The Renaissance in the North

  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
following characteristics:

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 painted.

Symbolism - Objects are often used as symbols that carry hidden meanings.

Unidealized Figures - Human figures are totally unidealized. They often look thin
and pale. There is almost no Classical influence here at all.

Printmaking - The use of woodcut becomes a common way to produce images.

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 "Flemish painting."

The Van Eycks (Yan and Herbert)


 The Ghent Altarpiece (c. 1432), above, is widely considered the greatest masterpiece of early Flemish painting (Flemish painting refers to work done in the Holland are, especially in the cities of Ghent, Bruges and Tournai during the 15th century). Started by Hubert Van Eyck, and later finished after his death by his brother Jan Van Eyck, this massive altarpiece takes the form of a traditional triptych and stands over 11 feet tall and extends over 14 feet when fully open. God, shown in the middle, is exquisitely painted in amazing detail, while Mary and St. John the Baptist
flank either side. Angles playing music follow with Adam and Eve (shown in detail to the left) on the ends. As you can see, the figures of Adam and Eve are hardly what you'd call idealized. But they are nonetheless beautifully done in true Northern style..........yet at the same time, they remind us of the kind or modeling done to the South in the way the light fades to dark. Also, the use of atmospheric perspective in expertly used much so, that it is impossible to tell where the background ends and the sky begins.

On the outside of the triptych, Jan Van Eyck painted the portraits of the benefactors who provided the money for the altarpiece; a common practice in the North.

The Arnolfini Wedding (c. 1434) by Jan Van Eyck is
probably one of the best known painting on Earth
(as it often finds itself in advertisements and even
TV commercials). The scene shows Giovanni Arnolfini, a wealthy Italian-born banker and
Giovanna Cenami, the daughter of a wealthy Bruges
merchant, in a bedroom just after the wedding. The
room is full of symbols, which we will go over during the lecture (as I don't want to give them away just yet). In the background, we see a convex mirror (see detail below) with the reflection of two people.......the brides father and the artist, who in a graffiti-like gesture, marked his name on the wall in Latin: Jan Van Eyck was here, 1434. Notice, again, the rich, detailed execution of the object in the painting, and the warm light filtering in from the window on the left

Hieronymus Bosch

 The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1510), by Hieronymus (I keep waiting for that name to make it to the most popular list) Bosch, is one of the most strange and surreal works you'll see anywhere, much less during the Northern Renaissance. Painted to act as a visual sermon to warn illiterate peasants of the dangers to the soul if one engages in "unethical" frolicking behavior.Indeed, the activities going on here are, shall we say.........peculiar. The painting on the right is actually the center panel of a triptych, with right. (For a close-up version of all panels, click on the image to the right.) With Bosch's painting, his desire to preach to the masses is somehow lost by his insistent and graphic detailing of what would actually get you into trouble.........sort of like the Kenneth Starr report.

To Northern Renaissance German Painting

 Early Italian Renaissance

 Late Italian Renaissance

 Italian Lingo 101

 To The Baroque Era

 Renaissance in the North

 History 1400-1600

 To Mannerism