While the early Italian Renaissance
broke all tradition with Gothic style during the 15th
century, it was a different story on the other side of the Alps.
Due to a host of social and
political reasons including the Reformation (see History 1400-1600),
the North never really
abandoned the Gothic style. . . . . . . it held on to it, taking
bits and pieces as it moved
toward a more dramatic stylistic change later on during the next
century. Many art
historians even refuse to refer to 15th century Northern painting
as "Renaissance," by calling the period "Late
Gothic" instead. However, while the jury is still out on
this one, I
will simply refer to all Northern painting during the 15th century
as "Northern Renaissance," implying that the growth
of style was not as clear cut or as speedy as it was in the South.
There are a few quick and easy ways to recognize Northern Renaissance
works of art (although they are not by any means complete, and
the rules are not always followed) and to
tell it apart from that of the South. In general, Northern Renaissance
painting has the
Highly Realistic - There is almost no abstraction or distortion of
either human forms or objects in Northern Renaissance art.
Extremely Detailed - Every detail, no matter how small, is painstakingly
Symbolism - Objects are often used as symbols that carry hidden
Unidealized Figures - Human figures are totally unidealized. They often
and pale. There is almost no Classical influence here at all.
Printmaking - The use of woodcut becomes a common way to produce
The painting above, The Merode Altarpiece
(c. 1425),by Robert Campin, shows many of theses characteristics.
It is typical of the style of painting we see coming out of the
Netherlands during this time, which is commonly referred to as