Of the most famous artists of all time, three are Renaissance artists, with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael topping the list. Other Renaissance artists include Caravaggio, Botticelli, Titian, Donatello, and El Greco — all masters of their craft.
When traveling, we all search out historic sights, followed by museums. Personally, I tend to favor art museums over history museums, because art — especially when showcasing locally born or locally working artists — can tell so many stories about a location. So, where are the best art museums to see those famous Renaissance paintings?
1. Louvre, Paris, France
The Louvre in Paris is the largest and busiest art museum in the world, and the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci plays a huge part in its popularity. The little piece is the most recognizable painting in the world, after all. After the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre is a must-see in Paris and the crowds can become quite overwhelming, unless you know how to avoid them. Inside, after posing for a selfie with Mona, there are plenty more Renaissance works to discover. There’s an entire wing dedicated to the mostly Italian works; even if only a fraction of the Louvre’s treasures are on display.
2. Vatican Museum, Rome, Italy
Despite the Louvre being the most famous art museum, the Vatican is without a doubt the best museum for Renaissance art. Apart from the absolutely mind-blowing ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, there are Raphaels, Michelangelos, da Vincis, and Caravaggios at every turn. It is worth getting up early to enjoy the experience without too many others around. And after you gorge on art in the Vatican, why not catch up with some more Caravaggio paintings dotted around Rome, in various churches, displayed for free?
3. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is one of the main draws of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The beautiful museum is really worth a trip just for its architecture, but inside, you’ll not only find a Botticelli or two, but also works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Fra Angelico, and Giotto. One visit is barely enough. But if you are roaming the halls looking for the rather handsome David, he stands in the Accademia Gallery not too far away.
4. Santa Maria Delle Grazie, Milan, Italy
For obvious reasons, Italy is the front-runner when it comes to museums exhibiting Renaissance works, but this will be the last one mentioned in this collection. It is a stunner; especially if you are lucky enough to plan ahead to get to see it, which I was not. The Last Supper, one of the most famous paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, is the only painting in this “museum” — because really, there is no need for any others. World famous, artful, and even embroiled in a conspiracy theory, it is worth planning ahead once you know you’re coming to Milan.
5. National Gallery, London, UK
The National Gallery, one of the free museums in London, is home to several Renaissance paintings by the common suspects like Raphael, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. It also holds several paintings by a non-Italian Renaissance artist, namely Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco, The Greek. Although, to be fair, while he was born in Crete, in those years, it was a Venetian Island, making him practically Italian. He also studied in Rome under Michelangelo and Raphael. Also look out for The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger — definitely not an Italian.
6. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
The Alte Pinakothek in Munich is home to more examples of the very prolific Renaissance artists, with examples by Raphael, da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian, and Lotto. It also features some more local examples as well. There is, for example, the Self-Portrait at the age of 28 and the Lamentation for Christ by German painter Albrecht Durer. You’ll also find The Battle for Alexander by another German Renaissance artist, Albrecht Altdorfer, together with some other paintings, showcasing a bit more variety.
7. National Gallery Of Art, Washington, D.C.
Want to see a Leonardo da Vinci painting, but not travel too far? The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in fact holds the only Leonardo da Vinci painting on public display in the Americas. And while you’re there, you can catch up with Raphael, Fra Angelico, and Titian for good measure. Entry is always free, so what are you waiting for?
Do you have a favorite Renaissance artist? My personal favorite artwork is Michelangelo’s La Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome — not a painting, but a sculpture. It is incredible how prolific the artists were during that period, with so many superb artworks around. It could nearly become a trip in itself, trying to view as many as you can, but travel to Italy first to get a head start.