One function of mimesis, realism in Renaissance art, was to make paintings more emotionally resonant. Instead of the flat faces of people in many earlier paintings, the people shown in Renaissance art have more realistic appearances and faces skillfully depicting emotion. In religious art, the emotion depicted is often pain or sorrow.
During the lecture, we saw a few different examples of paintings depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. In the examples, his face is always twisted in agony and the blood on his face and hands is depicted in meticulous detail. It is not just Jesus who gets this treatment – the expression on the face of his mother, Mary, as she stands by the cross is twisted in immense sorrow. As someone currently taking her second Religious Studies class at Colby, I found myself interested in this move to depict the pathos of the people central to Christianity.
Even the common depiction of Biblical figures in contemporary rather than historically accurate clothes, which can be seen in the works of Jan van Eyck, Pietro Lorenzetti, and others, was probably done as a means of making the figures sympathetic to the average viewer. The tendency to depict them as Europeans rather than the Middle Easterners that Mary and Jesus actually were was done for a similar reason. Renaissance people standing in front of one of these religious paintings would have seen people who looked like them, dressed like them, and felt pain and sorrow as they did.