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Chapter Eight

Renaissance and
in the North
Between Wealth and Want
Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century
Northern Europe

• Controlled by the dukes of Burgundy, the region of Flanders (modern
Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg) included the prosperous cities of
Bruges and Antwerp

• Bruges was a major center of culture. The financial capital of the
north, the city was home to the Medici banking interests in the region

• Because the city’s prosperous merchant class, like the nobility, actively
supported the arts, Bruges was home to a thriving community of
Burgundy in 1467

• Throughout the fifteenth century, Bruges’s population ranged
between 40,000 and 50,000, quite large by Northern European

• Wages in Bruges were the highest in Northern Europe, especially for
craftspeople, and the city provided the most extensive social-care
networks anywhere—including 11 hospitals and hospices. Erasmus
compared the people of Bruges to the people of Golden Age Athens

• In Bruges, painting was a major commodity second only to cloth

• Especially popular, because they were relatively inexpensive, were oil

Johannes Stradanus, Oil Painting,
or Jan van Eyck’s Studio
8” x 10.5”, late 16

• This print shows van Eyck’s
Bruges studio as a factory
where paintings are made as
goods for consumption by a
rising middle class

• In his Lives of the Painters,
Giorgio Vasari wrote that van
Eyck had discovered oil painting
(in fact it had been known for
several centuries, and medieval
painters had used oils to
decorate stone, metal, and
occasional plaster walls)
Robert Campin
• The growing influence of the merchant class pervades the Mérode
Altarpiece, painted by Robert Campin, the Master of Flémalle

• The altarpiece is a triptych, or three-part work. The left-hand panel
depicts the patrons, Ingelbrecht of Mechlin and his wife—ordinary
people. The middle panel shows the Annunciation occurring in the
living room of a middle-class Flemish home. On the right-hand panel
Joseph works as a carpenter

• One of the most distinctive features is the everyday appearance of the
scene. This ordinariness lends the image of Christian miracle a reality
never before seen in European painting

Robert Campin, Mérode Altarpiece
Oil on panel, center 25-5/16” x 24-7/8”, each wing 25-3/8” x 10-7/8”
ca. 1426
Campin’s altarpiece is small, made to be held up close, suggesting its function as a private rather
than public devotional object.
The Arnolfini Portrait
• The celebration of individual identity that marks Renaissance art in
both the north and south is especially apparent in Jan van Eyck’s
double portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini, an Italian merchant representing
Medici interests in Bruges, and his wife, Giovanna Cenami

• Most scholars agree that the couple are exchanging marriage vows in a
bedroom before two witnesses, one of whom is van Eyck himself, who
is reflected in the mirror at the back of the room. Above the mirror is
inscribed in Latin “Johannes de Eyck fuit hic” (“Jan van Eyck was here”)

• Abounds with symbolic elements—dog (fidelity), two pair of shoes
(couple stand on ground hallowed by the ceremony), finial atop
chairback (St. Margaret, patron saint of childbirth, or Saint Martha,
patron saint of housewives), and so on

Jan van Eyck,
Arnolfini and
His Wife
Oil on panel,
32¼” x 23½”
ca. 1434
Jan van Eyck, Giovanni Arnolfini
and His Wife Giovanna Cenami

• Each of the ten small circles
around the mirror contains a
scene of Christ’s passion

• Van Eyck presents his love of
detail, the hallmark that
distinguishes Northern
Renaissance painting most
from painting in the South,
through a smooth surface
that does not show

Hieronymus Bosch
• Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) was born, lived, and worked in the
town of 's-Hertogenbosch, in southern Holland, which owed its
prosperity to wool and cloth

• His paintings, at once minutely detailed and highly imaginative,
manifest the Northern pessimism

• Bosch’s most ambitious painting, the Garden of Earthly Delights, is a
triptych with closing doors

• Never intended for a religious setting, it hung in a palace in Brussels as
a conversation piece, a work designed to invite discussion of its
meaning. Bosch provides an enigmatic essay on what the world might
be like if the fall of Adam and Eve had never happened

Hieronymus Bosch,
Garden of Earthly Delights
Oil on panel, closed, each wing 7’2½” x 38”, ca. 1505-10
• When closed, the triptych
reveals the world at the moment
of creation
• At the top left-hand corner, God
floats on a cloud and looks down
at the earth devoid of people
• Inscribed across the top are
words in Latin from Psalm 33:9:
“He himself spoke, and they
were made; he himself
commanded, and they were
• The irony of what is hidden
behind these exterior panels
could not be greater

Hieronymus Bosch,
Garden of Earthly Delights
Open, center 7’2½” x 6’4¾”; each wing 7’2½” x 38”, ca. 1505-10

• Above, in this detail from the left
panel, we see the Garden of Eden
populated with strange creatures

• Even as God commands Adam and
Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and
fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen,
1:26), death is imminent. A cat
walks off with a mouse in its teeth,
and a raven perches on the Fountain
of Life
• Below, here are the results of God’s
command to Adam and Eve

• The world has gone awry. Illicit lust
replaces love of God, wanton
seduction replaces beauty, and
Bosch’s own wild imagination
replaces reason

• All of the Seven Deadly Sins are
here—Pride, Envy, Greed, Gluttony,
Anger, Sloth, and, above all, Lust

• The center panel’s focus is this pool
surrounded by the four so-called
Castles of Vanity

• Horns, a symbol of cuckoldry,
decorate the central fountain, the
Tower of Adulteresses. Circling the
lower pool, the Bath of Venus, are
young men riding animals,
apparently intent on “riding” the
young women as well

• The right panel suggests life after
the fall

• The head of this strange creature
that presides over hell has an
astonishingly realistic face and is
topped by a disk with a bagpipe (a
traditional symbol of lust)

Matthias Grünewald
• Caught between north and south, between the rich detail of a van Eyck
and the classical idealized style of a Raphael, German painters at the
dawn of the sixteenth century exhibited instances of each

• Matthias Grünewald (ca. 1470-1528), architect, engineer, and painter
to the court of the archbishops of Mainz, created his most famous
work, the Isenheim Altarpiece, for the hospital of the Abbey of Saint
Anthony near Strasbourg, dedicated to the treatment of people with
skin diseases—syphilis, leprosy, and ergotism, caused by ingesting
contaminated grain

• Physical illness was viewed as a function of spiritual illness. The
altarpiece was designed to move these sinners to repentance and to
remind them that Christ had suffered like them
Matthias Grünewald,
Isenheim Altarpiece, closed
Oil on wood, center: 9’9½” x 10’9”; each wing 8’2½” x 3½”, ca. 1510-15
The Crucifixion on the monumentally large polytych is among the grimmest ever painted.
Grünewald’s palette of purple-green and yellow-brown almost reeks of rotten flesh.
Matthias Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece,
first opening
Oil on wood, center: 9’9½” x 10’9”; each wing 9’½” x 5’4½”,
ca. 1510-15
On holy days and possibly Sundays, the altarpiece was opened to reveal inside the brightly
lit scenes of the Annunciation, the Virgin and Child with Angels, and the Resurrection.
Albrecht Dürer
• Dürer (1471-1528), one of the leading painters of the Renaissance,
successfully wedded his Germanic-Netherlandish Gothic heritage
with the Renaissance interest in perspective, empirical observation,
and the rules of ideal beauty for representing the human figure

• After visiting Italy in 1505-06, he was determined to introduce a more
scientific approach to painting to Germany

• For Dürer, creating art was a sacred act; it made manifest God’s work,
from the Creation to Christ’s Passion

Albrecht Dürer, The Large Turf
Watercolor, 16¼” x 12-1/8”, 1503

This landscape study
displays not only the
Northern interest in the
minutest details of nature
but also Dürer’s scientific
mind and his humanist
interest in the phenomena
of the natural world.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait
Oil on panel, 26¼” x 19¼”, 1500
• Like other Northern artists, Dürer
was a master of oil painting

• His frontal pose, bearded face,
and intense gaze recall traditional
images of Christ. The highly
textured surface glows with a
light that seems to emanate from
within the artist himself

• Dürer inscribed the painting as
follows: “Thus I, Albrecht Dürer
from Nuremburg, painted myself
with undying colors at the age of
28 years”

Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I
Engraving, 9-7/8” x 7-3/8”, 1514
• A fully humanist image, a
complex depiction of failed
inspiration and genius, informed
by a wealth of classical allusion

• Dürer himself suffered from
melancholy, or depression, and
Melancholia can be understood
as an image of his own muse

• She strikes the traditional pose
of a melancholic personality.
(Raphael had portrayed
Michelangelo as Heraclitus in a
similar position in his School of
Martin Luther
• Luther (1483-1546) entered the monastery at age 22 when, during a
severe lightning storm, he had promised to become a monk if he

• Earning a doctorate of theology in 1512, in the winter semester of
1513-14, he began lecturing at the university in Wittenberg

• Between 1513 and 1517, Luther experienced a crisis in belief that led
to an almost total rejection of traditional Church doctrine. He began
to preach the doctrine of salvation by faith rather than by works and
to denounce the Church’s practices of selling indulgences, remissions
of penalties to be suffered in purgatory, the proceeds of which were
being used to cover Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz’s debts and to fund
Pope Leo X’s rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome
Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther
Oil on panel, 15” x 9”, ca. 1526
Martin Luther’s Reformation
• Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg
on October 31, 1517

• On August 7, 1518, Luther was summoned to appear in Rome within
60 days to answer a charge of heresy

• On January 3, 1521, the Church excommunicated Luther. All his
writings were declared heretical and ordered burned

• By 1526, the German emperor granted each German territory and
city discretion in choosing whether or not to follow Luther’s example

• Three years later, he rescinded the order, resulting in 18 German
states signing a protestatio, the act of protest that actually gave rise
to the term “Protestant”

Spread of the Reformation:
Thomas Müntzer and the
Peasant War
• To many townspeople and peasants, freedom from the pope’s authority
seemed to justify their own independence from authoritarian rule

• In 1524 Thomas Müntzer, a German cleric, raised an army and led the
peasants against the princes in the so-called Peasant War (1524-26). In
the ensuing battle, the princes lost 6 men, Müntzer 6,000. Ten days
later Müntzer was executed

• In the two years of the conflict, nearly 100,000 peasants were killed
across Germany

Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich
• The Great Minster Church in Zurich, Switzerland, had been granted
permission by the Church to select its own clergy. In 1519 Ulrich
Zwingli (1484-1531), who challenged the celibacy issue by living
openly with a woman and fathering six children, was elected as
people’s priest

• By the late 1520s, civil war broke out between Protestant and Catholic
cantons, or states, in Switzerland. During the second battle, Zwingli
was wounded by his Catholic adversaries, then executed, and his
remains scattered so that no relics would survive his death

• The compromise that resulted from this civil war was that each Swiss
canton was now free to choose its own religion
John Calvin in Geneva
• John Calvin (1509-64), a French religious reformer who had undergone
a religious conversion of extreme intensity, believed that men were
“elected” by God to salvation or damnation. Although in life one would
never know with certainty one’s election, one must live in a way that
pleased God

• Under Calvin, in some ways Geneva came to resemble a police state.
The city prohibited dancing and singing, drunkenness, and blasphemy.
Women were prohibited from wearing rouge, lace, and jewelry; men
from gambling and playing cards

• Calvin was extremely popular. Before his death in 1564, nearly 7,000
religious refugees arrived in Geneva seeking protection for their own
religious practices. So austere was the life they learned in Geneva that,
in England, they soon became known by the name of “Puritans”
Calvinist Austerity
Interior of a Calvinist Church, 17

Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican,
Rome, 17
King Henry VIII and the
Anglican Church
• The English crown’s decision to align itself with Protestant reformers
was driven much more by political expediency than religious doctrine

• When his first wife, Katharine of Aragon, failed to produce a male heir,
Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547), a devout Catholic who had attacked Luther in
a tract delivered to Pope Leo X in 1521, sought annulment of the

• Although a Catholic at heart, Henry split with the Church when the
annulment was denied and aligned himself with Protestant reformers,
creating the Church of England
The Printing Press
• Sometime between 1435 and 1455, in the German city of Mainz,
Johannes Gutenberg (ca. 1390-1468) discovered a process for casting
individual letterforms by using an alloy of lead and antimony

• In 1455 Gutenberg produced his first major work, the Forty-Two Line
Bible, so named because each column of type contains 42 lines

• By the end of the century, printing presses were churning out a wide
variety of books in at least 60 German cities and in 200 others
throughout Europe

• It is debatable whether the Reformation would have occurred
without the invention of the printing press

Page from the Gutenberg Bible
Johannes Gutenberg: Mainz, 1455-56
Luther’s Popular Appeal
• Excommunicated, Luther spent the next year translating Erasmus’s
Latin Bible into vernacular German so as to make the Bible available
to ordinary people

• Luther’s vernacular New Testament was published in 1522. The
entire printing of 3,000 sold out within three months, an incredible

• He was the Continent’s best-selling author. It is estimated that
between 1518 and 1525, one-third of all texts published in
Germany were by him

• Luther also sought to change Church liturgy, especially the use of
music. He composed chorales, hymns sung by the entire
congregation, in vernacular German, the most famous of which is
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

"Congregational Music"
From Revolution of Conscience: The Life, Convictions, and Legacy of
Martin Luther (length: 2:57). Item #32477 © 2003
Video will play automatically.
Thomas More and Utopia
• By the time Utopia was published in 1516, Thomas More (1478-1535)
was Henry VIII’s unofficial secretary. In 1529, More was appointed Lord
Chancellor, the presiding officer of the House of Lords

• In Greek, eu means “good” and topos “place,” hence “good place,” but
also the root might be ou meaning “not,” hence “no place”—and thus a
profound critique of the English political system

• In 1535 Henry had More, an ardent Catholic, executed for suggesting
that Henry’s first wife’s, Katharine of Aragon’s, daughter Mary was the
legitimate heir to the throne, not Anne Boleyn’s child, Elizabeth
William Shakespeare
• William Shakespeare even in his own time was the acknowledged
master of playwrighting

• He wrote 37 plays: great cycles narrating English history; romantic
comedies that deal with popular themes such as mistaken identity,
the battle of the sexes, lovers’ errors in judgment, and so on;
romances that treat serious themes but in unrealistic, almost magical
settings; and 11 tragedies

• Fellow actors prepared the first edition of his collected plays and
published them in 1623, after his death

frontispiece of the first
folio edition, London,

The Elizabethan Stage
• Until 1576 no permanent theater existed in England. In the spring of
1576 James Burbage opened Theatre of Shoreditch just outside the
walls of London

• Basic price of admission to Burbage’s Theatre was one penny, which in
1600 could buy one chicken or two tankards of ale. A laborer’s wage
was three or four pence, or pennies, a day, thus making Burbage’s
Theatre affordable

• In a dispute over a lease, Burbage’s company, now headed by James’s
son Richard, tore down the Shoreditch Theatre and rebuilt it across
the river in Southward at Bankside, renaming it the Globe

The Globe
Reconstruction and cross-section

The English Portrait Tradition
• Hans Holbein was one of the most important portraitists of wealthy
society in Europe and the favorite painter of Henry VIII. During his two
extended visits to England (1526-28, 1532-43) he painted hundreds of
works, including many of Henry and four of his six wives

• Each portrait conveyed the sitter’s status and captured something of
the sitter’s identity, expressing the English culture’s general humanist
emphasis on individualism

• As in Northern Renaissance painting as a whole, Holbein’s portraits are
richly detailed
Hans Holbein the Younger,
Henry VIII in Wedding Dress
Oil on panel, 32½” x 29”, 1540
• Henry, age 49 when this
portrait was painted, was six
foot two inches tall and had
an imposing 54-inch waist

• Henry is in the clothes he
wore when he married Anne
of Cleves in 1540. He had six
wives, and ordered the
beheading of two. These
marriages produced three
children: Mary, Elizabeth, and
Attributed to Federigo Zuccaro,
The Darnley Portrait of Elizabeth I
Oil on panel, 44½” x 31”, ca. 1575
• Like her father, Elizabeth was
the subject of many portraits

• Many portraits of Elizabeth
tend to concentrate on
elaborate decorative effects

• No other portrait of Elizabeth
conveys her steadfast
determination, even
toughness, while still
capturing something of her