The works displayed in this gallery continue the tradition of images made to serve the devotional needs of Catholic worshippers. As visual accompaniments to the Mass, the paintings were intended to transport the thoughts of faithful from the everyday material world to the spiritual realm. The gold backgrounds evoke the heavenly domain. As artists became interested in making the sacred stories and figures more lifelike, they gradually abandoned the gold of heaven for the landscapes and interiors of the real world.
Many of the works in this gallery were produced during the Renaissance, a time of artistic rebirth. This era saw a revival and emulation of ancient Greek and Roman culture. The example of classical antiquity led Italian artists to study nature and to idealize the human body. As the century progressed, the desire to create harmonious, ideal forms -represented in this gallery by Fra Bartolommeo's "The rest on the flight into Egypt with Saint John the Baptist"- was replaced by a fascination with more stylized, eccentric, and elegant forms, as seen in the "Portrait of a Halberdier" by Pontormo.