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With the return of the papacy, Rome became the centre of the High Renaissance (1500-1600). The pope of the 15th century summoned the leading artistic and architectural masters to rebuild the city. The Venetian Pope Paul II (1464-71) commissioned  many works. including the Palazzo Venezia, Rome's first great Renaissance palazzo (built 1455-64).  Other important buildings in Rome include the Palazzo della Cancelleria Palazzo Farnese, Palazzo Spada and Villa (Palazzo) Farnesina.

The lengthy construction of St Peter's Basilica occupied most of the other notable architects of the High Renaissance, including Raphael (1483-1520), Giuliano da Sangallo (1443-1516), Baldassarre Peruzzi (1481-1537) and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1483-1546).

Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) introduced the High Renaissance to Venice, leaving his mark in various public builidings around Piazza San Marco. In the mid-16th century, Andrea Palladio applied Ancient Roman temple design to the facades of his churches in Venice and also to his villas in Vicenza and the Veneto. His La Rotonda (outside Vicenza), a cardinal's party-house, imitates the Pantheon in Rome.

During the Counter-Reformation, both art and architecture were entirely at the service of the Church. In Rome, the Jesuits created massive and impressive places of worship to attract and overawe the faithful. Giacomo della Porta (1539-1602), the last architect of the Renaissance tradition, designed the Mannerist facade of the main Jesuit church in Rome, the Gesu' (built 1568-75), with elements creating a play of light and shade. Both the exterior and interior - a wide nave and side chapels instead of aisles - were extensively copied throughout Italy.

The Tuscan genius Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) painted his Cenacolo (Last Supper) in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan at the end of the 15th century. The artist's ability to represent the psychological characteristics of his subjects and create illusions of space marked the beginning of the High Renaissance in painting. By now the canvas was becoming a common base on which to paint.

Between 1481 and 1483 some of the country's greatest painters were employed by Pope Sixtus IV to decorate the walls in his newly rebuilt Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The frescoes of the lives of Moses and Christ and portraits of popes were done by Perugino (1446-1523), Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-94), Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507) and Luca Signorelli (1450-1523).

The decoration of the official apartments of Pope Julius II (Le Stanze di Raffaello) marked the beginning of the brilliant Roman career of Urbino-born Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio; 1483-1520). In the true spirit of the Renaissance, he absorbed the grand manner of classical Rome and became the most influential  painter of his time.

Raphael was also adept at portraiture and mythological paintings, and there are wonderful frescoes on this vein from 1508 to 1511 in Rome's Villa Farnesina. Other leading artists who worked on the villa designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi were Sabastiano de Piombo (c. 1485-1547), Sodoma (1477-1549) and Giulio Romano (c. 1492-1546), one of the few native Roman artists of the Renaissance.

The greatest artistic achievement of the period (and arguably of all time) was by Raphael's contemporary, Michelangelo Buonarooti (1475-1564), on the Sistine Chapel ceiling (painted 1508-12), which is crammed with dramatically foreshortened statuesque figures. Three decades later Michelangelo returned to adorn the altar wall with the Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment) between 1535 and 1541.

A distant artistic school emerged in mid-16th century Venice. It placed emphasis on colour rather than drawing and line. Titian (Tiziano Vecelli; 1493-1576) painted the huge panel of theAssumption of the Virgin (1516-18), in which the composition is built up with colour as much as by form, in the Frari. The artist was sought after as a portraitist and produced sensuous paintings such as the Venere d'Urbino (Venus of Urbino; 1538), which is i the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Venice's Scuola Grande di San Rocco houses an overwhelming cycle of biblical scenes by Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti; 1518-94); including the 12m-wide Crucifixion, in which a pool of light in the centre is ringed by a crowd of figures.

Another striking canvas of the period is Veronese's (c. 1528-88) Feast in the House of Levi (1573), in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice. It depicts the Last Supper with Christ seated at a banquet in a lavish palazzo with a crowd in contemporary Venetian dress.

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