, such as linear perspective and the use of light and shadow; Piero della Francesca, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The departure from idealized religious iconography, made famous during the Medieval era and lasting until the start of the Renaissance allowed for new representations of heavenly subjects combined with a richer and more human emotionality to emerge.

Renaissance artists developed and perfected a variety of techniques that allowed them to create extreme depth, accuracy, and correctly proportioned figures within their paintings and sculptures. This elevated the artworks made, as more authentic and genuine scenes were provided for viewers.



The 16 Most Famous Renaissance Paintings to Exist

As the most iconic art movement to ever exist, the Renaissance gave birth to many notable paintings which have found their way into the current pop culture of today. Despite numerous artists helping to shape the development of the Renaissance, only a select few are particularly praised and remembered for their contribution.

While the following list may not be very exhaustive, we will be taking a look at the most respected and celebrated paintings to emerge from the Renaissance.


The Kiss of Judas (1306) by Giotto

ArtistGiotto di Bondone (c. 1267 – 1337)
Date Painted1306
Dimensions (cm)200 x 185
Where It Is HousedScrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy

Painted by Italian painter and architect Giotto di Bondone in 1306, The Kiss of Judas has provided inspiration for countless artists that have come after its initial creation. Depicting the moment that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas occurred, this artwork has also commonly been referred to as the Betrayal of Christ.  According to the Bible, this deception by Judas was said to occur shortly after the Last Supper, as he went on to identify Christ through a kiss before notifying the surrounding Roman soldiers.

Once Jesus was identified, he was arrested and later executed. The Kiss of Judas represented an integral moment within Christianity, with this event going on to coin the phrase of a “Judas Kiss”. Taking place in the Garden of Gethsemane, Giotto painted an evening scene that further emphasized the drama in the painting.

By placing countless figures in the background of the composition, he created the perception of an overpowering sense of certainty around Christ’s impending death.

Early Art From the Renaissance No. 31 of Scenes from the Life of Christ: 15. The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas) (1304-1306) by Giotto di Bondone. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy; Giotto di Bondone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Painted in the Scrovegni Chapel in Italy as part of a fresco cycle, Giotto was able to depict a truly confrontational and highly emotional scene. The Kiss of Judas proved to be the most popular and highly sought-after fresco from the group of paintings Giotto produced, which led many critics to state that no other artist could possibly surpass the quality of his works. Giotto’s skill as a painter became even more evident within this artwork, as he was able to expertly capture the expression of both Judas and Jesus without the need for any words.

Another reason as to why The Kiss of Judas is such an iconic artwork is that it was believed to mark the end of the familiar and customary medieval style of painting. Its emergence onto the art scene was said to announce the new wave of the artistic revolution that was known as the Early Renaissance. At the time of its creation, The Kiss of Judas and the other fresco works within the group were considered to be the most modern works of art by any artist.

This painting truly set the standard for the new Renaissance movement and its artists.


The Arnolfini Portrait (c. 1434) by Jan van Eyck

ArtistJan van Eyck (active c. 1422 – 1441)
Date Paintedc. 1434
MediumOil on oak 
Dimensions (cm)82.2 x 60 
Where It Is HousedThe National Gallery, London, United Kingdom

The Arnolfini Portrait is among the most well-known 16th-century paintings created by the renowned Belgian painter Jan van Eyck around 1434. The painting is currently housed at the National Gallery in London and portrays the near-life-sized portraits of a merchant known as Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini next to his wife. What makes the Arnolfini Portrait so intriguing is its use of embedded symbols strategically painted to illustrate the couple’s wealth and social status. The painting is also speculated to contain a self-portrait of Van Eyck himself with many interesting features that appear uncanny and out of proportion upon close inspection. 

The portrait also possesses an interesting afterlife and was once owned by the Regent of the Netherlands, Margaret of Austria in the 16th century.

Most Famous Renaissance Art The Arnolfini Portrait (c. 1434) by Jan van Eyck, the National Gallery; Gennadii Saus i Segura, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the identity of the woman remains unknown, it is believed that this was the merchant’s second wife. By the 17th century, the painting fell in the hands of the Spanish royal collection followed by a Scottish soldier named James Hay. The painting was later acquired by the National Gallery in London in 1842 for just 600 Guineas, making it the first Netherlandish painting purchased by the National Gallery. 


Annunciation (c. 1472 – 1475) by Leonardo da Vinci

ArtistLeonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Date Paintedc. 1472 – 1475
MediumOil and tempera on panel
Dimensions (cm)98 x 217 
Where It Is HousedUffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Possibly one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance was Leonardo da Vinci, who was by all accounts considered to be the quintessential “Renaissance Man”. One of his notable works, painted between 1472 and 1475, was the Annunciation. The painting was created when Da Vinci was just 20 years of age and displayed certain characteristics that were not yet seen as “Leonardesque” when compared to his later works.

The “Annunciation” portrays an angel on the left side and the Virgin Mary on the right, with a pulpit placed in between them.

In a confined garden in the front of a Renaissance palace, Archangel Gabriel is kneeling before the Virgin and presenting her with a lily. Despite this action, the Virgin Mary remains seated in a dignified position behind the lectern, where she appears to be reading. The youthful angel is portrayed with a tall forehead, elegant wings, and opulent clothing, and is met by Mary’s startled expression, which was further emphasized by her raised hand. Her pose has also been described as strong, which emphasized her monumental nature.

Famous Renaissance Art and Paintings Annunciation (c. 1472–1475), by Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi Museum; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The composition of Annunciation followed an age-old model where an angel is placed on the left and the Virgin on the right, with a lectern separating them. The setting of this composition then customarily opens out onto a vast landscape, as seen in the background of this work. Da Vinci worked with this traditional and religious theme in a very earthy and natural way, as demonstrated by the angel. He is shown to have true substantiality through his shadow that can be seen on the grass, as well as through the realistic folds of his clothing.

Considered to be a relatively young work of Da Vinci, very little is known regarding its initial location or who commissioned it.

An aspect that inevitably ties this work to Da Vinci is the conventional use of dark colors that have been blended, which was a trademark in most of Da Vinci’s other works. Some anomalies can be found within Annunciation, such as the unusually long right arm of the Virgin, however, this has been attributed to Da Vinci’s early career style.


Lamentation of Christ (c. 1475 – 1501) by Andrea Mantegna

ArtistAndrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506)
Date Paintedc. 1475 – 1501
MediumTempera on canvas
Dimensions (cm)68 x 81 
Where It Is HousedPinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy

Painted by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna sometime between 1475 and 1501, The Lamentation of Christ exists as a well-known painting to come from the Renaissance movement. The painting is also recognized as Lamentation over the Dead Christ or The Dead Christ, and depicts the body of Christ lying face upwards on a marble table. To his left, he is being looked over by the Virgin Mary, Saint John, and St. Mary Magdalene, who are all grieving his death.

The theme of lamentation was popular during the Renaissance, yet Mantegna’s treatment of Christ was quite unusual for the time.

The majority of other lamentation-themed paintings typically depicted more contact between the body of Christ and the mourners themselves, whereas the distance between these two subjects was emphasized within Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ. Despite this, Mantegna’s painting presented a painful study of a foreshortened body in an extremely emotional representation of a biblical tragedy.

Well-Known Renaissance Artist Paintings The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1490) by Andrea Mantegna; Andrea Mantegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The realism and devastation of this scene were amplified by Mantegna’s use of forced perspective, which magnified the supine Christ. Additionally, he went on to emphasize some of Christ’s anatomical details, like his thorax, as well as depicting the holes in his hands and feet, and the crumpled faces of the mourners in an incredibly harsh light.

This was done in order to minimize any form of idealism, as Mantegna aimed to create an artwork that was able to fully capture the poignancy accompanying Christ’s death.

Lamentation of Christ was thought to be made for Mantegna’s own funerary chapel, as it was only found by his sons after he died. However, the painting was soon sold off to settle his remaining debt, before finding its way to the Pinacoteca di Brera gallery in Milan. This artwork exists as one of the many examples of Mantegna’s expertise in perspective, as proven by the size of Christ’s feet. While Christ’s body was portrayed realistically, Mantegna was forced to skillfully reduce his feet so that they would not dominate the composition.


La Primavera (1477 – 1482) by Sandro Botticelli

ArtistAlessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi (Sandro Botticelli) (c. 1445 – 1510)
Date Painted1477 – 1482
MediumTempera on panel
Dimensions (cm)202 x 314
Where It Is HousedUffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Notable Italian painter Sandro Botticelli created a handful of iconic Renaissance paintings during his career. La Primavera, painted between 1477 and 1482, depicts an entirely mythological scene and is considered to be one of the most famous paintings in Western art. The artwork, whose title translates to “spring” in Italian, has also been referred to as “Allegory of Spring” throughout the years. Within this painting, Botticelli portrayed a series of figures found in classical mythology and placed them in what appeared to be woodland.

What made this painting so captivating was that Botticelli chose to present multiple mythologic figures in a single scene purely for aesthetic purposes.

Due to this, La Primavera did not follow an actual narrative, as no particular story became apparent when viewing the work. Both Botticelli’s inspiration behind this work, as well as his purpose for painting it, remains unknown today. La Primavera’s mysteriousness has gone on to add to the great appeal associated with this artwork, as many different interpretations for it exist.

Famous Renaissance Artist Paintings La Primavera (Spring) (c. 1480) by Sandro Botticelli; Sandro Botticelli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Seen as a prime example of famous Renaissance art, La Primavera has generally been agreed to be an allegory about the season of Spring, despite no evidence backing this up. The central figure of Venus, the goddess of love and desire, can be seen with the three graces dancing beside her on her left. Other goddesses are also depicted, such as Chloris on the right, who is being followed by the figure of the West Wind before changing into the goddess Flora. Messenger god Mercury is also depicted in the far left, while Cupid floats above Venus.

Despite some recognizable figures represented in the painting, there has been much debate among art critics and scholars as to its true meaning.

This has led Botticelli’s work to be seen as one of the most written-about and controversial paintings to exist, due to the variety of different explanations that can be attached to the scene. Additionally, La Primavera has been cited as one of the earliest examples in Western post-classical painting to depict a non-religious scene which, in addition to its striking color, was quite unusual at the time.


Adoration of the Magi (1481) by Leonardo da Vinci

ArtistLeonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Date Painted1481
MediumOil on wood
Dimensions (cm)246 x 243
Where It Is HousedUffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Another famous Renaissance art piece produced by Leonardo da Vinci was Adoration of the Magi, which he painted in 1481. Da Vinci was given the commission for this work by the Augustinian monks of San Donato in Scopeto, Florence, but ended up leaving the painting unfinished when he moved to Milan a year later. Despite being incomplete, Adoration of the Magi is seen as a great work of conceptual and formal intricacy.

Since 1670, the artwork has been housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it can still be viewed today.

Da Vinci depicted the Virgin Mary and Child in the foreground of his composition. By placing the Magi, who was kneeling in adoration, to their right, he was able to form a type of triangular shape that was completed by the accompanying figures surrounding the two. Within the audience, some critics have said that Da Vinci included a self-portrait of his younger self, as demonstrated by the figure on the far right. Other objects that can be seen included a ruin of a pagan building, which was in the process of being repaired.

Unfinished Art From the Renaissance Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished Adoration of the Magi (1480-1482); Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The building was thought to be a likely referral to the Basilica of Maxentius. As per an old Medieval legend, the Romans stated that the building would last until a virgin gave birth. Thus, the building supposedly collapsed on the night that Christ was born. Despite the actual building not being in existence until much later, Da Vinci included a preparatory drawing of the ruins within Adoration of the Magi. The large palm tree seen in the center of the work was said to be another reference to the Virgin Mary, who sat below it.

“Adoration of the Magi” is possibly one of Da Vinci’s most peculiar yet innovative paintings.

By combining the audience members with the armed horsemen seen in the background, Da Vinci was able to transform an ordinary biblical subject into a scene that could be taken from human history. Although this painting is thought to be remarkable for its extreme power, it was sent for some restoration work in 2011. Six years later, Adoration of the Magi emerged as a much cleaner and brighter artwork compared to what it was originally.


The Birth of Venus (1485 – 1486) by Sandro Botticelli

ArtistAlessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi (Sandro Botticelli) (c. 1445 – 1510)
Date Painted1485 – 1486
MediumTempera on canvas
Dimensions (cm)172.5 x 278.9
Where It Is HousedUffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Perhaps one of the most famous Renaissance paintings to emerge from the movement was The Birth of Venus, which also went on to become the most significant painted created by Sandro Botticelli. Painted between 1485 and 1486, The Birth of Venus was assumed to have been commissioned by the Medici family for one of their bedroom walls.

Much like his other painting, “La Primavera”, this Botticelli artwork was considered to be revolutionary for portraying a non-religious scene from classical mythology on such a grand scale.

Within his composition, Botticelli depicted the Roman goddess Venus rising out of the sea and arriving on the shore of Cyprus on a scallop shell. Fully-grown and completely naked, Venus was viewed as a pure and mature woman, whose windswept hair was portrayed delicately over her body to emphasize her modesty and humility. 

Famous Renaissance Art Painting The Birth of Venus (c. 1485) by Sandro Botticelli; Sandro Botticelli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The near-life-sized Venus proved to be quite controversial, as nude subjects of this magnitude were almost unheard of in Western paintings at the time. Botticelli paid immaculate attention to painting the details of Venus’ body and pose, which drew reference to classical poses found in ancient Greco-Roman art. However, Botticelli chose to exaggerate her figure to the point where her figure and proportion were anatomically impossible, which added to the skepticism surrounding his technical abilities. 

Many interpretations of this painting have been proposed, with the most popular theory that Botticelli was representing the Neoplatonic idea of divine love through Venus. After his death, Botticelli’s reputation began to falter, along with the prestige of The Birth of Venus. Nevertheless, his importance was revived in the late 19th century, which saw this painting rise to international fame.

As one of Botticelli’s finest Renaissance artworks, this painting has since remained one of the most treasured paintings throughout history. 


The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490 – 1510) by Hieronymus Bosch

ArtistHieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516)
Date Paintedc. 1490 – 1510
MediumOil on oak panels
Dimensions (cm)205.5 x 384.9
Where It Is HousedMuseo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Triptych art from the Renaissance remained a popular form of painting throughout the movement, with one artist in particular who managed to stand out for his remarkable works. Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch has been remembered for his strong narrative panel paintings, with The Garden of Earthly Delights existing as his most famous piece.

Painted somewhere between 1490 and 1510, no exact date for this great artwork actually exists.

Famous Renaissance Art The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490-1500) by Hieronymus Bosch; Hieronymus Bosch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Not much is known about Bosch’s groundbreaking masterpiece, except its sponsor being Engelbert II of Nassau of Brussels. As the most successful and outstanding of his artworks, The Garden of Earthly Delights was thought to be an altarpiece and was composed of three internal parts that were supposed to be read from left to right.

Each panel was incredibly essential to the overall meaning of Bosch’s work, as they depicted the Garden of Eden flowing into hell, as represented by the third panel.

In the first panel, the true origin of The Garden of Earthly Delights can be seen through the depiction of God, Adam, and Eve in the bottom right. However, the center panel proved to be the most significant when viewing the painting. Here, Bosch illustrated the growth of both the Garden of Eden and humanity, as the various figures can be seen interacting in an ecstatic manner with one another. Surrounded by extraordinary creatures, animals, and fruits, this panel was said to represent the moment before man was expelled from paradise.

Famous Renaissance Art Detail A detail of the central panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights (between 1490 and 1500) by Hieronymus Bosch; Hieronymus Bosch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The self-absorbed actions of the figures in the middle were thought of as a teaser of what might follow, which was a depiction of the Last Judgement in the final panel. Throughout history, this painting has been interpreted to be a didactic caveat on the dangers of life’s temptations, as well as mankind’s life after its fall from grace.

Various interpretations of “The Garden of Eden” panel have uncovered its intricate symbolism, with many art historians remaining divided as to whether it exists as a true moral warning or a scene of utopia lost.


The Last Supper (1495 – 1498) by Leonardo da Vinci

ArtistLeonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Date Painted1495 – 1498
Dimensions (cm)700 x 880 
Where It Is HousedConvent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Italy

Yet another famous Renaissance art piece by Leonardo da Vinci is The Last Supper, which was painted between 1495 and 1498. Considered to be the best artwork produced by Da Vinci, it was commissioned by the Duke of Milan for the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where it can still be viewed today. Like many other famous Renaissance paintings, The Last Supper is a religious scene that depicted the last supper of Jesus with his twelve apostles.

Within The Last Supper, Da Vinci showed off his masterful use of Realism, as he was able to accurately portray bewilderment and confusion amongst those sitting at the table when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. As one of the world’s most recognizable paintings, Christ was depicted in the center and flanked by his disciples on both sides.

Da Vinci strayed from tradition as he depicted Judas’ figure cast firmly in shadow to separate his character from the group and convey his betrayal.

Famous Art From the Renaissance The Last Supper (1495-1498) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Da Vinci’s detailed knowledge of anatomy and light was accurately represented in this work, as The Last Supper was noted for its clever use of these elements in addition to color. The triangular shape in the center of the work, with Jesus as the focal point, has been the subject of much debate over the years.

Many art historians have wondered about the possible significance of the “V” shape left between Jesus and the disciple on his right, thought to be Mary Magdalene, but no concrete explanation exists.

The long rectangular table that the group sits behind acted as a boundary between viewers and the occupants seen within this incredibly sacred moment. By including walls on either side, Da Vinci further emphasized the importance of the central scene by focusing the audience’s attention on Jesus in the middle. Additionally, the use of linear perspective added to the powerful and dramatic atmosphere of The Last Supper, which cemented its reputation as one of the most revered and famous artworks of all time.


The Mona Lisa (c. 1503 – 1506) by Leonardo da Vinci

ArtistLeonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Date Paintedc. 1503 – 1506
MediumOil on poplar panel
Dimensions (cm)77 x 53 
Where It Is HousedThe Louvre Museum, Paris, France

During his career, Leonardo da Vinci was known to create many famous Renaissance paintings. However, his Mona Lisa, which he painted between 1503 and 1506, has long been classified as the single most famous artwork in Western art. The subject in the painting was Lisa Gherardini, whose wealthy husband commissioned Da Vinci to paint her portrait. Today, the Mona Lisa is owned by the French Republic and can be viewed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, where it attracts millions of viewers each year.

Praised as the best-known and most visited painting in the world, the Mona Lisa is unarguably the most discussed painting of all time due to Lisa Gherardini’s coy and mysterious smile. The Mona Lisa smile has generated countless debates with much contention placed on establishing whether she is truly smiling or lost in a daydream.

The main attraction of the “Mona Lisa” is her eyes, as Da Vinci painted them such  that even when you observe them from a distance or angle, her eyes seem to follow you around.

Famous Renaissance Art Portraits Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo (1503-1506) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mona Lisa is also titled La Gioconda, which translates from Italian to English as “happy” or “jovial”. Partly due to her elusive smile, Da Vinci always saw this painting as a work in progress and continued to aim for perfection each time he worked on it. Many historians have said that it is because of his quest for excellence that her smile turned out to be the most captivating aspect ever seen within a portrait.

It is believed that Da Vinci’s personal feelings towards the “Mona Lisa” prevented him from delivering it to its owner, and as such, he kept it with him until he died.

Da Vinci’s composition of the Mona Lisa’s figure was seen as a radical transformation compared to the conventional portraits of women at the time. Da Vinci purposefully left out any jewelry and decorative elements that could emphasize her social status so as to fully focus on her personality. Throughout history, the Mona Lisa has become so famous that it has been referenced and mimicked a myriad of times in other artworks and pop culture, most notably within Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q (1919).


The School of Athens (1509 – 1511) by Raphael

ArtistRaffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483 – 1520)
Date Painted1509 – 1511
Dimensions (cm)500 x 770 
Where It Is HousedApostolic Palace, Vatican City

Another famous 16th-century art piece was The School of Athens , which was painted by Italian Renaissance master Raphael between 1509 and 1511. This fresco, which was one of four other frescos found in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, depicted all of the greatest scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians gathered together to share ideas and learn from one another.

Regarded as Raphael’s greatest masterpiece, this painting is said to symbolize philosophy, as the figures of Aristotle and Plato were placed in the center of the composition.

The three other frescoes making up the group are located on the second floor of the Vatican Palace and are believed to symbolize branches of human knowledge in the form of poetry, theology, and law. From this group, The School of Athens has proven to be the most significant and memorable fresco, as it thoroughly captured the classical spirit of the Renaissance. Raphael made great use of perspective in his work, as viewers’ eyes are instantly drawn to the two main figures standing in the middle, said to be Plato and Aristotle.

Famous Renaissance Artworks The School of Athens (1509–1511) fresco by Raphael, at the Raphael Rooms, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City; Raphael, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The inclusion of Plato and Aristotle was so that their unique ideas of philosophy were both represented. The group on the left of the composition represented Plato’s theories, while the group on the right represented Aristotle’s. The distinction was made between these individuals by the central figures in the work, who stood on the side where their ideas were portrayed. Within The School of Athens, a total of 50 figures were included, which demonstrated Raphael’s great mastery of Realism in painting.

Raphael went so far as to include a moody self-portrait in the scene, which revealed how highly he viewed himself as an artist. Additionally, he was ostensibly aware of the grandeur of his painting, as he had some suspicion that it would go on to permanently change the history of painting itself.

Throughout art history, this painting has been labeled as the “perfect embodiment” of what the Renaissance stood for, as it accurately captured the classical spirit of the movement.


The Creation of Adam (1512) by Michelangelo

ArtistMichelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 – 1564)
Date Painted1512
Dimensions (cm)280 x 570 
Where It Is HousedSistine Chapel, Vatican City

When considering the most famous Renaissance paintings ever, The Creation of Adam is sure to come to mind. Painted by Michelangelo in 1512, this fresco adorns the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and is seen as a cornerstone of Renaissance art. While Michelangelo painted multiple frescos on the ceiling, The Creation of Adam proved to be the most famous scene of the entire masterpiece.

In addition to being an iconic 16th-century painting, it is also one of the world’s most reproduced images, proving to be incredibly popular in Contemporary pop culture.

Well-Known Art From the Renaissance The Creation of Adam (1512) by Michelangelo, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Creation of Adam has become a symbol of humanity, as the painting depicts the hands of both God and Adam on the brink of touching. Adam is portrayed as a classic muscular nude, reclining on the left, while he extends his hand out towards God, who fills up the rest of the composition. While Adam appears to be incredibly relaxed in his pose, God is shown to rush towards him. God’s haste is communicated through his white robes that flare behind him, which helped to emphasize the energetic movement of his body.

Michelangelo portrayed angels surrounding God, while Adam appeared to be lying on the edge of the earth. Behind him, mountainous scenes are depicted through the green ledge upon which he lies. This background created a strong diagonal between themselves, which emphasized the division that existed between Adam, a mere mortal, and the heavenly God.

The true focal point of this painting lies in the central space between their hands, as the viewer’s eyes are immediately drawn to their extended yet separated fingers.

Detail of Famous Renaissance Art A detail of the hands from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, c. 1512; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As the largest and most complicated fresco to ever be made, The Creation of Adam took Michelangelo over four years to finish. At the time of its creation, Pope Julius II convinced the artist to abandon the other job he was working on to focus on painting the now-iconic masterpiece. The Creation of Adam is now seen as an exquisite example of 16th-century art, which enabled the Sistine Chapel ceiling to become the ultimate visual representation of the ideals and characteristics of the Renaissance.


The Sistine Madonna (1513 – 1514) by Raphael

ArtistRaffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483 – 1520)
Date Painted1513 – 1514
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)265 x 196 
Where It Is HousedGemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Germany

Another of the iconic Renaissance artist paintings produced by Raphael was The Sistine Madonna, which he painted between 1513 and 1514. The painting is considered to be Raphael’s last great contribution to Renaissance art since he died shortly after its completion. The Sistine Madonna portrays Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms. On either side of her are Saint Barbara and Saint Sixtus, including two cherubs beneath Mary.

Out of all the famous Renaissance artworks by Raphael, this painting has consistently been recognized as his most important work.

Commissioned as an altarpiece for the church of San Sisto in Piacenza, Italy, The Sistine Madonna depicts both Mary and the Christ child as very concerned, while Saint Sixtus looked humbly towards her with his hand extended towards the sky. Adding to the atmosphere of uncertainty, the two saints seem to hover below Mary, as if they are unsure of where to go. However, the most iconic element of this painting is the pair of impish cherubs seen at the bottom of the canvas, who seem to be incredibly bored with what is taking place.

Religious Art From the Renaissance The Sistine Madonna (1512-1513) by Raphael; Raphael, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While one cherub looks above and rests his chin in his hand, the other looks to the side of the work, with his head resting on his crossed arms. Art critics have stated that it is their general sulky attitude that has further emphasized their presence and helped them stand out in comparison to the rest of the work. Additionally, their sullenness made them distinctly different from other typical rosy-cheeked and joyful cherubs found within other paintings, with Raphael thought to depict his cherubs this way in a supposed jab towards Michelangelo.

As Raphael painted two of the most iconic cherubs in art history, The Sistine Madonna caused quite a debate when it first arrived in Germany. Some questioned whether he blurred the lines between art and religion in this work.

While it remains a truly iconic painting to come from the Renaissance, the two cherubs have gone on to achieve worldwide recognition. Their presence within popular culture has continued to grow throughout the years and has featured on numerous contemporary items.


Assumption of the Virgin (1516 – 1518) by Titian

ArtistTiziano Vecelli (Titian) (c. 1488 – 1576)
Date Painted1516 – 1518
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions (cm)690 x 360 
Where It Is HousedBasilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy

As the majority of the art from the 16th century focused on religious imagery, the paintings produced by Titian proved to be no different. One of his famous Renaissance paintings includes Assumption of the Virgin, which he painted between 1516 and 1518. Painted as an altarpiece for the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, Assumption of the Virgin has remained in its original location and can still be viewed there today.

Titian divided the painting into three sections, which were all integral to the overall atmosphere of the work.

Completed by Titian in the early stages of his career, Assumption of the Virgin made use of incredibly vibrant colors. It was Titian’s first commission in Venice, which went on to establish himself as a lead painter in the city. Depicting the “Assumption of the Virgin”, which is celebrated every year on August 15th, Titian immortalized the rising of Mary to heaven before her body began to decay. In the central section, Mary is being raised by a group of angels towards heaven, while her apostles say their goodbyes from the ground.

Art From the Renaissance Assumption of Mary (1516-1518) by Titian; Titian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the top panel, God can be seen gazing down at Mary while she ascends towards him. Mary forms the focal point of the work, as both God and the apostles focus their attention on her, which also helps direct the viewer’s eyes towards her. God appears to be waiting patiently for Mary’s arrival, while the apostles raise their arms in amazement as they watch the true miracle unfolding right before them.

Despite the painting’s noticeable division into three segments, each section is connected by extended hands and the repetition of facial expressions.

Both the structured use of color and composition within Titian’s work proved to be a key element in many Renaissance paintings, as works were frequently divided into thirds. After its creation, The Assumption of the Virgin became the largest altarpiece in Venice and still is today. This painting demonstrated Titian’s first attempt at trying to copy the modern and dynamic scenes that were found in Raphael and Michelangelo’s works, which were becoming increasingly popular.


Venus of Urbino (1534) by Titian

ArtistTiziano Vecelli (Titian) (c. 1488 – 1576)
Date Painted1534
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)119 x 165 
Where It Is HousedUffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Throughout the Renaissance, artist’s paintings such as those produced by Titian, proved to be incredibly influential. Another one of his works, Venus of Urbino, which he painted in 1534, was inspired by Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (1510). Coming from a long tradition of various representations of Venus, Titian’s artwork went a step further by interpreting the goddess in a much more erotic sense.

Due to this, this painting stands out greatly against other paintings near it in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it is housed.

Titian portrayed Venus in a rather Contemporary domestic setting, directing her gaze directly at the viewer while lounging on a bed to allude to her unapologetic demeanor and expression of sensuality. This was further emphasized through her relaxed pose, as she appeared to be completely at ease despite being nude. As this artwork held no direct religious implications, it was thought that Titian created it for erotic stimulation. The clever use of a feint smile on the woman’s face implied that she is equally as aware of being watched and admired in the same way that the viewer experiences a voyeuristic encounter.

Best Renaissance Artist Paintings Venus of Urbino (c. 1538) by Titian; Titian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While her nudity is juxtaposed against the opulent and lavish background, what makes this depiction of Venus so interesting is that it is devoid of any allegorical or mythological symbols that have customarily been associated with her presence. Instead, Titian placed all the emphasis on the realistic and tempting nature of Venus, as he contrasted the warm tones of her skin against the darker background so as to make her presence even more distinct. His subtle use of chiaroscuro gave her body a sculptural quality that accentuated her curves. Venus of Urbino is considered one of the most famous and accomplished examples of Renaissance art, as numerous other paintings have been inspired by and borrowed elements from this work.

It is believed that “Venus of Urbino” was created as a commissioned marriage portrait, indicated by the servants in the background and the sleeping dog, which was a common gift for brides. 


The Last Judgment (1536 – 1541) by Michelangelo

ArtistMichelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 – 1564)
Date Painted1536 – 1541
Dimensions (cm)1370 x 1200
Where It Is HousedSistine Chapel, Vatican City

The final famous Renaissance art piece included on our list is The Last Judgment, which was painted by Michelangelo between 1536 and 1541. Located on the entire altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, The Last Judgment exists as one of the most famous frescoes painted by Michelangelo in the iconic chapel.

Due to its gigantic size, sheer complexity, and over 300 figures, this artwork took Michelangelo more than five years to complete.

Most Famous Renaissance Paintings The Last Judgment (1536-1541) by Michelangelo, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What makes The Last Judgment so notable was that Michelangelo began working on it 24 years after he completed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, meaning that he was in his sixties at the time. He originally depicted all of the males as nudes, but these were covered up at a later stage through the addition of draperies.

Michelangelo received mixed criticism for his work on “The Last Judgment” since the muscular nudes generated quite the stir among art critics. 

Within The Last Judgment, the Second Coming of Christ is portrayed, which was the day when God was said to judge all of humanity for the final time. By painting Christ in the middle, with his wounded hands and feet visible, and surrounding him with prominent saints, Michelangelo depicted a scene of troubling action. Christ’s attention is firmly placed on the souls of the humans as they rose to their fates, as he looks down on the chaotic scene unfolding before him.

Details of Famous Renaissance Paintings Detail from The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, 1534-1541; Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The top section of the painting showed the resurrection of the dead to heaven, while the bottom portion displayed the descent of sinners into hell. Certain elements of The Last Judgment have been scrutinized for centuries, such as Michelangelo’s decision to represent Christ without a beard, which was very unusual for the time. Michelangelo’s use of color, as well as his exceptional brushwork, have made this painting one of the most revered artworks in the world, as it is considered to be the most influential fresco to emerge from Western art.


Art from the Renaissance proved to be extremely important, as several works are still spoken about and admired today. Additionally, certain elements from famous Renaissance paintings have gone on to inspire later art movements, which demonstrated the significance of the period. While we have only discussed the 16 most famous Renaissance artworks, many more great examples exist. If you have enjoyed exploring these remarkable 16th-century paintings, we encourage you to venture further!



Take a look at our Renaissance paintings webstory here!



Frequently Asked Questions


When Was the Renaissance?

It is generally agreed upon that the Renaissance lasted between the early 14th century and, at latest, the early 17th century. Scholars suggest that the Renaissance reached its peak in the 16th century and ultimately ended in the early 17th century. 


What Is the Most Famous Piece of Renaissance Art?

The Mona Lisa (1503) is considered to be the most famous painting of the Renaissance era. The artwork was created by Leonardo da Vinci and is recognized as one of the most famous pieces in the world.


What Are the Characteristics of Renaissance Paintings?

The characteristics of Renaissance painting styles and techniques evolved throughout the Renaissance and include the increased use of linear perspective, techniques in Realism, themes such as humanity, and many other symbolic elements related to Naturalism, Individualism, Classicism, anatomy, and Secularism.  


Who Were the Three Greatest Artists of the Renaissance?

The top three most famous artists of the Renaissance include figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo, who created many iconic paintings that reflected the styles of the High Renaissance.


Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Famous Renaissance Paintings – 16 Iconic Renaissance Paintings.” Art in Context. August 21, 2021. URL: https://artincontext.org/famous-renaissance-paintings/

Meyer, I. (2021, 21 August). Famous Renaissance Paintings – 16 Iconic Renaissance Paintings. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/famous-renaissance-paintings/

Meyer, Isabella. “Famous Renaissance Paintings – 16 Iconic Renaissance Paintings.” Art in Context, August 21, 2021. https://artincontext.org/famous-renaissance-paintings/.

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