Renaissance in the Low Countries  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Renaissance in the Low Countries is the cultural period that roughly corresponds to the 16th century in the Low Countries. In 1500 the Seventeen Provinces were in a personal union under the Burgundian Dukes, and with the Flemish cities as centers of gravity, culturally and economically formed one of the richest parts of Europe. During the course of the century the region also experienced significant changes. The union with Spain under Charles V, Humanism and Reformation led to a rebellion against the Spanish rule and the start of the religious war. By the end of the 16th century the northern and southern Netherlands were effectively split. While this fracture was reflected in the visual arts by the Dutch Golden Age in the north and the Flemish Baroque in the south, other areas of thought remained associated with 16th century currents of Renaissance thought. Gradually, the balance of power shifted away from the Southern Netherlands, which remained under Spanish authority, to the emerging Dutch Republic.


Renaissance art in the Netherlands


Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting

15th century painting in the Netherlands still shows strong religious influences, contrary to the Germanic painting. Even after 1500, when Renaissance influences begin to show, the influence of the masters from the previous century leads to a largely religious and narrative style of painting.

The first painter showing the marks of the new era is Hieronymus Bosch. His work is strange and full of seemingly irrational imagery, making it difficult to interpret. Most of all it seems surprisingly modern, introducing a world of dreams that highly contrasts with the traditional style of the Flemish masters of his day.

After 1550 the Flemish and Dutch painters begin to show more interest in nature and in beauty an sich, leading to a style that incorporates Renaissance elements, but remains very far from the elegant lightness of Italian Renaissance art, and directly leads to the themes of the great Flemish and Dutch Baroque painters: landscapes, still lifes and genre painting - scenes from everyday life.

This evolution is seen in the works of Joachim Patinir and Pieter Aertsen, but the true genius among these painters was Pieter Brueghel the Elder, well known for his depictions of nature and everyday life, showing a preference for the natural condition of man, choosing to depict the peasant instead of the prince.

The Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, now thought to be an early copy, combines several elements of northern Renaissance painting. It hints at the renewed interest for antiquity (the Icarus legend), but the hero Icarus is hidden away in the background. The main actors in the painting are nature itself and, most prominently, the peasant, who does not even look up from his plough when Icarus falls. Brueghel shows man as an anti-hero, comical and sometimes grotesque.

Architecture and sculpture

As in painting, Renaissance architecture took some time to reach the Netherlands and did not entirely supplant the Gothic elements. The most important sculptor in the Southern Netherlands was Giambologna, who spent most of his career in Italy. An architect directly influenced by the Italian masters was Cornelis Floris de Vriendt, who designed the city hall of Antwerp, finished in 1564.

In the early 17th century Dutch Republic, Hendrick de Keyser plays an important role in developing the Amsterdam Renaissance style, not slavishly following the classical style but incorporating many decorative elements, giving a result that could also be categorized as Mannerism. Hans Vredeman de Vries was another important name, primarily as a garden architect.

Music: the Franco-Flemish School

Franco-Flemish School

While in painting, the Netherlands were leading Northern Europe, in music the "Franco-Flemish" or "Dutch School" dominated all of Europe. In the early Renaissance, polyphonic musicians and composers from the Low Countries were working at all the European courts and churches. Educated in the church and cathedral schools of their own region, they spread out and would bring their style to the whole continent, so that by the late renaissance a unified musical style emerged throughout Europe.

Although there is no reference to antiquity, there is a clear Flemish "Renaissance consciousness", as indicated by the words of Flemish theorist Johannes Tinctoris, who said of these composers: "Although it is beyond belief, nothing worth listening to had been composed before their time.".

Renaissance elements in the music are the return from the "divine origin" of music to earthly beauty and sensory joy. The music becomes more structured, balanced and melodic. Whereas in the Middle Ages the choice of instruments was free, composers now start to organize instruments into homogenous groups, and write music specifically for certain arrangements.

Josquin des Prez was the most celebrated composer during the High Renaissance, and during his career enjoyed the patronage of three popes. Equally at ease in secular and religious music, he can be considered the first musical genius we know of.

Other important composers from the Netherlands were Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, Jacob Clemens non Papa and Adrian Willaert. Orlande de Lassus, a Fleming who had lived in Italy as a youth and spent most of his career in Munich, was the leading composer of the late Renaissance.


Dutch Renaissance and Golden Age literature

In the middle of the 16th century, a group of rhetoricians (see Medieval Dutch literature) in Brabant and Flanders attempted to put new life into the stereotyped forms of the preceding age by introducing in original composition the new-found branches of Latin and Greek poetry. The leader of these men was Johan Baptista Houwaert, who was led by an unbounded love of classical and mythological fancy.

The most important genre was music publishing, especially psalms. The Souterliedekens publication is one of the most important sources for the reconstruction of Renaissance folksongs. Later publishing was heavily influenced by the rebellion against the Spanish: heroic battle songs and political ballads ridiculing the Spanish occupants.

Best remembered of the writers is Philips van Marnix, lord of Sint-Aldegonde, who was one of the leading spirits in the war of Dutch independence. He wrote a satire on the Roman Catholic Church, started to work on a Bible translation and allegedly wrote the lyrics to the Dutch national anthem.

Other important names are Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert, Hendrick Laurensz. Spieghel and Roemer Visscher. Inevitably, their works and career were very much determined by the struggle between Reformation and the Catholic Church.

See also

Political situation


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Renaissance in the Low Countries" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools