In art history, High Renaissance is the period denoting the apogee of the visual arts in the Italian Renaissance. The High Renaissance period is traditionally taken to begin in the 1490s, with Leonardo's fresco of the Last Supper in Milan and the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in Florence, and to have ended in 1527 with the sacking of Rome by the troops of Charles V. This term was first used in German (Hochrenaissance) in the early nineteenth century, and has its origins in the "High Style" of painting and sculpture described by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Over the last twenty years, use of the term has been frequently criticized by academic art historians for oversimplifying artistic developments, ignoring historical context, and focusing only on a few iconic works.
Since the late eighteenth century, the High Renaissance has been taken to refer to a short (c. 30-year) period of exceptional artistic production in the Italian states, principally Rome, capital of the Papal States, under Pope Julius II. Assertions about where and when the period begins and ends vary, but in general the best-known exponents of painting of the High Renaissance, include Leonardo da Vinci, early Michelangelo and Raphael. Extending the general rubric of Renaissance culture, the visual arts of the High Renaissance were marked by a renewed emphasis upon the classical tradition, the expansion of networks of patronage, and a gradual attenuation of figural forms into the style later termed Mannerism.
The paintings in the Vatican by Michelangelo and Raphael are said by some scholars such as Stephen Freedberg to represent the culmination of High Renaissance style in painting, because of the ambitious scale of these works, coupled with the complexity of their composition, closely observed human figures, and pointed iconographic and decorative references to classical antiquity, can be viewed as emblematic of the High Renaissance. In more recent years, art historians have characterised the High Renaissance as a movement as opposed to a period, one amongst several different experimental attitudes towards art in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. This movement is variously characterised as conservative; as reflecting new attitudes towards beauty; a deliberate process of synthesising eclectic models, linked to fashions in literary culture; and reflecting new preoccupations with interpretation and meaning .
High Renaissance style in architecture conventionally begins with Donato Bramante, whose Tempietto at S. Pietro in Montorio at Rome was begun in 1510. The Tempietto, signifies a full-scale revival of ancient Roman commemorative architecture. David Watkin writes that the Tempietto, like Raphael's works in the Vatican (1509–11), "is an attempt at reconciling Christian and humanist ideals".
The High Renaissance was traditionally viewed as a great explosion of creative genius, following a model of art history first proposed by the Florentine Giorgio Vasari. Even relatively minor painters of the period, such as Fra Bartolomeo and Mariotto Albertinelli, produced works that are still lauded for the harmony of their design and their technique. The elongated proportions and exaggerated poses in the late works of Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto and Correggio prefigure so-called Mannerism, as the style of the later Renaissance is referred to in art history.