Early Netherlandish painting
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Early Netherlandish painting (also known as Flemish Primitive or Late Gothic) refers to the work of artists active in the Low Countries during the 15th- and early 16th-century Northern Renaissance, especially in the flourishing Burgundian cities of Bruges and Ghent. The period begins approximately with the careers of Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the early 1420s and continues at least to the death of Gerard David in 1523. The end of the period is disputed, many scholars extend it to the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1569, or the start of the Dutch Revolt in 1566 or 1568, or to the start of the 17th century. The artists of this era made significant advances in natural representation and illusionism, and their work often features complex iconography. The paintings are usually of religious scenes or small portraits; narrative painting or mythological subjects are relatively rare, and landscape is usually relegated to the background. The artists produced mostly panel paintings, although illuminated manuscripts and sculptures were also common, especially at the higher end of the market. The paintings may comprise single panels or more complex altarpieces, usually in the form of hinged triptychs or polyptychs. The major artists include van Eyck, Campin, Dieric Bouts, Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Simon Marmion, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, David and Breugel.
The Early Netherlandish period coincides with the height of Burgundian influence across Europe. The Low Countries became a political and economic centre, noted for their crafts and the production of luxury goods. The paintings of the Netherlandish masters were often exported for German and Italian merchants and bankers. Aided by the workshop system, high-end panels were mass produced both for sale on the open market (usually through market stalls at fairs) and on commission. The period corresponds to the early and high Italian Renaissance but is seen as an independent artistic culture, separate from the Renaissance humanism that characterised developments in central Italy. Because these painters represent the culmination of the northern European Mediaeval artistic heritage and incorporate Renaissance ideals, their art is categorised as belonging to both the Early Renaissance and the Late Gothic.
With the advent of Mannerism, the work of the Early Netherlandish painters fell out of favour from the mid 1600s, and so little is known about even the most significant artists. Their biographies are, for the most part, scanty reconstructions from scattered mentions in legal records. In many instances the artists' names are unknown or contested. Many surviving panels are either only fragments or wings from lost larger altarpieces. The most significant early research on the painters occurred in the 1920s, in Max Jakob Friedländer's pioneering Meisterwerke der niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, which was followed by the analysis of Erwin Panofsky in the 1950s and 60s. This research tended to focus on establishing biographies and interpreting the complex iconography, while more recent research (notably that of Lorne Campbell of London's National Gallery) relies on X-ray and infra-red photography to develop a understanding of the techniques and materials used by the painters.
Terminology and scope
Early Netherlandish painting and painters are known by a variety of of terms; "Late Gothic" and the "Flemish Primitives" are other common designations. Art historian Erwin Panofsky applied the term "Ars nova" ("new art") and "Nouvelle pratique" ("new practice"), thereby linking the movement with innovative composers such as Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois favoured by the Burgundian court of the time. "Late Gothic" emphasizes continuity with the Middle Ages, while "Flemish Primitives" is a traditional art history term borrowed from the French which came into fashion in the 19th century. "Primitives" in this case does not refer to a perceived lack of sophistication; rather it identifies the artists as the originators of a new tradition in painting, one noted, for example, for the use of oil paint instead of tempera. Following the lead of Friedländer, Panofsky, Pächt and other German language art historians, English-language scholars typically describe the period as "Early Netherlandish painting" (German: Altniederländische Malerei).
The use of the term "Early Netherlandish painting", as well more general descriptors like "Ars nova" and the inclusive "Northern Renaissance art", allows for a broader geographical base for the artists associated with the period than the more exclusive "Flemish" beyond current geopolitical designations of Flanders and the Netherlands. During the 15th to mid 16th centuries, the modern national borders of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands did not exist. Flanders—a term that now refers specifically to distinct parts of Belgium—and other areas of the region were under the control of the Dukes of Burgundy and later the Habsburg dynasty. Painters and merchants, both native and foreign, congregated in the Flemish cities of Bruges and Ghent, the main regional centres of international banking, trade and art. Commentators often used the terms Flemish and Netherlandish (that is, "of the Low Countries") interchangeably: to 16th-century Italian painter and historian Giorgio Vasari, all northern painters were "fiamminghi", or "Flemmings".
A number of the artists traditionally associated with the movement had linguistic origins that were neither Dutch nor Flemish. The Francophone Rogier van der Weyden was born Rogier de le Pasture. The German Hans Memling and the Estonian Michael Sittow both worked in the Netherlands in a fully Netherlandish style.
A number of different schools of painting developed across northern Europe in the early 15th century. By 1400, the International Gothic era was waning and giving way to the influence of the Italian Renaissance. New and distinctive painterly cultures sprang up, with Ulm, Nuremberg, Vienna and Munich being the most important artistic centres at the turn of the century. Technical developments and the emergence of new media profoundly changed the art of the region. These included printmaking (using woodcuts or copperplate engraving) and other innovations borrowed from France and southern Italy. A consolidating change in approach came with van Eyck's manipulation of paint using the oil medium, a technique quickly adopted and developed by Campin and van der Weyden. These three artists are considered the first rank and most influential of the first generation of Early Netherlandish painters, although there were other less immediate responses in other parts of northern Europe, from Bohemia and Poland in the east to Austria and Swabia in the south.
There is a clear line of tradition beginning with Campin and van Eyck and lasting until the death of Gerard David in 1523. By the mid-1400s the innovations of the early masters had spread throughout Europe for a new generation of artists to absorb and develop. In Bavaria, Albrecht Dürer emulated van Eyck's forensic attention to detail but focused that precision in a new, more secular and personal direction. The early masters' influence reached artists such as Stefan Lochner and the Master of the Life of the Virgin, working in mid-15th-century Cologne, who drew inspiration from imported commissions by van der Weyden and Bouts, painters who had already passed beyond the High Gothic. By the 16th century such developments had become standard throughout northern Europe. In addition, painters had begun to enjoy a new level of respect and status; patrons no longer simply commissioned works but rather courted the artists themselves, sponsoring their travel and exposing them to new and wider influences.
As Bruges diminished as an artistic centre around 1500 and Antwerp's influence increased, the so-called Antwerp Mannerists came to prominence. Although their names are largely lost and they were active only from about 1500 to 1530, they are often considered to mark the end of the Early Netherlandish period. The Antwerp Mannerists are so-called because, although incorporating Italian influences, they were thought to represent a "latent Gothic" still informed by Netherlandish traditions of the preceding century.
Hieronymus Bosch was active in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and remains one of the most important and well-known of the Netherlandish painters. Yet he was anomalous in that he was uninterested in realistic depictions of nature or human existence and largely unconcerned with perspective and abandoned harmony. Instead Bosch focused on fantastical visions which, especially in his triptrychs, tended towards the hallucinatory.
Relation to the Italian Renaissance
The new style emerged in the north almost simultaneously with the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. While the developments in Italy came from a rediscovery of the classical Greek and Roman traditions, the Netherlandish painters retained many elements of their Gothic past. The philosophical and artistic traditions of the Mediterranean were not part of their heritage, and at the time many elements of "Latin" culture were looked down upon. While Italy saw radical changes in architecture, sculpture and philosophy, the revolution in Netherlandish art was largely confined to painting. Gothic architecture, for example, remained the dominant style through the 16th century, and it continued to inform the local style as Italian influences gradually spread north.
The role of Renaissance humanism was not as pronounced in the Low Countries as it was in Italy. Local religious trends such as Devotio Moderna were more apparent in the north and had a strong influence on the subject, composition and form of many artworks. While religious paintings—including altarpieces for churches or private devotion—remained dominant in Early Netherlandish art, secular portraiture became increasingly common both in the north and in the south as Netherlandish and Italian artists freed themselves from the medieval idea that portraiture should be restricted to saints and historical figures. In Italy this development was tied to the ideals of humanism; in the Low Countries the rise of individualism was not as pronounced at first, and rose partly in response to merchant class newly able to afford such commissions and partly from the daring of individual artists.
Italian influences on Netherlandish art are first apparent in the late 1400s, when some of the painters began to travel south. By then Mannerism had become the predominant style in Italy, a reason why a number of later Netherlandish artists became associated with, in the words of art historian Rolf Toman, "picturesque gables, bloated, barrel-shaped columns, droll carouches, "twisted" figures, and stunningly unrealistic colours—actually employ[ing] the visual language of Mannerism". As in Florence, where banking and trade led to numerous private commissions, wealthy merchants commissioned religious paintings for private devotion (often including themselves in the form of donor portraits) as well as secular portraits. Additionally, the presence of the Burgundian court in Urbino and other Italian cities allowed court artists to flourish. Painters were increasingly self-aware of their position in society: they signed their works more often, painted self portraits, and become well-known figures because of their artistic activities alone.
The masters were very much admired in Italy, and Friedländer argues that they exercised a stronger influence over 15th century Italian artists than vice versa. Innovations introduced in the north that were adapted in Italy include the setting of figures in domestic interiors and the viewing of an interior through multiple vantage points or openings such as doors or windows, Hugo van der Goes's Portinari Altarpiece played an important role in introducing Florentine painters to trends in the north, and artists like Antonello da Messina probably came under the influence of Netherlandish painters working in Sicily, Naples and later Venice. Early Netherlandish painters were not immune to the innovations occurring south of the Alps, however. Jan van Eyck might have travelled to Italy around 1426 to 1428, a trip that would have affected his work on the Ghent Altarpiece. In addition, the international and economic importance of cities like Bruges meant a great influx of foreign influence.
The artists and work
Patronage and status
The majority of the major Netherlandish painters of the first generation were literate and well educated and came from middle-class backgrounds, for example van Eyck used elements of the Greek alphabet in his signature, while a number of Ghent painters taught members of their workshops to read and write. Within their lifetimes many achieved great financial success, being much sought after both in the Low Countries and by foreign patrons from as far as Spain and Italy. Van der Weyden was able to send his son to the University of Louvain, while many, including Gerard David, Dieric Bouts and van der Weyden were able to afford to donate large works to churches, monasteries and convents of their choosing. Vrancke van der Stockt was able to invest in land. Jan van Eyck was a valet de chambre at the Burgundian court, and appears to have had easy access to Philip the Good. Although most of the masters lived in towns, rather than in cities or at court, they still had access to the huge demand from both domestic and central European patrons. The merchant and banker classes were in their ascendancy, and patronage was sought from such far flung regions as the north German cities and Baltic coast, the Iberian cities, to Venice, Milan and Florence in Italy, and the powerful families in England and Scotland.
The taste of the Burgundy dukes tended towards opulence and luxury goods. They favoured cups lined with pearls and rubies and gold-edged tapestries. This taste for finery trickled down through their court and nobles, to the people who for the large part commissioned the local artists of the era. While the Early Netherlandish paintings did not contain gold or jewelery and so did not contain the same intrinsic value, their perceived value was seen by those that mattered as approaching the same worth. A 1425 document written by Philip the Good explains why he hired the painter for his "excellent work that he does in his craft" (pour cause de l'excellent ouvrage de son mėtier qu'il fait).
The prestige held by the Burgundian princes impressed foreign royalty as far as Italy and Spain, and a market development of the paintings for export; by the 1460's they were being commissioned specifically for export to to Naples or Florence. Campbell notes that the works that works that were exported tend to have had a higher survival rate; mainly due to the local mid 16th century iconoclasm and the devastation of the second world war. Such wealthy foreign patronage and the development of international trade afforded the established masters to build up workshops of assistants; who were normally either younger apprentices earning entry into the painters guild or journeymen artists who were fully trained but had not earned the dues required to establish their own workshop.
Often the master would paint the focal and important portions of the work, such as the face or fingers (especially in single panel portraits) of the figures, the fingers, richly embroidered clothing. The more prosaic sections would be left to the assistants, and in many works it is possible to discern from abrupt shifts in style the areas of the surface separating those worked on by the master from those by his workshop. If the master was secure enough financially, as van Eyck was, he could dedicate his workshop to the production of copies of his commercially successful works, or on new compositions in his style. In this case, usually the master would produce the underdrawing or design. It is because of this practice that so many surviving works are today attributed to "The workshop of..." The mid 1400s saw a huge increase on demand for art works, which were sold either from the workshop or or at market stalls specialising in luxury goods. The period saw the rise of art dealers; some masters acted as dealers, attending fairs where they could also buy frames, panels and pigments.
Technique and material
The early work of van Eyck, Campin and van der Weyden marked a revolution in naturalism and realism in Northern European painting. Artists sought to more closely reflect the natural world. Figures were depicted with a visual realism that made them more human looking and allowed a greater complexly of emotions than had been seen before. The artists became interested in accurately reproducing physical objects (according to Panofsky they painted "gold that looked like gold") and both optical or natural phenomena such a beams of light or the plays of reflection. They abandoned the flat spaces and outlined figuration of earlier painting in favour of more complex three-dimensional pictorial spaces, while the position of the viewers and how they might relate to the scene became important for the first time. Van Eyck positions viewers of the Arnolfini Portrait as if they have just entered the room containing the two figures.
Innovations in the use of materials and painterly techniques allowed far richer, more luminous and closer detailed representations of people, landscapes, interiors and objects than had been seen before. The chief innovation came from the handling of oil paint. The use of oil as a medium in Northern Europeean painting can be traced in instanced to the 12th century, however until the 1430s egg tempera dominated. Egg when used as a binder tends to dry quickly and produce bright and light colours, therefore it is a difficult medium in which to achieve naturalistic texture or deep shadow. In contrast, oil creates smooth translucent surfaces, and can be applied in a range of thicknesses, from fine lines to thick broad strokes. It dries slowly and thus can be manipulated while still wet, giving the artist more time to add subtle detail and allow hatching, wet-on-wet painting and the ability to achieve smooth transition of colours and tones by removing layers of paint to expose those below. In addition oil allows differentiation between degrees of reflective light, from shadow to bright beams as well as minute depictions of light effects through use of transparent glazes. This new freedom in controlling light gave rise to more minute and realistic depiction of surface textures, seen notably in van Eyck portrayals of light falling on jewellery, wooden floors, rich textiles and household objects.
Glue was often used as an inexpensive alternative to oil. Although a large number of works using this medium were produced, few survive today, mainly due to both the high perishability of linen cloth to which the pigment was applied and the solubility of the hide glue from which the binder was derived. Well-known and relatively well-preserved—though substantially damaged—examples include Quentin Matsys' c. 1415-25 The Virgin and Child with Saints Barbara and Catherine and Dieric Bouts' c 1440-55 Entombment. The paint was generally handled with brushes, but sometimes applied with the thin sticks or the handles of the brushes. The contours of shadows were sometimes softened by spreading the paint with the artist's thumb (e.g. van Eyck used his thumb in his Arnolfini portrait to shape the dogs shadow), while the artists fingers and or the palm of his hand could be used to blot or reduce the glaze.
A large majority of the works were painted on wood rather than the less expensive canvas. The wood was usually oak, a fact that has greatly aided dendrochronological dating, while the type of oak gives clues as to the location of the artist. The boards were generally cut radially so as to avoid warp, while the oak was drained of sapwood and well seasoned before put into use. Typically the panels show a very high degree of craftsmanship of themselves, Lorne Campbell notes that most are "beautifully made and finished objects. It can be extremely difficult to find the joins."
Although the religious iconography used by the Netherlandish painters is often complex, layered and numerous, a common misunderstanding is that it is obscure. In fact most of the symbols appear over and over and come from then popular motifs from Christian myth, especially from scenes of the Virgin with the Child and scenes from the Life of Christ. In fact when an artist did choose to include an iconographical element that would not have been commonly know to the well educated, the tendency was to make the reference explicit by surrounding it with more popular symbols. In many ways the imagery is similar to that employed by contemporary Italian artists, although the favoured biblical subject matter differs owing to regional differences in doctrine.
Research has been hampered by the fact that there is so little surviving documentation, while that which has survived often refers to panels that have not.
The tradition of genre painting developed from the realism and detailed background activity of Early Netherlandish painting, which Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder were among the first to turn into their principal subjects, also making use of proverbs.
Single panel portraits
Before 1430 portraits showing known historical figures were rare even in secular European art. A large number of single panels showing saints and biblical figures were being produced, but the practice of depicting historically real, known individuals did not begin until the era of the Netherlandish painters, with van Eyck the pioneer. His 1432 Portrait of a Man is the earliest surviving example, and is emblematic of the new style. It is noted as marking a new approach to representation in a number of ways; primarily in its realism and acute observation of the small details of the (unknown) man's appearance, including his narrow shoulders, pursed lips and thin eyebrows, down to the moisture of his blue eyes.
In 1508-09 Albrecht Dürer described the basic function of portraiture as "preserving a person's appearance after his death" (Awch behelt daz gemell dy gestalt der menschen nach jrem sterben). During the fifteenth century portraits were status objects, and served to ensure that the individuals personal success was recorded and would endure after their death. Before 1500, most portraits tended to exclusively show royalty, the upper nobility or princes of the church. However the new affluence in the Burgundian Netherlands saw a wider variety of clientele as members of the upper middle class were now able to afford to commission a portrait, or very often, commission a religious work in which their likeness would be inserted.
These latter works, known as Donor portraits, generally show the individual kneeling to one side in the foreground. Although the Netherlandish artists saw portraiture as a very different and separate activity to painting religious subjects, more depictions of the Virgin and Child may have been intended are belonging to the portrait tradition. The painters guild across Europe was under the protection of Saint Luke, patron saint of artists. Luke is said to have painted at least on portrait of the Virgin, and depictions of Saint Luke painting the Virgin became common during the period. For this reason we know more about what the people of the region looked and dressed like since anytime since the late Roman period. Where as European art had previously been preoccupied with representations of saints and biblical figures, the early Netherlandish painters abandoned the tradition of idealisation and began to paint faces with a high degree of individuality who for the first time stare out confidently at the viewer.
The Netherlandish artists replaced the traditional profile view, popular since Roman coinage and medals, with the three-quarters pose. In this angle, more than one side of the face is visible as the sitters body is—almost but not quite—directly facing the viewer, while the far ear is generally not visible. The three-quarters pose allows a better view of the shape and features of the head and allows the sitter to look out directly at the viewer. van Eyck's 1433 Portrait of a Man is an early example of the method, and is all the more notable as it its likely van Eyck himself who stares out at us. Yet the gaze of the sitter rarely engages the viewer. Although there is direct eye contact between subject and viewer, normally the look is detached, aloof and uncommunicative, perhaps to reflect the subject's high social position. There are exceptions, typically in bridal portraits or in the case of potential betrothals where the object of the works is to make the sitter as attractive as possible to the intended assessors. In these cases the sitter was often shown smiling, with an engaging, fresh and radiant expression designed to appeal to her intended.
Although van Eyck was the innovator in the new approach to portraiture, Rogier van der Weyden developed the technique and was arguably more influential on the following generations of painters. Rather than follow van Eyck's meticulous attention to detail, van der Weyden's focus was on providing a more abstract and sensual representation. He was highly sought after as a portraitist, there is a noticeable similarity in his portraits, likely because, as a labour-saving device, he used and reused the same underdrawings, that met a common ideal of rank and piety, for his works. He would then add finishing touches to highlight the facial expressions of the particular sitter. Following van der Weyden's death, Petrus Christus was the first to set his figures against naturalistic as opposed to flat featureless backgrounds.
Of the following generation Hans Memling became the leading portraitist of the region and accepted commissions not only from the local middle class but also from Italy. He was highly influential on other painters and is credited with inspiring Leonardo's positioning of the sitter in the Mona Lisa before a landscape view. The French artist Jean Fouquet was similarly influenced by van Eyck and van der Weyden, while in Germany the influence can be seen in the works of Hans Pleydenwurff and Martin Schongauer amongst many others.
Triptychs and altarpieces
The first generation of 15th century Netherlandish masters borrowed many of the conventions with Triptych altarpieces from the Italian artists of the 13th and 14th centuries. Typically the midground of the central panel would contain the saints, with angels or supplementary scense from the saints's life in the wing panels. Those produced in the Low Countries became popular across Europe from the late 14th c, and there was a high level of demand until the early 1500s. The Burgundian empire was at the height of its influence, and the innovations made by the Netherlandish painters were soon recognised across the continent. The earliest know altarpieces of the era are compound works incorporating both engraving and painting; usually a carved central corpus which could be folded over by two painted wings. Such types were being commissioned by German patrons by the 1380's, however large scale export did not begin until around 1400. Due to the iconoclasm of the 1560's in which many of those kept in the Low Countries were destroyed, examples dating from pre-1400 mostly come from German churches and monasteries.
The word triptych did not exist during the era, the works were known as "paintings with doors". That they could be opened and closed served a practical purpose. Typically the interior images would only be visible on religious holidays, when the typically prosaic outer panels would be replaced by the more lush interior view. Polyptychs offered even more scope for variation as there were a greater number of combinations of viewable interior and exterior panels. The 1432 Ghent altarpiece is known to have had different configuration for weekdays, Sundays and holidays. It comprises 12 exterior and 14 interior painted panels, and the different possible combinations of panels would lead to different combinations of meanings.
When Mannerism became fashionable in the mid 1500s, early Netherlandish multi-panel paintings fell out of favour and were considered old fashioned, while iconoclasm would have deemed them unfavourable or offensive in many countries. They were often broken up and the panels sold as individual works, especially if one of the panels featured an image that could be passed of as a portrait.
Diptychs originated in the Netherlands in the mid 15th century and were especially popular from the 1430s to the 1560s as a new pictorial device for engaging prospective buyers. The format was used most notably by as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling and Jan van Scorel. Usually small in scale, they comprise two panels of the same size, painted on either side and joined together with flexible hinges so that they could be opened and closed like a book. Typically the primary images were thematically linked and painted on the interior panels: when the wings are closed, the interior panels are protected, and the images on the exterior can be seen.
They are distinct to pendants in that they are joined by hinges and not just two paintings hung side-by-side. The exterior panels were typically auxiliary, and usually formed from such motifs as the coats of arms of the donors or marbling. Diptychs usually served a devotional purpose, but sometimes contained commissioned portraits, usually husbands and wives. Many of the same religious scenes appear over and over; numerous depictions of the "The Virgin and Child" survive (Memling in particular produced many such images), reflecting the Virgin's contemporary popularity as a subject of devotion.
The development and popularity of diptychs has been linked to a change in religious attitude in northern Europe in the late 14th century, when a more meditative and inwards approach to devotion promoted by the Devotio Moderna movement spread in popularity. Private, solitary reflection and devotion were encouraged, and the usually small scale Netherlandish diptychs fitted this purpose, and were popular both amongst the newly emerging middle class and the more affluent monasteries of the Low Countries and Germany. In many instances the diptych would have been commissioned not just for purposes of devotion, but also to acquire a symbol of wealth and status.
Technical examination of surviving examples indicates that the panels of many pairings, espically thoes in which one wing is given over to donors, show significant differences in technique, indicating that the panels were often produced at different times and by different members of the artist's workshop. Art historian John Hand believes this came about because the religious panel was produced for the open market, and the portrait or donor panel added after the master have found a commissioning patron. As with Netherlandish altarpieces and triptychs, many of the diptychs were later broken apart and sold as single panels. Today, few survive with either their original frames or hinges.
Rediscovery and research
The 16th century saw the rise of royal art collections. Mary of Hungary and Philip II of Spain were the first of the period to seek out Netherlandish painters, and both shared a preference for van der Weyden and Bosch. By the early 17th century no collection of repute was complete without Northern European works from the 15th and 16th centuries, however the emphasis tended to be on the Northern Renaissance as a whole, especially Albrecht Dürer, who was by far the most collectable northern artist of the era. Giorgio Vasari in 1550 and Karel van Mander c 1604 placed the Netherlandish painters at the heart of Northern Renaissance art. In his first edition of Vite, Vasari -mistakenly- credited Jan van Eyck with the invention of oil painting. Yet, both writers were instrumental in forming the later international opinion as to which of the region's painters was the most significant, with emphasis on van Eyck as the innovator.
The Netherlandish and Flemish primitives fell out of fashion and were forgotten during the 17th and 18th centuries after the spread of Mannerism. In 1821 Johanna Schopenhauer became interested in the work of Jan van Eyck and his followers, having seen early Netherlandish and Flemish paintings in the collection of the brothers Sulpiz and Melchior Boisserée in Heidelberg. She had to undertake primary archival research because, beyond official legal documents, there was very little historical record of the masters. Schopenhauer published Johann van Eyck und seine Nachfolger in 1822, the same year Gustav Friedrich Waagen published the first modern scholarly work on early Netherlandish painting, Ueber Hubert und Johann can Eyck.
In 1830 the Belgian Revolution split Belgium from the Netherlands of today and created new national divisions between the cities of Bruges (van Eyck and Memling), Antwerp (Matsys), Brussels (van der Weyden and Bruegel) and Louvain (Bouts). The newly-emerged state of Belgium sought to establish a cultural identity, and during the the 18th century Memling's reputation came to equal that of van Eyck. Memling was seen as the older master's match technically, with a deeper emotional resonance. Among later civic collectors, German museums were in the vanguard. Edward Solly's unusually far-sighted 1818 purchase of six panels from van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece hung in Berlin. When in 1848 the paintings of Prince Ludwig of Oettingen-Wallerstein at Schloss Wallerstein were forced onto the market, his cousin Prince Albert arranged a viewing at Kensington Palace; though a catalogue of works attributed to the School of Cologne, Jan Van Eyck and Rogier Van der Weyden was compiled by Waagen, there were no other buyers so the Prince Consort purchased them himself. In 1860, when Charles Eastlake purchased for the London National Gallery Rogier van der Weyden's The Magdalen Reading panel from Edmond Beaucousin's "small but choice" collection of early Netherlandish paintings that also included two Robert Campin portraits and panels by Simon Marmion, it was a ground-breaking acquisition.
Significant research on the painters occurred in the 1920s, in Max Jakob Friedländer's pioneering Meisterwerke der niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, which was followed by the analysis of Erwin Panofsky in the 1950s and 60s. This research tended to focus on establishing biographies and interpreting the complex iconography, while more recent research, notably by Lorne Campbell of the National Gallery, London, relies on X-ray and infra-red photography to develop a understanding of the techniques and materials used by the painters.
The opening phase of the rediscovery of early Netherlandish painting climaxed in Max Jakob Friedländer's two works, 1903's Meisterwerke der niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhundert and the 1916 Von Jan van Eyck bis Bruegel.
- Exposition des Primitifs Flamands (1902), giving this period its name "Flemish Primitives"
- Art of the Low Countries
- Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting
- Early Renaissance painting.
- Renaissance in the Netherlands.
- Northern Renaissance
- Art of the Low Countries