By the end of the 15th century, Rome had displaced Florence as the principal center of Renaissance art, reaching a high point under the powerful and ambitious Pope Leo X (a son of Lorenzo de’ Medici). Three great masters–Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael–dominated the period known as the High Renaissance, which lasted roughly from the early 1490s until the sack of Rome by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain in 1527. Leonardo (1452-1519) was the ultimate “Renaissance man” for the breadth of his intellect, interest and talent and his expression of humanist and classical values. Leonardo’s best-known works, including the “Mona Lisa” (1503-05), “The Virgin of the Rocks” (1485) and the fresco “The Last Supper” (1495-98), showcase his unparalleled ability to portray light and shadow, as well as the physical relationship between figures–humans, animals and objects alike–and the landscape around them.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) drew on the human body for inspiration and created works on a vast scale. He was the dominant sculptor of the High Renaissance, producing pieces such as the Pietà in St. Peter’s Cathedral (1499) and the David in his native Florence (1501-04). He carved the latter by hand from an enormous marble block; the famous statue measures five meters high including its base. Though Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor first and foremost, he achieved greatness as a painter as well, notably with his giant fresco covering the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, completed over four years (1508-12) and depicting various scenes from Genesis.
Raphael Sanzio, the youngest of the three great High Renaissance masters, learned from both da Vinci and Michelangelo. His paintings–most notably “The School of Athens” (1508-11), painted in the Vatican at the same time that Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel–skillfully expressed the classical ideals of beauty, serenity and harmony. Among the other great Italian artists working during this period were Bramante, Giorgione, Titian and Correggio.