The period in American culture, 1870s to the beginning of World War I, when painting, sculpture, and architecture were united in a “grand flowering” of work by persons who believed that society could be elevated by art.
Underlying expressions were lofty ideals and divine truth and the goal was encouraging people to live virtuous lives, which in turn would elevate the “spiritual life of the nation”. This movement was a revival from the Italian Renaissance when commitments to painting, sculpture and architecture expressed lofty themes and taught high moral values.
The ancient Greeks and Romans, with their emphasis on perfect proportions, were the model exponents. The tradition was continued in the Beaux-Arts style and teaching methods that developed in the second half of the 19th Century in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Paris school of fine art. Richard Morris Hunt, Henry Hobson Richardson, and Charles McKim were the first American architects to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and buildings designed by these men including the Boston Public Library were expressions of the American Renaissance.
Sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens and stained glass designer John La Farge were collaborators with these architects. In America, this Renaissance was appealing because it created a sense of continuum from earlier civilizations to the relatively new culture of the United States. It also introduced architecture as a discipline and this, in turn, led to mural painting and sculpture to enhance buildings designed in this Renaissance style.