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Sixteenth-Century Northern Renaissance Painting

Sixteenth-Century Northern Renaissance Painting

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will introduce the art of the Northern Renaissance during the sixteenth century.

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Tutorial

An overview of sixteenth-century Northern Renaissance painting.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about 16th century Northern Renaissance painting. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe stylistic characteristics of the Northern Renaissance paintings from this time period, and identify examples of 16th century Northern Renaissance paintings.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. The first key term is Holy Roman Empire, an area of rule during medieval and early modern times consisting of mostly Germany and part of Italy from 962 to 1806 the showed the decline of the pope and the power the emperor. Anamorphic image is an image that appears distorted unless it is viewed from a certain angle or using a device, such as a mirror. Landscape painting, an artwork that uses scenes from nature, such as mountains, trees, lakes, and rivers. And Northern Renaissance, an age of artistic and cultural discovery and Christian humanism that took place in Germany, the Netherlands, and France.

Big idea for today is that the Northern Renaissance paintings of the 16th century were an amalgam of Northern-style symbolism, detail, and textural interests, with the influence of the Italian Renaissance elements of accurate perspective and logical compositions. We'll be looking at the years covering 1514 to 1565.

This time, we'll be talking about artists of northern Europe originating from such places as Bree and Antwerp in modern day Belgium, right here, and Augsburg in modern Germany. In purple, it's showing you the Holy Roman Empire. Now it's important to remember that art often reflects or is influenced by the political climate of the time, as well as the actual climate of the time, as much as it is by the social trajectory.

Now the 16th century was a happening time in northern Europe. Protestant Reformation was beginning, thanks to a rebellious monk named Martin Luther. And the artistic and sociopolitical climate of Northern Europe was being influenced by number of major events, such as, well for one, with the colder climate, like I mentioned before, there is less fresco painting. So there's more panel painting. There is no classical examples for inspiration. And there is an emphasis on stained glass and miniatures. Now in terms of sociopolitical occurrences, the expansion of France, Germany, and Spain is taking place, as well as the breakup of the Burgundian Netherlands.

The artist, Quentin Massys, is believed to have begun his career as a blacksmith in his hometown before taking up painting and moving to Antwerp, where he remained for the rest of his life. Now his painting of "The Money Changer and His Wife" was almost certainly inspired by an earlier work by the Flemish painter, Petrus Christus, of a goldsmith in his shop, as well as the increasing prosperity that was seen in the Netherlands and Flanders during this time.

Now in a typical Northern Renaissance fashion, it's form of genre painting where the subject matter is something from everyday life. The man is carefully counting and weighing coins, while his wife actually flips through book of hours, or illuminated manuscript. Now what is the purpose of the painting? Well, the picture is filled with details that aren't immediately noticeable, such as the couple talking over the left shoulder of the woman, or of the wife that you can see here, and the man in the red turban reading a book in front of a window, through which we see a church steeple, all reflected in a convex mirror on the desk.

Now it's here that we may find the most important clue as to the painting's meaning. As in van Eyck's painting of the Arnolfini wedding portrait, the convex mirror may be symbolic of the all seeing eye of God. The church steeple in the background may be an indication of the subject matter contained in the book that the turban man is reading so intently. And the overall theme probably suggests the daily struggle of remaining pious in a secular world.

Hans Holbein the Younger, to distinguish him from, you guessed it, Hans Holbein the Elder, originated from the town of Augsburg in the Holy Roman Empire in what is today the country of Germany. Now he's a very accomplished painter, having served the family of Anne Boleyn, and as the court painter for Anne Boleyn's husband, Henry VIII. While employed in England, Holbein created one of his most famous paintings, "The French Ambassadors."

Now again, in typical Northern Renaissance style, the painting is full of symbolism. However, the influence of the Italian Renaissance is also evident in the careful application of perspective and the logical order of composition. Now the man on the left is Jean de Dinteville, the French ambassador to England. And the man on his right is his friend, Georges de Selve, a bishop and ambassador to the Catholic holy See. Now the two men are 28 and 24 respectively, as evident in embossing on the dagger in Dinteville's right hand, as well as the writing on the Bible underneath de Selve's right arm.

Now the fabrics are richly textured and realistically rendered, which is a hallmark of the Northern style of painting. Objects in the painting are either humanist or religious in their symbolism. And the most prominent object is the oddly placed and distorted skull. Now using a process called anamorphosis, the image is stretched in such a way that in order to view it correctly, the observer must stand to the side. It's an interesting addition and likely reminder of human mortality, just in case you've forgotten.

Now one of the most well known painters, or genre painters in Northern Europe, is the painter, Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Now originating from Bree in modern day Belgium, he began his career by imitating the style and subject matter of one of his greatest influences, the artist, Hieronymus Bosch. He traveled to Italy during his lifetime was particularly influenced by the landscape of the Italian countryside. And he incorporated some of the Italian geography into his landscapes of Flanders, as evident in this painting titled, "Hunters in the Snow."

Now although rolling hills exist in Flanders, mountains do not. It's a depiction of a rather uneventful scene, that of the return of hunters. However, Brueghel generates interest in the scene in the way he places his figures. The landscape is comprised of foreground and background only. There's no middle ground, which serves to create a sensation of immediate expansion into the surrounding landscape. It's a vantage point unique to the observer and an engaging juxtaposition of the daily routine against the backdrop of an expansive, beautifully detailed, Flemish landscape.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, describe stylistic characteristics of the Northern Renaissance paintings from this time period, and identify examples of 16th century Northern Renaissance paintings? And once again, the big idea for today is that the Northern Renaissance paintings of the 16th century were an amalgam of Northern-style symbolism, detail, and textural interests with the influence of the Italian Renaissance elements of accurate perspective and logical compositions. And that is it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Sixteenth-Century Northern Renaissance Painting"

Key Terms

Holy Roman Empire

An area of rule during medieval and early modern times consisting of mostly Germany and part of Italy from 962-1806 that showed the decline of the pope and power of the emperor.

Anamorphic Image

An image that appears distorted unless it is viewed from a certain angle or using a device, such as a mirror.

Landscape Painting

An artwork that uses scenes from nature, such as mountains, trees, lakes, and rivers.

Northern Renaissance

An age of artistic and cultural discovery and Christian humanism that took place in Germany, the Netherlands, and France.

Citations

The Ambassadors; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_The_Ambassadors_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg; Moneylender and his Wife; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Quentin_Massys_001.jpg; Hunters in the Snow; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Hunters_in_the_Snow_%28Winter%29_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg; Image of Quentin Massys Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jan_Wierix_002.jpg; Image of Hans Holbein Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Holbein_the_Younger,_self-portrait.jpg; Image of Pieter Brueghel Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BruegelPortrait.jpg; Image of Holy Roman Empire Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Holy_Roman_Empire_ca.1600.svg; Image of Belgium Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Belgium_location_map.svg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Holy Roman Empire

    An area of rule during medieval and early modern times consisting of mostly Germany and part of Italy from 962-1806 that showed the decline of the pope and power of the emperor.

  • Anamorphic Image

    An image that appears distorted unless it is viewed from a certain angle or using a device, such as a mirror.

  • Landscape Painting

    An artwork that uses scenes from nature, such as mountains, trees, lakes, and rivers.

  • Northern Renaissance

    An age of artistic and cultural discovery and Christian humanism that took place in Germany, the Netherlands, and France.