The Sistine Chapel, named for Pope Sixtus IV, contains some of the most famous works of Renaissance painting -- most notably the ceiling, which was painted by Michelangelo. Inspired by this iconic collection, I have made note of sixteen works of Renaissance painting, sculpture, and architecture that every serious student of Renaissance art should know.
The fifteenth century was a formative period of Renaissance art known as Quattrocento (Latin for 400 - the century with a four in it), during which Renaissance art developed into a style that was clearly distinguishable from medieval art, incorporating linear perspective, realistic portrayals of human subjects, and a greater incorporation of classical themes (while still producing plenty of beautiful religious art).
Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone - known as Masaccio (“Sloppy Tom”) for taking no care for his appearance because he was too passionate about painting to care about anything else - had a powerful influence on the development of Renaissance painting during his short life (he died at 26).
The Tribute Money depicts a scene from the Gospels, in which Jesus asks Peter to go to a fish and open its mouth to remove a coin that will allow them to pay the Temple Tax. Masaccio was the first Renaissance painter to employ linear perspective and used chiaroscuro shading to direct the viewer’s attention to Jesus. Both of these techniques pioneered by Masaccio would become prominent in Renaissance painting.
That is, until Filippo Brunelleschi, a gifted sculptor and architect, began to study the Roman Pantheon and other architectural marvels, making detailed sketches and taking precise measurements. Brunelleschi gained confidence in his ability to construct a dome based on classical designs and won the commission after a hard- fought battle. Fighting every step of the way with people who envied his talents, Brunelleschi’s dream finally became a reality when the Florence Cathedral was consecrated, with a finished dome, in 1436 – 140 years after construction began.
The bronze David is portrayed as youthful and is crowned with a laurel wreath (a classical symbol for victory). He wears a slight smile as if he is still trying to process what had happened. His foot is perched casually on Goliath’s severed head and he holds the sword of his vanquished foe.
The Adoration of the Magi, produced by Sandro Botticelli early in his career, distinguished his mastery of the art of painting. Vasari, author of Lives of the Artists, notes that the faces of the onlookers are not only painted from different angles and looking in different directions, but also have varied facial expressions.
Primavera, a similar work by Botticelli with sensual portrayals of female figures from classical mythology, is also well-known but not quite as iconic as The Birth of Venus.
Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys is arguably the most recognizable painting in the Sistine Chapel that was painted by someone other than Michelangelo. It depicts a biblical scene in which Jesus gives the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven - shown as literal keys here – to Peter and tells him that He will build His Church on the rock of Peter and his profession of faith.
This scene is particularly important because it explains the Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy, as the pope claims to be the successor to Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. Those who enter the pope’s personal chapel are reminded of the basis for the pope’s claim to authority over all Christians.
The background of the painting is filled by works of classical architecture built in the Greco-Roman style. The triumphal arches on either side balance the painting. And Perugino uses light to direct the viewer toward Jesus and Peter. Mixed in with the apostles are figures wearing contemporary Renaissance clothing.
Early in his career, Perugino was regarded as the best painter of his time. His style built a bridge between the Quattrocento style of the fifteenth century and the High Renaissance style that developed at the turn of the sixteenth century.
Later in his career, he was eclipsed by the work of the High Renaissance masters, such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. But as Raphael’s teacher, he would leave a lasting legacy as the man who taught the greatest painter of the Renaissance how to paint.
The High Renaissance was the peak of artistic achievement in Renaissance art and literature, during which the greatest Renaissance masters – Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael – perfected the idealized realistic portrayal of humanity in art.
The Last Supper depicts the moment when Jesus announced to His apostles that one of them would betray him. The apostles are shown in groups of three, expressing varying degrees of anger, shock, and grief. In the group next to Jesus’ right shoulder, John leans toward Peter while Judas shrinks back, holding a sack of money. The Da Vinci Code, a popular book adapted to film, promotes the theory that da Vinci intended for John to represent Mary Magdalene, but art historians do not buy this, noting Leonardo’s tendency to feminize men.
While Leonardo’s The Last Supper is one of the most recognized paintings in the world, it is one of the most poorly preserved paintings in history. Rather than paint a fresco on wet plaster, Leonardo painted The Last Supper on a dry wall in order to enhance the coloring and give him more time to modify the painting as he worked. The painting began deteriorating almost immediately and numerous attempts have been made to preserve and restore it. Copies of the painting give us the best picture of how the original might have looked.
The Mona Lisa is housed in the Louvre. It has been vandalized several times, including by one man who claimed to be in love with the painting and cut it with a razor blade, hoping to steal it. Shortly before World War I, an Italian patriot who was employed at the Louvre stole it, believing that the classic Italian painting belonged in Italy. The painting was later recovered and returned to the Louvre after being briefly displayed in Florence.
The large block of marble that would become Michelangelo’s David sat idly for decades before the leaders of Florence could find someone who could be trusted to sculpt something worthy of its value. Michelangelo received the commission and spent two months of his life sculpting the most recognizable statue of the Renaissance.
Raphael’s The School of Athens is the embodiment of the classical spirit and artistic perfection of the Renaissance. Not only does the painting achieve balance, perspective, and realism, but it features the great philosophers of classical antiquity together all in one room.
At the center, Plato (modeled after Leonardo da Vinci) debates philosophy with his pupil, Aristotle, with Plato pointing to the sky to illustrate his idealism while Aristotle’s hand hovers above the ground, inviting his teacher to consider physical realities as a starting point for human understanding.
Socrates stands a short distance away from Plato and Aristotle, engaging a group of people around him. Diogenes, the cynic philosopher, sits alone on the steps while Raphael stands in the bottom right corner next to the Persian prophet, Zoroaster, who is holding a model of the stars in his hand.
The Creation of Adam forms the centerpiece of Michelangelo’s collection of paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It is part of a series of paintings on the ceiling that represent the Creation and Fall of Man, as well as God’s promise of redemption and salvation for humanity.
The anatomically correct portrayal of Adam represents the meticulous studies of human anatomy undertaken by High Renaissance painters. Some observers have even noted the dark red background behind God resembles the human brain. Adam’s limbs are portrayed in the same likeness as God’s to show that he was created in His divine image. God’s outstretched finger nearly touches Adam’s, but Adam’s finger does not quite touch God’s, even though it would be possible if he were to will himself to stretch his finger. This illustrates both the humanistic belief in the human potential and Christian teachings about human sinfulness separating God and Man.
During the fifteenth century, the Renaissance was an Italian phenomenon, but as the printing press allowed humanist writings and Renaissance culture to spread north of the Alps, where artists made their own adaptations of the Renaissance style.
For German Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer, the year 1500 marked not only the beginning of a new century, but a milestone in his own life. At that time, the age of 28 represented the transition from young manhood to maturity.
In a pandemic year in which most APUSH classes were running behind content-wise, nobody expected the DBQ to be from the post-WWII era! But then, that's exactly what the AP US History Test Development Committee did this year! The 2021 APUSH DBQ topic addressed the social consequences of the prosperity that followed World War II, with a timeframe between 1940 and 1970.
Click here to view the 2021 AP US History DBQ
You may find my APUSH DBQ rubric helpful while taking a look at this sample essay, as each of these points is specifically targeted in the sample essay.
A few days after the 2021 free-response questions were released, I solved the 2021 DBQ within the one-hour time limit. I found that while the topic was not equally easy to argue from both sides, it was very easy to craft an argument against liberalism in British India while also making a counter-argument that liberalism was present in British India to an extent. Although this did not occur to me during the first pass, there is a way to create an argument for liberalism being the driving influence of British governance in India if one would take the critical newspaper articles and point out how they show a lack of censorship.
The French Revolution is one of the most important events in modern European history, setting the stage for the spread of popular government not only in Europe, but also onto every inhabited continent. While the French Revolution could be explained in an infinite number of ways, I am highlighting five causes in this post.
Click here to download this guide in a printable PDF format.
1. The French Financial Crisis
3. The Rise of the Bourgeoisie
4. The Influence of Enlightenment Philosophy
5. The Ineptitude of Louis XIV
Napoleon ruled in the autocratic style of an absolute monarch. Although legislative bodies existed in France during Napoleon’s reign, they had little real power, having been stripped of it by the Constitution of Year XII (1804). If the principle of representative government was the cornerstone of the French Revolution, Napoleon definitely did not advance its values.
While Napoleon’s autocratic rule violated the principle of representative government, there is no doubt that Napoleon enjoyed the support of the majority of the French people and considered himself an agent acting on their behalf. The Constitution of Year XII, which elevated Napoleon from First Consul to Emperor, was ratified by the French people in a plebiscite, or national referendum, with over 99 percent of voters voting in favor of Napoleon becoming emperor and claiming the powers that came with it. Additionally, he claimed the title of “Emperor of the French,” rather than “Emperor of France,” in recognition that his power came from the French people rather than by divine right. Although the people were not directly involved in governing through elected representatives, Napoleon gave a nod to the principle of popular sovereignty under the social contract and used his power to deliver popular reforms, such as the Concordat of 1801, re-establishing the Catholic Church as the “majority religion” of the French people.
EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW
The Napoleonic Code established a uniform system of laws that applied equally to everyone in the French nation. There were no aristocratic privileges (e.g., tax exemptions for an entire class of people) of the sort that had existed under the Old Regime. This new system of laws recognized the people of France as a nation rather than a collection of three estates.
Some exceptions to equality under the law existed under the Napoleonic Code, such as it being more difficult for women to sue for divorce than men (she only had grounds if her husband brought his mistress into the family home, thereby embarrassing her) and the re-establishment of slavery in the French colonies. However, it should be noted that under the Old Regime, legal divorce did not exist in France, at all, and Britain did not have a similar law until 1857.
EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY
Under Napoleon’s leadership, France made great strides toward equality of opportunity. He expanded access to education, creating lycées that provided a free secondary education to students who could pass the entrance exams. This expanded access to education created unprecedented opportunities for young people from common backgrounds to enter the civil service, the officer corps of the military, or the Catholic hierarchy. Under Napoleon, promotions in the military and civil service were based on merit, rather than social status or noble birth.
If the French Revolution was chiefly about promoting liberal values of free speech, press, and religion, Napoleon would get mixed reviews. His government employed censors , who screened literature and newspapers for offensive content and criticism of the government. However, while the Concordat of 1801 re-established the Catholic Church as the “majority religion” of France, it stopped short of declaring it as the state religion. Napoleon allowed full religious toleration during his reign and even granted Protestant ministers similar subsidies as he gave to Catholic priests. Napoleon’s rule has often been compared to that of the Enlightened Absolutists, as several of his reforms can be seen as implementing liberalism from above.
The Old Regime was made up of the three estates. The laws and the administration of justice varied from region to region. The people of France were bound together only as subjects loyal to the King of France. The Revolution sought to create a French nation that consistently French across regions and did not differentiate legally between members of social classes.
Napoleon advanced the idea of French nationalism by creating a single law code for all of France that established equality under the law, his continued use of the revolutionary Tricolor flag, the restoration of the Catholic Church as the official “majority religion,” and proclaiming himself as the Emperor of the French (People).
In the schools established by Napoleon, French was the only language of instruction. This spread the French language to parts of France where it had not been spoken or understood under the Old Regime. French was also established as the only language of the legal system.
Napoleon also presided over the peak of France’s national greatness and military power. The French people loved him for this, eagerly rallying around the emperor of their own choosing after his escape from his first exile in Elba. During the Hundred Days, Napoleon re-established himself as the Emperor of the French until he was deposed again after being defeated at Waterloo by the foreign military forces of the Seventh Coalition.
Perhaps, the greatest defense that Napoleon could make that he did not undermine the values of the French Revolution was that he personified these values with his own extraordinary life. Napoleon was born to a minor noble family in Corsica (an island off the coast of France that is technically French, but not “seen” as French).
Under the Old Regime, Napoleon would have risen only to the middling officer ranks but would never have been placed in command of an army. Napoleon’s journey from being born to minor provincial nobility to becoming the Emperor of France is, in and of itself, one of the great stories of the French Revolution and its upending of the Old Regime and its system of aristocratic privilege.
When is the 2021 AP European History exam? This year, it's a complicated question, as the exam will be administered three times in early May, late May, and early June.
The first exam administration, which will occur on May 7 at 12 PM local time, will be in the traditional paper/pencil format. The second and third exam administrations, which will occur on May 19 and June 2, at 12 PM EDT, will be administered in a digital format. The digital exams will be administered both in proctored settings at schools and also at home in circumstances permitted by the College Board.
I will be hosting free live reviews each week for AP Euro students. Click here to sign up!
Friday, May 7 @ 12 PM (Local)
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, written by Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, was aimed at developing Western lands in the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36°30′ parallel (e.g., encouraging settlement, building a transcontinental railroad). It included a provision repealing the Missouri Compromise and organizing the Kansas and Nebraska Territories based on popular sovereignty. The Kansas-Nebraska Act caused a national controversy, resulting in the demise of the Whig Party after its Northern and Southern factions split on the bill. Former Northern Whigs and free-soil Democrats met in Wisconsin and founded the Republican Party.
Video Lecture Available (YouTube)
1854-1859 ("Bleeding Kansas")
Proslavery and antislavery settlers rushed into the Kansas Territory in order to try to create majorities for their respective sides. Some of the proslavery settlers were “Border Ruffians” who were residents of Missouri who crossed the border in order to influence elections. Antislavery settlers came from as far as New England. This resulted in violent confrontations that earned the Kansas Territory the nickname, “Bleeding Kansas.”
The New England settlers were supported by Northern abolitionists, such as Henry Ward Beecher, who sent rifles that became known as “Beecher’s Bibles.” Proslavery settlers were also armed and committed acts of violence, such as the Sack of Lawrence, an attack on the antislavery town of Lawrence, Kansas. John Brown, a New England abolitionist who settled in Kansas with his sons, took vengeance on a randomly-selected family of proslavery settlers in the Pottawatomie Massacre. The violence in Kansas continued for years, killing dozens.
1855 (The Topeka Constitution)
1856 (The Brooks-Sumner Incident)
In this political cartoon, created by a Northern artist, Preston Brooks appears with his face obscured (in order to hide any appearance of humanity), beating an innocent Charles Sumner, who is armed only with a pen. Sumner appears almost Christlike in his serenity, a completely innocent and undeserving victim of the Southern slaveholder's aggression. In the background, some bystanders (presumably Southern) laugh at the spectacle, while a concerned Northerner is blocked from intervening by a man with a cane. The caption mocks Southern pretensions to chivalry, showcasing the violent aspect of the warrior code over its gentlemanly aspects.
1857 (The Lecompton Constitution)
Native Migrations ("1491")
Exploration and Colonization (1492-1776)
During this period, over 300,000 African slaves were brought to North America via the infamous Middle Passage across the Atlantic.
Early National America (1776-1820)
After American independence, 300,000 more African slaves were brought to the United States before Congress ended the African slave trade in 1808.
Antebellum Period (1820-1860)
The 1830 Indian Removal Act resulted in the (often forced) relocation of around 60,000 Native Americans from the South to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Thousands died on what became known as the Trail of Tears.
From 1845-1855, there was a wave of Irish and German immigration, which was the first major wave of Catholic immigration in the history of the United States. Most German immigrants settled in rural areas of Pennsylvania and the Midwest, while the Irish settled in coastal cities, such as Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia, which were fast becoming industrial centers.
NATIVISM: Irish immigrants did not receive a warm welcome because of their Catholicism and their willingness to work for cheap in the industrializing economy in the North. The “Know Nothing” Party received about 20% of the popular vote in the 1856 election after campaigning against Catholics and immigrants.
The Wild West (1840-1890)
The Gold Rush also attracted Chinese immigrants, who settled in San Francisco and prospected for gold. In the 1860s, Chinese made up the bulk of the workforce that constructed the Central Pacific Railroad.
NATIVISM: The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which banned further immigration from China, was the first law passed in the United States to limit immigration. A 1907 “Gentleman’s Agreement” between the United States and Japan limited Japanese immigration without the United States passing a law.
The Progressive Era (1890-1920)
NATIVISM: The New Immigrants did not get a particularly warm welcome in the United States because they did not tend to speak English, came from countries with little to no experience with republican institutions, and often lacked education and job skills.
Progressive reformers worked to culturally assimilate the New Immigrants into an American “melting pot.” The settlement house movement, led by people like Jane Addams (of the Hull House), sought to give immigrants job and language skills. Public education became more focused on citizenship and acquainting new immigrants with the American way of life.
The Great Migration of African Americans from the South began during World War I, as black men sought jobs in Northern cities and eventually brought their families with them. Unfortunately, many of those trying to escape racism in the South found it in the North in the form of brutal race riots in Chicago and other cities.
NATIVISM MEETS RACISM: The (Second) Ku Klux Klan reached its peak membership in the mid-1920s, inspired by the silent film, Birth of a Nation, which glamorized the activities of the (First) Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The Ku Klux Klan was as nativist as it was racist, promoting an idea of America that was white, native, and Protestant (WASP).
Congress passed Immigration Quota Acts during the 1920s, which laid the foundation for a system of controlled immigration. Quotas, based on national origins, gave preference to immigrants from Northern and Western Europe.
The Sacco and Vanzetti Trial was a polarizing event in the 1920s. When Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of a murder and armed robbery, Italian-Americans cried foul, claiming that the guilty verdict was based on the defendants’ national origins and anarchist politics.
Contemporary America (1960-Present)
In the 1960s, national origins quotas were modified in order to encourage more immigration from the developing world - especially from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East - and eliminating preferences for white immigrants.
The 1965 act also gave preference to educated immigrants who possessed specialized job skills (e.g., doctors, chemists), immigrants who already had relatives in the United States, and refugees.
The Immigration Act of 1990 lifted restrictions against homosexual immigrants, who had been classified among “sexual deviants” in the 1965 Immigration Act.
Click here to download my DBQ tally sheet for this year's AP History readings.
Click here to download my "Cheat Sheet" for Period 3.
Best of luck to everyone on the 2020 APUSH Exam!
I am a history teacher who creates YouTube videos and instructional materials. I use this blog to publish lecture notes, book reviews, and personal reflections inspired by history, politics, and literature.
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