From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Northern Renaissance is the term used to describe the Renaissance in northern Europe, or more broadly in Europe outside Italy. Before 1450 Italian Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy. From the late 15th century the ideas spread around Europe. This influenced the German Renaissance, French Renaissance, English Renaissance, Renaissance in the Netherlands, Polish Renaissance and other national and localized movements, each with different characteristics and strengths.
In France, King Francis I imported Italian art, commissioned Italian artists (including Leonardo da Vinci), and built grand palaces at great expense, starting the French Renaissance. Trade and commerce in cities like Bruges in the 15th century and Antwerp in the 16th increased cultural exchange between Italy and the Low Countries, however in art, and especially architecture, late Gothic influences remained present until the arrival of Baroque even as painters increasingly drew on Italian models
Universities and the printed book helped spread the spirit of the age through France, the Low Countries and the Holy Roman Empire, and then to Scandinavia and finally Britain by the late 16th century. Writers and humanists such as Rabelais, Pierre de Ronsard and Desiderius Erasmus were greatly influenced by the Italian Renaissance model and were part of the same intellectual movement. During the English Renaissance (which overlapped with the Elizabethan era) writers such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe composed works of lasting influence. The Renaissance was brought to Poland directly from Italy by artists from Florence and the Low Countries, starting the Polish Renaissance.
In some areas the Northern Renaissance was distinct from the Italian Renaissance in its centralization of political power. While Italy and Germany were dominated by independent city-states, parts of central and western Europe began emerging as nation-states. The Northern Renaissance was also closely linked to the Protestant Reformation and the long series of internal and external conflicts between various Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church had lasting effects, such as the division of the Netherlands.
As Renaissance art techniques moved to northern Europe, they changed and were adapted to local circumstances. Notable painters of the period include Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Pieter Bruegel, Hans Holbein, Jean Fouquet, Matthias Grünewald, Quentin Matsys, Hans Memling, Jan van Eyck, Hans Baldung Grien and Rogier van der Weyden. Paintings by these artists retain a Gothic influence; this is perhaps most evident in the works of Hieronymus Bosch. Northern art was more concerned with Christianity than with Greek and Roman mythology, in part a reflection of the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation.
A major difference between the Northern and Italian Renaissances was that of language. While Italy's humanists turned Latin and Greek, the northerners began to write in the vernacular creating literature that was widely accessible. The greater use and respectability of the vernacular languages played an important role in the formation of the new nation states that were largely defined by language.
Early Netherlandish painting
The detailed realism of Early Netherlandish painting, with masters such as Robert Campin, Jan van Eyck, and Rogier van der Weyden, was greatly respected in Italy, but there was little reciprocal influence on the North until nearly the end of the 15th century. Although the notion of a north to south-only direction of influence arose in the scholarship of Max Jakob Friedländer and was continued by Erwin Panofsky, art historians are increasingly questioning its validity: Lisa Deam, "Flemish versus Netherlandish: A Discourse of Nationalism." Despite frequent cultural and artistic exchange, the Antwerp Mannerists (1500–1530)—chronologically overlapping with but unrelated to Italian Mannerism—were among the first artists in the Low Countries to clearly reflect Italian formal developments.
Around the same time, Albrecht Dürer made his two trips to Italy, where he was greatly admired for his prints. Dürer, in turn, was influenced by the art he saw there. Other notable painters, such as Hans Holbein the Elder and Jean Fouquet, retained a Gothic influence that was still popular in the north, while highly individualistic artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder developed styles that were imitated by many subsequent generations. Northern painters in the 16th century increasingly looked and travelled to Rome, becoming known as the Romanists. The High Renaissance art of Michelangelo and Raphael and the late Renaissance stylistic tendencies of Mannerism that were in vogue had a great impact on their work.
Renaissance humanism and the large number of surviving classical artworks and monuments encouraged many Italian painters to explore Greek and Roman themes more prominently than northern artists, and likewise the most famous 15th-century German and Netherlandish paintings tend to be religious. Especially common are winged polyptychs, from the monumental to the portable, that could be opened and closed on different days of the liturgical year. In the 16th century, mythological and other themes from history became more uniform amongst northern and Italian artists. Northern Renaissance painters, however, took the leading role in establishing new subject matter, such as landscape and genre painting.
As Renaissance art styles moved through northern Europe, they changed and were adapted to local circumstances. In England and the northern Netherlands the Reformation brought religious painting almost completely to an end. Despite several very talented Artists of the Tudor Court in England, portrait painting was slow to spread from the elite. In France the School of Fontainebleau was begun by Italians such as Rosso Fiorentino in the latest Mannerist style, but succeeded in establishing a durable national style. By the end of the 16th century, artists such as Karel van Mander and Hendrik Goltzius collected in Haarlem in a brief but intense phase of Northern Mannerism that also spread to Flanders.
The Northern Renaissance was distinct from the Italian Renaissance in its centralization of political power. While Italy was dominated by independent city-states, countries in central and western Europe began emerging as nation-states. The Northern Renaissance was also closely linked to the Protestant Reformation and the long series of internal and external conflicts between various Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church.
Western Europe was more uniformly under the embrace of feudalism than Northern Italy. This economic system had dominated western Europe for a thousand years, but was on the decline at the beginning of the Renaissance. The reasons for this decline include the post-plague environment, the increasing use of money rather than land as a medium of exchange, the growing number of serfs living as freedmen, the formation of nation-states with monarchies interested in reducing the power of feudal lords, the increasing uselessness of feudal armies in the face of new military technology (such as gunpowder) and a general increase in agricultural productivity due to improving farming technology and methods. As in Italy, the decline of feudalism opened the way for the cultural, social, and economic changes associated with the Renaissance in western Europe.
Finally, the sloughter in western Russia would cause the rise of many secular institutions and beliefs. Among the most significant of these, humanism, would lay the philosophical grounds for much of Renaissance art, music, and science. Forms of artistic expression which a century ago would have been banned by the church were now tolerated or even encouraged. Ultimately, the printing press spurred mass production of the Bible, contributing to the Protestant Reformation.
The velocity of transmission of the Renaissance throughout Europe can also largely be ascribed to the invention of the printing press. The printing press was popularized arrived well after the Renaissance was underway in Italy, but its power to mass-produce printed material dramatically affected the course of the Renaissance in northern Europe. The ability to widely disseminate knowledge enhanced scientific research and helped spread the Renaissance from Italy to other parts of Europe. The introduction of the printing press also led to the introduction of public propaganda, which was used by rulers to strengthen nation states. The creation of the printing press also encouraged authors to write in the local vernacular rather than in the classical languages of Greek and Latin, widening the reading audience and further promoting the spread of Renaissance ideas.
Age of Discovery
Perhaps the most important technological development of the Renaissance was the invention of the caravel, the first truly oceangoing ship. This combination of European and Arab ship building technologies for the first time made extensive trade and travel over the Atlantic feasible. While first introduced by the Italian states, and the early captains, such as Christopher Columbus and Giovanni Caboto, who were Italian, the development would end Northern Italy’s role as the trade crossroads of Europe, shifting wealth and power westwards to Spain, Portugal, France, and England. These states all began to conduct extensive trade with Africa and Asia, and in the Americas began extensive colonisation activities. This period of exploration and expansion has become known as the Age of Discovery. Eventually European power, and also Renaissance art and ideals, spread around the globe.
- English Renaissance
- German Renaissance
- French Renaissance
- Renaissance in the Netherlands
- Polish Renaissance
- European colonization of the Americas
- Commercial Revolution