The revolutionary qualities of the Northern Renaissance—and its continuity with the past—can be explored in an hour and fifteen minutes through a variety of examples, including:
- “Purgatory” and “Anatomical Man” from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, France, 1413–6, Illuminated manuscript.
- “January” and “February”, pages from the calendar of Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, France, 1413–6, Illuminated manuscript.
- Attributed to Robert Campin, Mérode Altarpiece, c. 1430, Oil on oak panel.
- Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434, Oil on oak panel.
- Jan Van Eyck, Man in A Turban, 1433, Oil on panel.
- Hieronymous Bosch, Last Judgment (open), 1504-8, Oil on panel.
- Unicorn Tapestry, 1495–1505, Wool, silk, silver and gilt.
- Martin Schongauer, Temptation of St. Anthony, 1480-90, Engraving.
- Albrecht Dürer, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498, Woodcut, 15 1/2 x 11 1/8”.
- Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504, Engraving, 9 7/8 x 7 7/8”.
- Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait, 1500, Oil on panel.
- Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1504, Engraving.
- Lucas Cranach the Elder, Martin Luther, 1532, Oil on panel.
- Hans Holbein, Henry VIII, 1540, Oil on panel.
- Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Return of the Hunters, 1565, Oil on panel.
- Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peasant Wedding, 1567, Oil on panel.
The influence of the International Gothic Style (think elongated, pointed architecture with intricate detail) is manifest in the meticulous, near microscopic paintings of Northern Europe that resemble medieval manuscript illuminations. The Très Riches Heures is a late example of an illuminated Book of Hours (Christian devotional text) that both looks back to medieval artistic traditions and forward to the Renaissance. On the one hand, its medium (hand-painted luxury item), its patron (the über-aristocrat, Duc de Berry) and its format, focusing on cycles of nature and the cosmos (diagrams, hours, and calendar), all scream “medieval.” You might ask students to rehearse the signposts typical features of the Gothic style that they learned in previous lectures. One plate illustrating “Anatomical Man” reveals the odd systems of resemblance between nature, the human body, and the heavens that governed the pseudo-scientific beliefs of the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the manuscript features an intuitive attempt at perspectival space and scenes from everyday life, albeit in a still-feudal society. It can be entertaining to have students point out particular details such as beehives, pets, and items of clothing from the calendar plates.
The French dukes of Burgundy controlled an area of present-day Belgium called Flanders from 1384 until 1477 when it passed to the Hapsburg Dynasty. Eventually the Spanish took over the region in 1556. You can take this opportunity to address the formation of national borders in Europe—those contested but largely imaginary geographical lines. Scenes of contemporary life are also featured in Flemish paintings. The remarkable thing about paintings like the Mérode Altarpiece is that they set Biblical stories in contemporary homes and costumes. Streetscapes in the far background are sometimes more believable than religious scenes staged in the foreground. Describe the oddness of that imagery by asking the class to imagine staging the Annunciation scene in their house or apartment, with the Angel Gabriel wearing jeans and sneakers. This small, private piece also demonstrates the Northern love of symbolism. Every still-life object in the scene—from the white lily symbolizing Mary’s purity, to the tiny mousetrap at the bottom right symbolizing Christ as a snare for the devil—bears a religious meaning. You might take a moment to review the difference between an icon and symbol.
Jan Van Eyck is the undisputed master of Flemish painting. His so-called Arnolfini Wedding Portrait is teeming with symbols (oranges, a convex mirror, one candle burning) and students can guess at their meanings. The furry little dog even symbolizes loyalty (think: “Fido” or fidelity). Again we have a scene of contemporary, middle-class domestic life in Northern Europe. As in the South, a new urban, merchant economy produced a middle class of art patrons in the North by the fifteenth century. See the activity at the end of this lesson for more on this painting.
The portrait (and later the still life) developed as a secular type of painting in Flanders. Contemporary artist Nina Katchadourian plays with the look of Flemish portraits in her improvisational self-portraits taken in airplane lavatories.
Jan Van Eyck’s Man in A Turban is presumed to be a self-portrait. The stunning color and textures (skin, stubble, cloth turban) of this painting were are achieved with oil paint. This medium was superior to tempera because it allowed artists to paint slowly, building up translucent, shimmering tones, whereas tempera dried quickly and was unforgiving. The comparison between these two media is laid out in this quick study guide.
The minute depiction of the world that oil paints facilitated sometimes skewed toward the grotesque. Hieronymus Bosch’s altarpiece painting Last Judgment recalls Gothic scenes of hell, and was intended as a meditation on the folly of sin. It requires some time for the viewer to take in the all of the punishments and demons Bosch invented for his hell. You can find details here. You also might introduce the Renaissance altarpiece here and stress the drama of its opening and closing function.
That grotesque and/or meticulous Northern vision crossed media. It wasn’t just oil paint that allowed an excess of symbolic detail. The Unicorn Tapestry, an artist’s drawing rendered in wool and silk by guild weavers, is a feat of textile weaving and religious symbolism. It hearkens back to the medieval bestiary but looks forward to Renaissance botanical studies.
Printmaking flourished in the North with the arrival of printing technology in Europe, possibly from the East, where it had existed for centuries. Flemish painting styles are reflected in Martin Schongauer’s Temptation of St. Anthony. He achieves a sense of space and texture with engraving techniques like cross-hatching. Engraving onto metal plates for printing allowed artists to create fine lines without reverting to a negative image, as they had previously done when carving woodcuts. Albrecht Dürer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a brilliant example of the woodcutting medium and a testament to the artist’s talent. Notice, however, that the lines are thicker than in engraved prints and that the hatching goes in one direction. The Museum of Modern Art’s fun tutorial What Is A Print? explains woodcut and acid etching, and you can learn about engraving here.
If the fourteenth century had been a kind of awkward, groping adolescence for European art and identity (not to mention the Black Plague that killed a third of the European population), the fifteenth century saw more radical shifts toward a Renaissance (“rebirth”) of Classical thinking. For the medieval mind, faith triumphed over reason, but that paradigm would be reversed by the sixteenth century when artists recorded the world very literally as they saw it. In the North, the Classical legacy brought idealism, combined with Italian humanism and empiricism—close looking at the world. For example, the eponymous figures of Dürer’s Adam and Eve stand in contrapposto with perfected Classical anatomy (albeit in a German-looking forest with symbolic animals). Students can compare these figures “before the Fall” to Masaccio’s expelled pair. Dürer had brought home Italian elements from his visit to Rome, and his own thoughts on ideal human form are laid out in his Four Books on Human Proportion.
Dürer’s Self-Portrait of 1500 portrays the artist frontally, Christ-like, and perhaps possessed of supernatural talent. He reasserts that identity by comparing himself to Melencolia I, the tortured intellectual archetype derived from ancient Greek medical texts about the four humors, or personality types. This brings up the same shift that took place in the Italian Renaissance, from artist as craftsman to artist as genius. Discuss with your class the role of an artist in today’s society with some of the following questions: What does a contemporary artist do for society? What about a designer? Should artists be paid or respected more than workers of other professions? What social class does an artist come from—then and now? Should an artist make more money than a master craftsman? Who pays/should pay for art?
With the Protestant Reformation (think “protest and reform”), artists in the North including Dürer lost a major patron—the Church. The Protestant Church did not commission religious images, in part because one of the complaints against the Catholic Church had been its sale of indulgences (documents forgiving people of their sins) in exchange for sponsorship of Catholic artistic and architectural projects. Martin Luther began as a monk and professor of theology before challenging Catholicism. He was acquainted with the artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, whose studio painted a rather matter-of-fact likeness of Luther. He translated the Bible into German, so that lay people could read the text themselves. The Englishman John Wycliffe had translated it into the common language as well, for Protestant England. Rulers like Henry VIII, portrayed in Hans Holbein’s painting, tired of giving power to the Pope in Rome and thus had a political stake in the Reformation.
So what did painting in the Protestant North look like? If you remove the angels and deities and overt religious symbolism from Flemish paintings, leaving only the little scenes of everyday life, then blow those up to the size of a landscape, you might get something that looks like Pieter Bruegel’s Return of the Hunters. Like Bosch, Bruegel composed a landscape brimming with interest, and expected a viewer to take time to look into it. This was a believable, but still idealized world where people worked hard but mostly got along. Bruegel’s Peasant Wedding exposed lower class life with charm and humor. You might point out how this type of scene set the stage for still-life painting.
"The Northern Renaissance,"
Book: Chapter 12: Man Is The Measure
The Italian Renaissance had placed human beings once more in the center
of life's stage and infused thought and art with humanistic values. In time
the stimulating ideas current in Italy spread to other areas and combined with
indigenous developments to produce a French Renaissance, an English
Renaissance, and so on.
Throughout the fifteenth century the matriculation records of Italian
universities listed hundreds of northern European students. While their chief
interest was the study of law and medicine, many were influenced by the
intellectual climate of Italy with its new enthusiasm for the classics. When
these students returned home, they often carried manuscripts - and later
printed editions - of classical and humanist writers. By this time,
scholasticism had declined into sterile repetition and logical subleties, and
literate laymen and pious clerics in the North were ready to welcome the new
outlook of humanism.
The Influence Of Printing
Very important in the diffusion of the Renaissance and later in the
success of the Reformation was the invention of printing in Europe. The
essential elements - paper and block printing - had been known in China since
the eighth century. During the twelfth century the Spanish Muslims introduced
papermaking to Europe; in the thirteenth century Europeans were in close
contact with China (see ch. 8) and block printing became known in the West.
The crucial step was taken in the 1440s at Mainz, Germany, where Johann
Gutenberg and other printers invented movable type by cutting up old printing
blocks to form individual letters. Gutenberg used movable type to print papal
documents and the first printed version of the Bible (1454).
Soon all the major countries of Europe possessed the means for printing
books. In 1465 two Germans brought printing to Italy, and within four years
the works of eight classical authors (including Cicero, Livy, Virgil, Pliny,
and Caesar) had been printed there. In all of Europe during the remainder of
the century an estimated 40,000 titles were published. It is said that the
prices of books sank to one eighth of their former cost thus placing books
within the reach of many people who formerly had been unable to buy them. In
addition, pamphlets and controversial tracts soon were widely circulated, and
new ideas reached a thousand times more people in a relatively short span of
time. In the quickening of Europe's intellectual life, it is difficult to
overestimate the effects of the printing press. Without printing it is
doubtful that a German writer at the end of the fifteenth century could have
made the exaggerated boast that "once upon a time Germany was poor in wisdom,
power, and wealth; now it is not only equal to others in glorious work, but
surpasses loquacious Greece, [and] proud Italy."
Erasmus And Northern Humanism
The intellectual life of the first half of the sixteenth century was
dominated by the Dutch humanist, Desiderius Erasmus (1466?-1536). Although
born in Rotterdam, he passed most of his long life elsewhere - in Germany,
France, England, Italy, and especially Switzerland. The most influential and
cosmopolitan of the northern humanists, he corresponded with nearly every
prominent writer and thinker in Europe and knew personally popes, emperors,
and kings. He was the scholar of Europe, and his writings were read
Perhaps the most famous and influential work by Erasmus was The Praise
of Folly, a satire written in 1511 at the house of the English humanist Sir
Thomas More. Folly, the term used in the Middle Ages as a synonym for human
nature, is described by Erasmus as the source not only of much harmless
enjoyment in life but also of many things that are wrong and need correcting.
A historian has described the work in these words:
At first the book makes kindly and approving fun of the
ways of action and the foibles and weaknesses of mankind.
It is not mordant, only amused. But gradually from fools
innocent and natural and undebased, it passes to those whose
illusions are vicious in their setting and results. ^11
[Footnote 11: H. O. Taylor, Thought and Expression in the Sixteenth Century
(New York: Macmillan, 1920), vol. 1, p. 175.]
Among such are merchants ("they lie, swear, cheat, and practice all the
intrigues of dishonesty"), lawyers ("they of all men have the greatest conceit
of their own abilities"), scholastic philosophers ("that talk as much by rote
as a parrot"), and scientists ("who esteem themselves the only favorites of
wisdom, and look upon the rest of mankind as the dirt and rubbish of the
creation"). Most roughly handled are churchmen, in particular monks, who are
"impudent pretenders to the profession of piety," and popes, cardinals, and
bishops, "who in pomp and splendor have almost equalled if not outdone secular
princes." While his satire is indeed harsh, Erasmus was himself balanced,
moderate, and intolerant only of bigotry, ignorance, greed, and violence.
The Praise of Folly points up a significant difference between the
northern humanists and their Italian predecessors. Most Italian humanists -
the civic humanists - spoke to and for the upper-class elements in their
city-states. They urged political leaders to become more statesmanlike,
businessmen to become more generous with their wealth, and all to become more
moral. They did not dissent or speak out in opposition; in urging the elite
groups to assume their responsibilities, they were actually trying to defend,
not condemn, them. Italian humanism "centered on the liberality or parsimony
of princes, on the moral worth of riches, and on the question of how to define
true nobility.' " ^12 The northern humanists, on the other hand, like Erasmus
in The Praise of Folly, spoke out against a broad range of political, social,
economic, and religious evils. They faced reality and became ardent reformers
of society's ills.
[Footnote 12: Lauro Martines, Power and Imagination, p. 208.]
The northern humanists also went further than the Italians in broadening
their interest in ancient literature to include early Christian writings - the
Scriptures and the works of the church Fathers. This led them to prepare new
and more accurate editions of the Scriptures (Erasmus' Greek edition of the
New Testament became famous and was used by Luther) and to compare unfavorably
the complexities of the church in their own day with the simplicity of early
Christianity. Since they held that the essence of religion was morality and
rational piety - what Erasmus called the "philosophy of Christ" - rather than
ceremony and dogma, it is not surprising that the church became a major target
of their reforming zeal.
Sir Thomas More's Utopia
The most significant figure in English humanism was Sir Thomas More
(1478-1535), the friend of Erasmus. More is best known for his Utopia,
the first important description of an ideal state since Plato's
Republic. In this extraordinarily realistic work, More criticized his
age by using as his spokesman a fictitious sailor who contrasts the ideal life
he has seen in Utopia (The Land of Nowhere) with the harsh conditions of life
in England. More's denunciations centered on the new acquisitive capitalism,
which he blamed for the widespread insecurity and misery of the lower classes.
More felt that governments
are a conspiracy of the rich, who, in pretence of managing the public,
only pursue their private ends, ... first, that they may, without
danger, preserve all that they have so ill acquired, and then, that
they may engage the poor to toil and labor for them at as low rates
as possible, and oppress them as much as they please. ^13
[Footnote 13: From the 1684 translation by Gilbert Burnet, in Introduction to
Contemporary Civilization in the West: A Source Book (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1946), vol. 1, p. 461.]
In Utopia, by contrast, no one is in want because the economy is planned
and cooperative and because property is held in common. Utopia is the only
true commonwealth, concludes More's imaginary sailor:
In all other places, it is visible that while people talk of a
commonwealth, every man only seeks his own wealth: but there, where
no man has any property, all men zealously pursue the good of the
public ... . [I]n Utopia, where every man has a right to every thing,
they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full,
no private man can want any thing; for among them there is no unequal
distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity; and though
no man has anything, yet they are all rich; for what can make a man
so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties;
neither apprehending want himself, nor vexed with the endless
complaints of his wife? ^14
[Footnote 14: Introduction to Contemporary Civilization, p. 460.]
More was the first of the modern English socialists, but his philosophy
should not be considered a forerunner of the socialism of our day. His
economic outlook was a legacy from the Middle Ages, and his preference for
medieval collectivism over modern economic individualism was of a piece with
his preference for a church headed - medieval style - by popes rather than by
kings, a view that prompted Henry VIII, who had appropriated the pope's
position as head of the church in England, to execute him for treason.
Rabelais' Gargantua And Pantagruel
One of the best known of the French humanists was Francois Rabelais
(1494-1553). A brilliant, if coarse, lover of all life from the sewers to the
heavens, Rabelais is best remembered for his Gargantua and Pantagruel.
Centering on figures from French folklore this work relates the adventures of
Gargantua and his son Pantagruel, genial giants of tremendous stature and
appetite, to whom were ascribed many marvelous feats.
With much burlesque humor - hence the term "Rabelaisian" - Rabelais
satirized his society while putting forth his humanist views on educational
reform and inherent human goodness. He made vitriolic attacks on the abuses of
the church and the shortcomings of scholastics and monks, but he had no
patience with overzealous Protestants either. What Rabelais could not stomach
was hypocrisy and repression and for those guilty of these tendencies he
reserved his choicest invective. He bid his readers to flee from that
rabble of squint-minded fellows, dissembling and counterfeit
saints, demure lookers, hypocrites, pretended zealots, tough
friars, buskin-monks, and other such sects of men, who disguise
themselves like masquers to deceive the world .... Fly from
these men, abhor and hate them as much as I do, and upon my faith
you will find yourself the better for it. And if you desire ...
to live in peace, joy, health, making yourselves always merry,
never trust those men that always peep out through a little hole. ^15
[Footnote 15: Quoted in H. O. Taylor, Thought and Expression in the Sixteenth
Century, pp. 328-329.]
Von Hutten: German Humanist And Patriot
One of the outstanding German humanists was Ulrich von Hutten
(1488-1523). In him was blended a zeal for religious reform and German
nationalist feelings. This member of an aristocratic family, who wanted to
unite Germany under the emperor, led a tumultuous life as a wandering Greek
scholar and satirist. He supported Luther as a rallying point for German unity
against the papacy, to which he attributed most of his country's ills. Von
Hutten reflected the tensions and aspirations of the German people in the
early years of the Protestant revolt against the papacy (see ch. 13).
The last notable northern humanist was the French skeptic Michel de
Montaigne (1533-1592). At the age of thirty-eight he gave up the practice of
law and retired to his country estate and well-stocked library, where he
studied and wrote. Montaigne developed a new literary form and gave it its
name - the essay. In ninety-four essays he set forth his personal views on
many subjects: leisure, friendship, education, philosophy, religion, old age,
death, and so forth. He did not pretend to have the final answer to the
subjects he discussed. Instead, he advocated open-mindedness and toleration -
rare qualities in the sixteenth century, when France was racked by religious
and civil strife.
Montaigne condemned the pedantry and formalism into which humanism and
humanistic education had largely degenerated by the end of the sixteenth
century. "To know by heart is not to know; it is to retain what we have given
our memory to keep," he wrote, and added that
Our tutors never stop bawling into our ears, as though they
were pouring water into a funnel; and our task is only to
repeat what has been told us. I should like the tutor to correct
this practice .... I want him to listen to his pupil speaking in
his turn. ^16
[Footnote 16: Montaigne, "Of the Education of Children," in The Complete Works
of Montaigne, trans. D. M. Frame (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press,
1957), p. 112.]
Montaigne's final essay, entitled "Of Experience," which developed the
thought that "when reason fails us we resort to experience," is an
acknowledgment of the bankruptcy of humanism and a foreshadowing of the coming
triumph of science.
Cervantes' Don Quixote
In the national literatures that matured during the Northern Renaissance,
the transition from feudal knight to Renaissance courtier finds its greatest
literary expression in a masterpiece of Spanish satire, Don Quixote de la
Mancha, the work of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). By Cervantes' day
knighthood had become an anachronism, though its accompanying code of chivalry
still retained its appeal. It remained for a rationalist like Cervantes to
show up the inadequacies of chivalric idealism in a world that had acquired
new, and intensely practical, aims. He did so by creating a pathetic but
infinitely appealing character to serve as the personification of an outmoded
way of life.
Don Quixote, "the knight of the woeful countenance," mounted on his
"lean, lank, meagre, drooping, sharp-backed, and raw-boned" steed Rozinante,
sets out in the Spanish countryside to right wrongs and uphold his lady's and
his own honor. In his misadventures he is accompanied by his squire, the much
less gallant but infinitely more realistic Sancho Panza, whose peasant adages
and hard-grained common sense serve as a contrast to the unpractical nature of
his master's chivalric code. Tilting at windmills, mistaking serving wenches
for highborn ladies and inns for castles, and lamenting the invention of
gunpowder as depriving ardent knights of a chance to win immortality, Don
Quixote is, on the surface at least, a ridiculous old man whose nostalgia for
the "good old days" is a constant source of grief to him. Thus the story
represents a superb satire directed against the outworn ideology of the Middle
Ages; in particular, it laughed the ideal of chivalric romance into the world
And yet Don Quixote is still more. Cervantes instilled in his main
character a pathos born in large measure of the author's own career of
frustrated hopes and ambitions. As a result, Don Quixote becomes more than a
romantic lunatic; he serves to embody that set of ideals each of us would like
to see realized but that we must compromise in a world that has other
interests to serve.
Secular Drama Appears
Like Greek drama, medieval drama developed out of religious ceremonies. A
complete divorce of the church and stage did not occur until the middle of the
fifteenth century when the Renaissance era of drama began in Italian cities
with the performance of ancient Roman comedies. In the following century
appeared the commedia dell' arte, reflections of everyday life in vulgar
and slapstick fashion, usually improvised by the players from a plot outline.
As secular dramas grew in popularity, theaters were built as permanent
settings for their presentations. Great ingenuity was shown in the design of
elaborate, realistic stage scenery as well as in lighting and sound effects.
Theaters embodying these innovations only gradually appeared outside Italy.
Not until 1576 was the first public theater erected in London; three years
later, a similar theater was constructed in Madrid.
Imitating the ancient models they admired, French and Italian writers
followed what they believed were the rigid conventions of the classical drama
and, to a large extent, catered to the tastes of the aristocracy. By contrast,
Spanish and English playwrights created a theatrical environment that was at
once more socially democratic, more hospitable to national themes, and less
concerned with classical models.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) climaxed the English
Renaissance and produced such a galaxy of talented writers that one would have
to go back as far as Athens in the fifth century B.C. to find an age as
rich with literary genius. Strongly influenced by the royal court, which
served as the busy center of intellectual and artistic life, these writers
produced works that were highly colored, richly romantic, and often wildly
extravagant in spite of all their poetic allusions to classical times.
The supreme figure in Elizabethan literature and perhaps in all
literature is William Shakespeare (1564-1616). His rich vocabulary and poetic
imagery were matched by his turbulent imagination. He was a superb lyric poet,
and numerous critics have judged him the foremost sonnet writer in the English
Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays - comedies, histories, tragedies,
and romances. His historical plays reflected the patriotic upsurge experienced
by the English after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. For his
comedies tragedies, and romances, Shakespeare was content in a great majority
of cases to borrow plots from earlier works. His forte lay in his creation of
character - perhaps the richest and most diversified collection conceived by
the mind of one man - and in his ability to translate his knowledge of human
nature into dramatic speech and action. Today his comedies are played to
enthusiastic audiences: The Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It, A Midsummer
Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, are but a few. But it is in his
tragedies that the poet-dramatist runs the gamut of human emotion and
experience. Shakespeare possessed in abundance the Renaissance concern for
human beings and the world around them. Hence his plays deal first and
foremost with the human personality, passions, and problems. In such works as
Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida, the problems
of love and sex are studied from many angles. Jealousy is analyzed in Othello,
ambition in Macbeth and Julius Caesar, family relationships in King Lear, and
a man's struggle with his own soul in Hamlet. Shakespeare's extraordinary
ability to build every concrete fact and action upon a universal truth makes
his observations as applicable today as they were when first presented in the
Globe Theater. Small wonder that next to the Bible, Shakespeare is the most
quoted of all literary sources in the English language.
Before the Italian Renaissance permeated the artistic circles of northern
Europe, the painters of the Low Countries had been making significant advances
on their own. Outstanding was the Flemish Jan van Eyck (1385?-1440), whose
work has been called "the full flowering of the spirit of the late Middle
Ages," for he continued to paint in the realistic manner developed by
medieval miniaturists. Van Eyck also perfected the technique of oil painting,
which enabled him to paint with greater realism and attention to detail. In
his painting of the merchant Arnolfini and his wife, for example, he
painstakingly gives extraordinary reality to every detail, from his own image
reflected in the mirror in the background to individual hairs on the little
dog in the foreground.
The first talented German painter to be influenced deeply by Italian art
was Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) of Nuremberg. Durer made more than one journey
to Italy, where he was impressed both with the painting of the Renaissance
Italians and with the artists' high social statusa contrast with northern
Europe where artists were still treated as craftsmen. His own work is a blend
of the old and the new; thus his engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil,
fuses the realism and symbolism of the Gothic with the nobility of
Verrocchio's equestrian statue of Colleoni. In the long run Durer became
better known for his numerous engravings and woodcuts than for his paintings.
Another famous German painter, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543),
chiefly painted portraits and worked abroad, especially in England. His
memorable portraits blend the realism and concern for detail characteristic of
all northern painting with Italian dignity.
Two northern painters who remained completely isolated from Italian
influences were Hieronymus Bosch (1480-1516) and Pieter Brueghel the Elder
(1525?-1569). Brueghel retained a strong Flemish flavor in his portrayal of
the faces and scenes of his native land. He painted village squares,
landscapes, skating scenes, peasants at work and at leisure just as he saw
them, with a reporter's eye for detail.
Very little is known about the Dutch master Bosch other than that he
belonged to one of the many puritanical religious sects that were becoming
popular. This accounts for his most famous painting, The Garden of Delights, a
triptych whose main panel is filled with innumerable naked men and women
reveling in the sins of the flesh. The smaller left panel, by contrast,
depicts an idyllic Garden of Eden, while the right panel portrays a
nightmarish Hell filled with frenzied sinners undergoing punishment. Bosch was
a stern moralist whose obsession with sin and Hell reflects the fears of his
contemporaries, which contributed to the religious movement to be described in
the next chapter - the Reformation.
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