The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

High Renaissance in Italy

Who were the “Great Masters”?

The term “Great Master” can be thrown around quite loosely to indicate a highly esteemed artist, and is used to describe certain Renaissance and sixteenth century artists. Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian, among many others, are referred to both as “Great Masters” and occasionally as “Old Masters” to differentiate them from notable artists from more historically recent times. Towards the end of the Renaissance, master artists were increasingly seen as celebrities, rather than mere manual laborers.

The term itself comes from the master-apprentice system that was used to train artists during the Renaissance. In this system, rather than be sent to an art school (there were none at this time), students as young as five years old would be sent to work and train as a workshop apprentice under the guidance of a master artist. The master usually promised to feed and house the apprentice in exchange for assistance cleaning and preparing materials, and eventually working on the master’s art commissions. Many works by famous artists were the product of a workshop staffed by many artists, including young apprentices.


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