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Renaissance Art in the North 2
What were the differences between the Northern and Italian Renaissances?
A. For one thing, the north held on to Gothic (or "Middle Ages") art and architecture with
a tighter, longer grip than did Italy. (Architecture, in particular, remained Gothic until
well into the 16th century.)
1. This isn't to say that art wasn't changing in the north - in many instances it kept
pace with Italian doings.
2. The Northern Renaissance artists, however, were scattered about and few in
number initially (very unlike their Italian counterparts).
B. The north had fewer centers of free commerce than did Italy. Italy, as we saw, had
numerous Duchies and Republics which gave rise to a wealthy merchant class that often
spent considerable funds on art. This wasn't the case in the north. In fact, the only notable
similarity between northern Europe and, say, a place like Florence, lay in the Duchy of
C. Burgundy, until 1477, encompassed a territory from present-day middle France
northward (in an arc) to the sea, and included Flanders (in modern Belgium) and parts of
the current Netherlands.
1. It was the only individual entity standing between France and the enormous
Holy Roman Empire.
2. Its Dukes, during the last 100 years it existed, were given monikers of "the
Good," "the Fearless" and "the Bold"
3. The Burgundian Dukes were excellent patrons of the arts, but the art they
sponsored was different from that of their Italian counterparts.
4. Their interests were along the lines of illuminated manuscripts, tapestries and
furnishings (they owned quite a few castles). Things were different in Italy, where
patrons were more keen on paintings, sculpture and architecture.
D. In the broader scheme of things, the social changes in Italy were inspired, as we've
seen, by Humanism.
1. Italian artists, writers and philosophers were driven to study Classical antiquity
and explore man's supposed capacity for rational choice. They believed that
Humanism led to more dignified and worthy humans.
2. In the north (possibly in part because the north did not have works of antiquity
from which to learn), change was brought about by a different rationale.
3. Thinking minds in the north were more concerned with religious reform,
feeling that Rome (from whom they were physically distanced) had strayed too
far from Christian values.
a. In fact, as northern Europe became more openly rebellious over the
authority of the Church, art took a decidedly secular turn.
E. Additionally, Renaissance artists in the north took a different approach to composition
than did Italian artists.
1. Where an Italian artist was apt to consider scientific principles behind
composition (i.e., proportion, anatomy, perspective) during the Renaissance,
northern artists were more concerned with what their art looked like.
2. Color was of key importance, above and beyond form. And the more detail a
northern artist could cram into a piece, the happier he was.
3. Close inspection of Northern Renaissance paintings will show the viewer
numerous instances where individual hairs have been carefully rendered, along
with every single object in the room including the artist himself, distantly inverted
in a background mirror.
4. Finally, it's important to note that northern Europe enjoys different geophysical
conditions than does (most of) Italy. For example, there are lots of stained glass windows
in northern Europe partly for the practical reason that people living there have more need
of barriers against the elements.
5. Italy, during the Renaissance (and, of course, beyond) produced some fabulous egg
tempera paintings and frescoes, along with glorious marble statuary. There's an excellent
reason the north isn't known for its frescoes: The climate isn't conducive to curing them.
(Ditto for egg tempera painted on wood.)
a. The north developed the chemistry of oil paints for this very reason. Artists
needed a medium that would dry (however slowly) and last.
b. Italy produced marble sculptures because, by gum, it has marble quarries. C.
Northern Renaissance sculpture is, by and large, worked in wood.
Jan Van Eyck
B. Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife Giovanna Cenami
1. depicts a marriage; artist may have
served as witness & signed in Latin in the
prominent center of the painting “Jan Van
Eyck was present”
2. mirror on the back wall frame has 10
inserts depicting scenes from Christ’s
life-the mirrors reflection includes Van
Eyck’s tiny self-portrait accompanied by
another witness
3. the dog symbolic of faithfulness & love
4. fruits on window sill stand for fertility & or the fall from paradise
5. discarded
shoes intention signifying the sanctity of marriage
6. carving of St. Margaret the patron saint of childbirth on the bed
II. Quentin Massys 1466-1530
A. life & work
1. romantic story associated w/ Massys that he left smithing for painting
when he fell in love with a painter’s daughter
2. Flemish born in Antwerp
3. painted exquisite detail as well as showing the emotion & personality of
his subjects-accentuated individual expression
B. Moneylender & His Wife
1. example of genre painting pop. W/ new northern middle class
2. faces of subjects are indifferent to each other involved in their own lives
3. details painted meticulously; book, mirror reflecting outside world
4. objects given importance leading to an important step toward full still life
Hans Holbein the Younger
I. Life
A. German artist 1497-1543
1. Traveled widely as a court painter
2. Once employed by Henry VIII of England
I. Painting “The Ambassadors”
a. He pays careful attention to
portraying a faithful likeness, and the
richness of details and surface textures
exhibits his northern upbringing.
b. These men were members of King
Henry VIII's court, and are portrayed with
objects relating to their worldliness and
higher learning: two globes, a lute, books,
and navigational instruments.
c. The fur robes and silk sleeves also
illustrate their great wealth.
d. Even the tapestry, the floor tiles, and the
textured silk curtain illustrate their status and
e. Amid all of this, a slurred image is presented across the
bottom of the painting. If you were to look at the painting
from the extreme right, an image of a skull becomes
f. This type of twisted perspective is called "anamorphic art".
Its meaning in relationship to the painting is probably related
to the idea that death comes to us all, no matter what one's
status in life. Another possibility is that it makes reference to
Holbein's name, which in German means "hollow bone".
Portrait of Sir Thomas More, 1527. Oil and
tempera on oak, Frick Collection, New York
Henry VIII
What is remarkable about this representation
of an English king?
1. Holbein flattered his subject outrageously.
The profusion of jewels, from the collar set
with fabulous rubies to the gems on the king's
cap and worked into his doublet, was the
ultimate in extravagance.
2. The padded-out shoulders added
forcefulness to the composition and obliged
the artist to lengthen the royal legs to
preserve balance.
3. It declared, without recourse to crown and
scepter or the weapons of war, that here was
a victorious warrior king who had triumphed
over his enemies and stood defiant in the face
of all opposition.
4. It proclaimed Henry's virility – the very
centre of the composition is that trusting
codpiece is shown. This device asserted that
the future of the dynasty was secure because
Henry was a veritable sexual athlete in full
possession of all his faculties.
Now the Truth?
1. At the age of 45 Henry was on the brink of old age. The athletic youth who had
reveled in tiltyard sports was a figure of the past.
2. Thrombosed legs were causing him increasing pain and would soon turn him
into a semi-invalid.
3. He was becoming fat and unwieldy. Those slender legs were, in reality,
bandaged to cover open sores issuing stinking pus.
4. In 1537, Henry VIII, far from being the man he wished others to see, was
5. twenty-eight years of married life without a son to show for them.
6. Early in 1536 Henry had a bad tiltyard accident that forced him to reflect
seriously on his own mortality.
7. Unless his luck changed drastically the dynasty was doomed. He had,
accordingly, got rid of wife number two (Anne Boleyn) in the hope of finding
another woman who would oblige him by producing a son.
8. In the previous autumn political disaster had struck with the outbreak of
rebellion throughout the northern half of the realm.
a. Tens of thousands of his own subjects had risen in protest at heavy
taxation and the religious changes he had forced on them.
b. He had cut England off from Catholic Christendom, named himself
head of the English Church, begun to close down the monasteries and
appropriate their lands and banned many customary festivals and
c. The king had defeated the malcontents, but only by trickery and broken
promises, not by force of arms.