Dictionary of Art and Artists



 

 


History of

Architecture and Sculpture

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

CONTENTS:

 
 

PART ONE
THE ANCIENT WORLD
PREHISTORIC ART
EGYPTIAN ART

ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN ART
AEGEAN ART
GREEK ART
ETRUSCAN ART
ROMAN ART
EARLY CHRISTIAN AND BYZANTINE ART

PART TWO
THE MIDDLE AGES
EARLY MEDIEVAL ART
ROMANESQUE ART
GOTHIC ART

PART THREE
THE RENAISSANCE THROUGH THE ROCOCO
LATE GOTHIC
THE EARLY RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
THE HIGH RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
MANNERISM AND OTHER TRENDS
THE RENAISSANCE IN THE NORTH
THE BAROQUE IN ITALY AND SPAIN
THE BAROQUE IN FLANDERS AND HOLLAND
THE BAROQUE
THE ROCOCO

PART FOUR
THE MODERN WORLD
NEOCLASSICISM AND ROMANTICISM
REALISM AND IMPRESSIONISM
POST-IMPRESSIONISM, SYMBOLISM, AND ART NOUVEAU

PART FIVE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY
TWENTIETH-CENTURY SCULPTURE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ARCHITECTURE


INDEX
FIGURES
 

 
 

 
 

CHAPTER FIVE
 

THE RENAISSANCE IN THE NORTH
 

Painting
Architecture and Sculpture - Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

 
 

North of the Alps, most fifteenth-century artists remained indifferent to Italian forms and ideas. Since the time of the Master of Flemalle and the Van Eycks they had looked to Flanders, rather than to Tuscany, for leadership. This relative isolation ended suddenly toward the year 1500. As if a dam had burst, Italian influence flowed northward in an ever wider stream, and Northern Renaissance art began to replace the "Late Gothic." That term, however, has a tar less well-defined meaning than "Late Gothic," which refers to a single, clearly recognizable stylistic tradition. The diversity of trends north of the Alps is even greater than in Italy during the sixteenth century. Nor does Italian influence provide a common denominator, for this influence is itself diverse: Early Renaissance, High Renaissance, and Mannerist, all are to be found in regional variants from Lombardy, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Its effects, too, vary greatly. They may be superficial or profound, direct or indirect, specific or general.

The "Late Gothic" tradition remained very much alive, if no longer dominant, and its encounter with Italian art resulted in a kind of Hundred Years' War among styles that ended only when the Baroque emerged as an international movement in the early seventeenth century. The full history of this "war" is yet to be written. Its major issues are hard to trace through all the battles, truces, and shifting alliances. Its course, moreover, was decisively affected by the Reformation, which had a far more immediate impact on art north of the Alps than in Italy. Our account, then, must be oversimplified, emphasizing the heroic phases of the struggle at the expense of the lesser, but in the long run equally significant, skirmishes.



Painting

Let us begin with Germany, the home of the Reformation, where the main battles of the "war of styles" took place during the first quarter of the century. Between 1475 and 1500, it had produced such important masters as Michael Pacher and Martin Schongauer (see figs. 560, 561, and 564), but they hardly prepare us for the astonishing burst of creative energy that was to follow. The range of achievements of this period, which was comparable in its brevity and brilliance to the Italian High Renaissance, is measured by the contrasting personalities of its greatest artists: Matthias Grunewald and Albrecht Durer. Both died in 1528, probably at about the same age, although we know only Durer's birth date (1471). Durer quickly became internationally famous, while Grunewrald, who was born about 1470-80, remained so obscure that his real name, Mathis Gothart Nithart, was discovered only at the end of the nineteenth century.



Matthias Grunewald.

Grunewald's fame, like that of El Greco, has developed almost entirely within our own century. His main work, the Isenheim Altarpiece, is unique in the Northern art of his time in its ability to overwhelm us with something like the power of the Sistine Ceiling. Long believed to be by Durer, it was painted between 1509/10 and 1515 for the monastery church of the Order of St. Anthony at Isenheim, in Alsace, and is now in the museum of the nearby town of Colmar.

This extraordinary altarpiece is a carved shrine with two sets ot movable wings, which give it three stages, or "views." The first of these views, formed when all the wings are closed, shows The Crucifixion (fig. 709)the most impressive ever painted. In one respect it is very medieval. Christ's terrible agony and the desperate grief of the Virgin, St. John, and Mary Magdalen recall the older German Andachtsbild (see fig. 497). But the pitiful body on the Cross with its twisted limbs, its countless lacerations, its rivulets of blood, is on a heroic scale that raises it beyond the human and thus reveals the two natures of Christ. The same message is conveyed by the flanking figures. The three historic witnesses on the left mourn Christ's death as a man, while John the Baptist, on the right, points with calm emphasis to Him as the Saviour. Even the background suggests this duality. Golgotha here is not a hill outside Jerusalem, but a mountain towering above lesser peaks. The Crucifixion, lifted from its familiar setting, thus becomes a lonely event silhouetted against a deserted, ghostly landscape and a blue-black sky. Darkness is over the land, in accordance with the Gospel, yet brilliant light bathes the foreground with the force of sudden revelation. This union of time and eternity, of reality and symholism, gives Grunewald's Crucifixion its awesome grandeur.

When the outer wings are opened, the mood of the Isenheim Altarpiece changes dramatically (fig. 710). All three scenes in this second viewthe Annunciation, the Angel Concert for the Madonna and Child, and the Resurrection (fig. 711) celebrate events as jubilant in spirit as the Crucifixion is austere. Most striking in comparison with "Late Gothic" painting is the sense of the movement pervading these panels. Everything twists and turns as though it had a life of its own. The angel of the Annunciation enters the room like a gust of wind that blows the Virgin backward, and the Risen Christ shoots from His grave with explosive force, while the canopy over the Angel Concert seems to writhe in response to the divine music. This vibrant energy is matched by the ecstatic vision of heavenly glory in celebration of Christ's birth, seen behind the Madonna and Child, who are surely the most tender and lyrical in all of Northern art. In contrast to the brittle, spiky contours and angular drapery patterns of "Late Gothic" art, Grunewald's forms are soft, elastic, fleshy. His light and color show a corresponding change. Commanding all the resources of the great Flemish masters, he employs them with extraordinary boldness and flexibility. His color scale is richly iridescent, its range matched only by the Venetians. Indeed, his exploitation of colored light is altogether without parallel at that time. Griinewald's genius has achieved miracles through light that were never to be surpassed in the luminescent angels of the Concert, the apparition of God the Father and the Heavenly Host above the Madonna, and, most spectacularly, the rain-bow-hued radiance of the Risen Christ.

How much did Grunewald owe to Italian art? Nothing at all, we are first tempted to say, yet he must have learned from the Renaissance in more ways than one. His knowledge of perspective 'note the low horizons) and the physical vigor of some of his figures cannot be explained by the "Late Gothic" tradition alone, and occasionally his pictures show architectural details of Southern origin. Perhaps the most important effect of the Renaissance on him, however, was psychological. We know little about his career, but he apparently did not lead the settled life of a craftsman-painter controlled by guild rules. He was also an architect, an engineer, something of a courtier, and an entrepreneur. Moreover, he worked for many different patrons and stayed nowhere for very long. He was in sympathy with Martin Luther even though as a painter he depended on Catholic patronage.

In a word, Grunewald seems to have shared the free, individualistic spirit of Italian Renaissance artists. The daring of his pictorial vision likewise suggests a reliance on his own resources. The Renaissance, then, had a liberating influence on him but did not change the basic cast of his imagination. Instead, it helped him to epitomize the expressive aspects of the "Late Gothic" in a style of unique intensity and individuality.
 


709. Matthias Grunewald. The Crucifixion, from the Isenheim Altarpiece (closed), . 1510-15. Oil on panel, 2.69 x 3.41 m.
Musee Unterlinden, Colmar, France
710. Matthias Grunewald. The Annunciation: Virgin and Child with Angels; The Resurrection.
Second view of the Isenheim Altarpiece. 1510-15.
Oil on panel, each wing 2.69 x 1.42 m; center panel 2.69 x 3.41 m.
Musee Unterlinden, Colmar, France
711. Matthias Grunewald. The Resurrection, from second view of the Isenheim Altarpiece




Albrecht Durer.


For Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), the Renaissance held a richer meaning. Attracted to Italian art while still a young journeyman, he visited Venice in 1494/5 and returned to his native Nuremberg with a new conception of the world and the artist's place in it. The unbridled fantasy of Grunewald's art was to him "a wild, unpruned tree" (a phrase he used for painters who worked by rules of thumb, without theoretical foundations) that needed the discipline of the objective, rational standards of the Renaissance. Taking the Italian view that the fine arts belong among the liberal arts, he also adopted the ideal of the artist as a gentleman and humanistic scholar. By steadily cultivating his intellectual interests he came to encompass in his lifetime an unprecedented variety of subjects and techniques. And since he was the greatest printmaker of the time, he had a wide influence on sixteenth-century art through his woodcuts and engravings, which circulated everywhere in Europe.
 

In Italy Durer made copies after Mantegna and other Early Renaissance masters that display his eager and intuitive grasp of the essentials of their alien style. Even more astonishing are his watercolors painted on the way back from Venice, such as the one inscribed "Italian Mountains" (fig. 712). Significantly, Durer did not record the name of the spot; the specific location had no interest for him. The title he jotted down seems exactly right, for this is not a "portrait," but a "study from the model" perceived in timeless freshness. The calm rhythm of this panorama of softly rounded slopes conveys a view of nature in its organic wholeness that was matched in those years only by Leonardo's landscapes (compare the background in the Mn Lisa; fig. 637).


 

712. Albrecht Durer. Italian Mountains, c. 1495 or 1505-6.
Brush drawing in watercolor, 21 x 31.2 cm.
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

After the breadth and lyricism of the Italian Mountains, the expressive violence is doubly shocking in the woodcuts illustrating the Apocalypse, Durer's most ambitious graphic work of the years following his return from Venice. The gruesome vision of The Four Horsemen (fig. 713) seems at first to return completely to the "Late Gothic" world of Martin Schongauer's Temptation of St. Anthony (see fig. 564). Yet the physical energy and solid, full-bodied volume of these figures would have been impossible without Durer's earlier experience in copying the works of such artists as Mantegna (compare fig. 628). At this stage, Durer's style has much in common with Grunewald's. The comparison with Schongauer, however, is instructive from another point of view. It shows how thoroughly Durer has redefined his mediumthe woodcutby enriching it with the linear subtleties of engraving. In his hands, woodcuts lose their former charm as popular art (see fig. 562), but gain the precise articulation of a fully matured graphic style. He set a standard that soon transformed the technique of woodcuts all over Europe.

The first artist to be fascinated by his own image, Durer was in this respect more of a Renaissance personality than any Italian artist. His earliest known work, a drawing made at 13, is a self-portrait, and he continued to produce self-portraits throughout his career. Most impressive, and uniquely revealing, is the panel of 1500 (fig. 714). Pictorially, it belongs to the Flemish tradition (compare Jan van Eyck's Man in a Red Turban; fig. 546), but the solemn, frontal pose and the Christlike idealization of the features assert an authority quite beyond the range of ordinary portraits. The picture looks, in fact, like a secularized icon, reflecting not so much Durer's vanity as the seriousness with which he regarded his mission as an artistic reformer. (One thinks of Martin Luther's "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.")



713. Albrecht Durer. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. . 1497-98.
Woodcut, 39.3 x 28.3 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
7
14. Albrecht Durer. Self-Portrait. 1500. Oil on panel, 66.3 x 49 cm.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The didactic aspect of Durer's art is clearest perhaps in the engraving Adam and Eve of 1504 (fig. 715), where the biblical subject serves as a pretext for the display of two ideal nudes: Apollo and Venus in a Northern forest (compare figs. 207 and 209). No wonder they look somewhat out of place. Unlike the picturesque setting and its animal inhabitants, Adam and Eve are not observed from life, but constructed according to what Durer believed to be perfect proportions. Here, for the first time, both the form and the substance of the Italian Renaissance enter Northern art, but adapted to the unique cultural climate of Germany. That is why his ideal male and female figures, though very different from their classical exemplars, were to become models in their own right to countless Northern artists.

The same approach, now applied to the body of a horse, is evident in Knight, Death, and Devil (fig. 716), one of the artist's finest prints. This time, however, there is no incongruity. The knight on his beautiful mount, poised and confident as an equestrian statue, embodies an ideal both aesthetic and moral. He is the Christian Soldier steadfast on the road of faith toward the Heavenly Jerusalem, undeterred by the hideous horseman threatening to cut him off or the grotesque devil behind him. The dog, another symbol of virtue, loyally follows his master despite the lizards and skulls in his path. Italian Renaissance form, united with the heritage of "Late Gothic" symbolism (whether open or disguised), here takes on a new, characteristically Northern significance.

Durer's convictions were essentially those of Christian humanism. He seems to have derived the subject of Knight, Death, and Devil from the Manual of the Christian Soldier by Erasmus of Rotterdam, the greatest of Northern humanists. It is the first of three engravings that were probably conceived as a unified program, as Durer often sold them as a set. Taken together, they are an unusually personal statement. A St. Jerome in His Study complements the knight of action, who carries his faith into the world, with one who pursues it through private meditation.

The last of the trilogy, Melancholia I (fig. 717), is the very antithesis of the other two. One of the four temperaments, she holds the tools of geometry, yet is surrounded by chaos. She thinks but cannot act, while the infant scrawling on the slate, who symbolizes Practical Knowledge, can act but not think. This is, then, the melancholia of an artist, perhaps Durer himself. He cannot achieve perfect beauty, which is known only to God, because he cannot extend his thinking beyond the limits of space and the physical world. The conception of this disturbing image comes from the humanist Marsilio Ficino, who .esteemed melancholia (to which he was himself subject) as the source of divine inspiration. He tied it to Saturn, the Mind of the World, which, as the oldest and highest of the planets, he deemed superior even to Jupiter, the Soul of the World. It is evident, however, that in contrasting the ineffectiveness of Melancholia, who derives her tools from Saturn, to the spiritual achievements of the knight and saint, Durer asserts the superiority of faith over reason.



715. ALBRECHT DURLR. Adam and Eve. 1504. Engraving, 25.2 x 19.4 cm.
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
716. Albrecht Durer. Knight, Death, and Devil. 1513. Engraving, 25.2 x 19.4 cm.
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
717. Albrecht Durer. Melancholia I. 1514. Engraving, 23.8 x 16.8 cm.
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Not surprisingly, Durer became an early and enthusiastic follower of Martin Luther, although, like Grunewald, he continued to work for Catholic patrons. His new faith can be sensed in the growing austerity of style and subject in his religious works after 1520. The climax of this trend is represented by The Four Apostles (fig. 718), paired panels containing what has rightly been termed Durer's artistic testament.

Durer presented the panels in 1526 to the city of Nuremberg, which had joined the Lutheran camp the year before. The chosen apostles are basic to Protestant doctrine: John and Paul face one another in the foreground, with Peter and Mark behind. Quotations from their writings, inscribed below in Luther's translation, warn the city government not to mistake human error and pretense for the will of God. They plead against Catholics and ultrazealous Protestant radicals alike. But in another, more universal sense, the figures represent the Four Temperaments and, by implication, the other cosmic quartetsthe seasons, the elements, the times of day, and the ages of manencircling, like the cardinal points of the compass, the Deity who is at the invisible center of this "triptych." In keeping with their role, the apostles have a cubic severity and grandeur such as we have not encountered since Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. That the style of The Four Apostles has evoked the names of these great Italians is no coincidence, for Durer devoted a good part of his last years to the theory of art, including a treatise on geometry based on a thorough study of Piero della Francesca's discourse on perspective.


718. Albrecht Durer. The Four Apostles. 1523-26.
Oil on panel, each 216 x 76.5 cm.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich



 

Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Durer's hope for a monumental art embodying the Protestant faith remained unfulfilled. Other German painters, notably Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), also tried to cast Luther's doctrines into visual form, but created no viable tradition. On his way to Vienna around 1500, Cranach had probably visited Durer in Nuremberg. In any event, he fell early on under the influence of Durer's work, which he turned to for inspiration throughout his career but invested with a highly individual expression. In 1504 Cranach left Vienna for Wittenberg, then a center of humanist learning. There he became court painter to Frederick the Wise of Saxony, as well as a close friend of Martin Luther, who even served as godfather to one of his children.

Like Grunewald and Durer, Cranach relied on Catholic patronage, but some of his altars have a Protestant content; ironically, they lack the fervor of those he painted before his conversion. Such efforts were doomed, since the spiritual leaders of the Reformation looked upon them with indifference or, more often, outright hostility, even though Luther himself seems to have tolerated some religious art. Cranach is best remembered today for his portraits and his delightfully incongruous mythological scenes. In The Judgment of Parts (fig. 719), nothing could be less classical than the three coquettish damsels, whose wriggly nakedness fits the Northern background better than does the nudity of Durer's Adam and hue. Paris is a German knight clad in fashionable armor, indistinguishable from the nobles at the court of Saxony who were the artist's patrons. The playful eroticism, small size, and precise, miniaturelike detail of the picture make it plainly a collector's item, attuned to the tastes of a provincial aristocracy.

Cranach's contribution lies above all in the handling of the landscape, which lends Durer's naturalism a lively fantasy through the ornate treatment of forms, such as the crinkly vegetation. Cranach had formulated this manner soon after arriving in Vienna. It played a critical role in the formation of the Danube School, which culminated in Albrecht Altdorfer (c. 1480-1538), a somewhat younger artist who spent most of his career in Bavaria.
 




719. Lucas Cranach the Elder. The Judgment of Paris.
1530.
Oil on panel, 34.3 x 22.3 cm.
Staatliche
Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe




Albrecht Altdorfer.

As remote from the classic ideal, but far more impressive, is Altdorfer's Battle of Issus (fig.
720). Without the text on the tablet suspended in the sky and the inscriptions on the banners, we could not possibly identify the subject, Alexander's victory over Darius. The artist has tried to follow ancient descriptions of the actual number and kind of combatants in the battle. To accomplish this, he adopts a bird's-eye view, so that the two protagonists are lost in the antlike mass of their own armies. (Contrast the Hellenistic representation of the same subject in fig. 220.)

Moreover, the soldiers' armor and the fortified town in the distance are unmistakably of the sixteenth century. The picture might well show some contemporary battle, except for one feature: the spectacular sky, with the sun triumphantly breaking through the clouds and "defeating" the moon. The celestial drama above a vast Alpine landscape, obviously correlated with the human contest below, raises the scene to the cosmic level. This is strikingly similar to the vision of the Heavenly Host above the Virgin and Child in the Isenheim Altarpiece (see fig. 710) by Grunewald, who influenced Altdorfer earlier in his career. Altdorfer may indeed be viewed as a later, and lesser, Grunewald. Although Altdorfer, too, was an architect, well acquainted with perspective and the Italian stylistic vocabulary, his paintings show the unruly imagination already familiar from the work of the older master. But Altdorfer is also unlike Grunewald: he makes the human figure incidental to its spatial setting, whether natural or architectural. The tiny soldiers of The Battle oflssus have their counterpart in his other late pictures, and he painted at least one landscape with no figures at allthe earliest "pure" landscape we know of since antiquity. (Durer's sketch, Italian Mountains, fig. 712, after all, is not a finished work of art.)
 


720. Albrecht Altdorfer. The Battle of Issus. 1529.
Oil on panel, 157.5 x 119.5 cm.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich





Hans Baldung Grien.

Altdorfer's fantastic landscape partakes of the imaginative qualities to be found in paintings by Hans Baldung Grien (1484/5-1545). This former apprentice of Durer spent much of his career in Strasbourg, which is not far from Isenheim and, like Nuremberg and Wittenberg, was a center of humanism. Yet he was fascinated above all with the magical and the demonic, which exemplify the dark side of the Renaissance. Humanism and the occult may be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Since the late thirteenth century, humanists had been nearly as interested in the treatises of the ancients on magic as in their literature and learning. In fact, the key text of Renaissance magic, the Corpus Hermeticum, was translated by the humanist Marsilio Ficino. But whereas the occult only rarely makes an appearance in Italian art, it was the object of continuing fascination in the North. Nowhere is this better seen than in Baldung Grien's Death and the Maiden (fig. 721).

Clearly based on Durer's Eve (see fig. 715), she is the personification of Vanitas, signifying the triumph of Death over Beauty. The Three Ages of Maninfancy, adulthood, old ageare repeated in the mirror, where three heads stare out at the young woman, who nevertheless examines her features serenely.

The painting epitomizes the prophetic and demonic powers of the convex mirror. In antiquity, mirrors had often served as attributes of goddesses and sometimes of mortal women, such as brides. The motif of a woman contemplating her beauty reappeared in Gothic cycles of the Vices and Virtues. This moralizing tradition was revived after 1500 as part of a widespread renewal of Gothic piety and mysticism during the Reformation. It was closely linked in turn to resurgent occultism at a time when rationalism seemed inadequate to explain the world. Because of their association with light, mirrors have often had mystical connotations throughout history, and reflected images were widely valued for their revelatory power. At the same time, supernatural qualities were attributed to them in folklore as a means of effecting hexes and other forms of black magic.

Initially the convex mirror expressed the "Late Gothic" fascination with the visible world, as we have seen in Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (fig. 547), which was painted within a few decades after mirrors began to be manufactured from polished metal. After 1500 the convex mirror came to be used almost exclusively as a Vanitas symbol, due to its extreme distortions, which heighten visionary reality; this, too, had its origin in another work by Jan. In Baldung Grien's painting, the characteristic image soon became a nude woman holding a convex mirror. It is used to convey a tragic vision of life to chilling effect through the striking contrast between the sensual nude and the grinning corpse, who holds an hourglass above her head as the horrified man vainly tries to stay Death's hand.


721. Hans Baldung Grien. Death and the Maiden.
. 1510. Oil on panel, 40 x 32.4 cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


 

Hans Holbein the Younger.

Gifted though they were, Cranach and Altdorfer both evaded the main challenge of the Renaissance so bravely faced, if not always mastered, by Durer: the human image. Their style, antimonumental and miniaturelike, set the pace for dozens of lesser masters. Perhaps the rapid decline of German art after Durer's death was due to a failure of ambition among artists and patrons alike. The career of Hans Holbein the Younger
(14971543), the one painter of whom this is not true, confirms the general rule. He was born and raised in Augsburg, a center of international commerce in southern Germany particularly open to Renaissance ideas, but left at the age of 18 for Switzerland. By 1520, he was firmly established in Basel as a designer of woodcuts, a splendid decorator, and an incisive portraitist. His likeness of Erasmus of Rotterdam (fig. 722), painted soon after the famous author had settled in Basel, gives us a truly memorable image of Renaissance man. Intimate yet monumental, this doctor of humane letters has an intellectual authority formerly reserved for the doctors of the Church.

Holbein must have felt confined in Basel, for in 1523-24 he traveled to France, apparently intending to offer his services to Francis I. Two years later, Basel was in the throes of the Reformation crisis, and he went to England, hoping for commissions at the court of Henry VIII. (Erasmus, recommending him to Thomas More, wrote: ''Here [in Basel] the arts are out in the cold.") On his return to Basel in 1528, he saw fanatical Protestant mobs destroying religious images as "idols." Despite the entreaties of the city council, Holbein departed for London four years later. He went back to Basel only once, in 1538, while traveling on the Continent as court painter to Henry VIII. The council made a last attempt to keep Holbein at home, but he had become an artist of international fame to whom Basel now seemed provincial indeed.

Holbein's style, too, had gained an international flavor. His portrait of Henry VIII (fig. 723) has the rigid frontality of Durer's self-portrait (see fig. 714), but its purpose is to convey the almost divine authority of the absolute ruler. The monarch's physical bulk creates an overpowering sensation of his ruthless, commanding presence. The portrait of the king shares with Bronzino's Eleanora of Toledo (see fig. 682) the immobile pose, the air of unapproachability, and the precisely rendered costume and jewels. Holbein's picture, unlike Bronzino's, does not yet reflect the Mannerist ideal of elegance, but both clearly belong to the same species of court portrait.
 


722. Hans Holbein the Younger. Erasmus of Rotterdam. c. 1523. Oil on panel, 42 x 31.4 cm.
Musee du Louvre, Paris
7
23. Hans Holbein the Younger. Henry VIII. 1540. Oil on panel, 82.6x74.5 cm.
Galleria Nazionale l'Arte Antica, Rome



The link between the two may lie in such French works as Francois Clouet's Francis I (fig. 724), which Holbein could have seen on his travels. The type evidently was coined at the royal court of France, where its ancestry can be traced back as far as Jean Fouquet (see fig. 556). It gained international currency between 1525 and 1550 as reflecting a new aristocratic ideal.

Although Holbein's pictures molded British taste in aristocratic portraiture for decades, he had no English disciples of real talent. The Elizabethan genius was more literary and musical than visual, and the demand for portraits in the later sixteenth century continued to be filled largely by visiting foreign artists.


The most notable English painter of the period was Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), a goldsmith who also specialized in miniature portraits on parchment, tiny keepsakes often worn by their owners as jewelry. These "portable portraits" had been invented in antiquity (see fig. 297) and were revived in the fifteenth century (see fig. 558). Holbein, too, produced miniature portraits, which Hilliard acknowledged to be his model. We see this link with the older master in the even lighting and meticulous detail of A Young Man Among Roses (fig. 725), but the elongated proportions and the pose of languorous grace come from Italian Mannerism, probably via Fontainebleau (compare fig. 696). Our lovesick youth also strikes us as the descendant of the fashionable attendants at the court of the duke of Berry (see fig. 538). We can imagine him besieging his lady with sonnets and madrigals before presenting her with this exquisite token of devotion.
 


724. Francois Clouet. Francis I. c. 1525-30.
Tempera and oil on panel, 96 x 74.5 cm.
Musee du Louvre, Paris


725. Nicholas Hilliard. A Young Man Among Roses.
c. 1588. Oil on parchment, shown at actual size, 13.7 x 7 cm.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London


The Netherlands in the sixteenth century had the most turbulent and painful history of any country north of the Alps. When the Reformation began, they were part ol the far-flung empire of the Hapsburgs under Charles V, who was also king of Spain. Protestantism quickly became powerful in the Netherlands, and the attempts of the crown to suppress it led to open revolt against foreign rule. After a bloody struggle, the northern provinces (today's Holland) emerged at the end of the century as an independent state, while the southern ones (roughly corresponding to modern Belgium) remained in Spanish hands.

The religious and political strife might have had catastrophic effects on the arts, yet this, astonishingly, did not happen. The art of the period, to be sure, does not equal that of the fifteenth in brilliance, nor did it produce any pioneers of the Northern Renaissance comparable to Durer and Holbein. This region absorbed Italian elements more slowly than Germany, but more steadily and systematically, so that instead of a few isolated peaks of achievement we find a continuous range. Between 1550 and 1600, their most troubled time, the Netherlands produced the major painters of Northern Europe, who paved the way for the great Dutch and Flemish masters of the next century.

Two main concerns, sometimes separate, sometimes interwoven, characterize Netherlandish sixteenth-century painting: to assimilate Italian art from Raphael to Tintoretto (albeit in an often dry and didactic manner), and to develop a repertory supplementing, and eventually replacing, the traditional religious subjects.

When Flanders passed from Burgundy to Spain in 1482, Antwerp, with its deep harbor, superseded Ghent and Bruges as the political, commercial, and artistic capital of the Netherlands. Flemish artists spent the next quarter-century largely imitating earlier Netherlandish painting. Then, around 1507, we find two important new developments. "Antwerp Mannerism" is the misleading label applied to the largely anonymous school of painters which first arose in that city. Their preference for elongated forms, decorative surfaces, and arbitrary space seems to reassert Late Gothic tendencies, although the similarities are superficial at best. Actually, the style bore no direct relation to either the Renaissance or Mannerism in Italy. Still, the term is not without foundation. It suggests the peculiar flavor of their work, for it represented a "mannered" response to the "classics" by |an van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and their successors. Almost simultaneously, a second group of Netherlandish artists, the so-called Romanists, began to visit Italy in the wake of Albrecht Durer and returned home with the latest tendencies. The preceding generation of Flemish painters had already shown a growing interest in Renaissance art and humanism, but none ventured below the Alps, so that they assimilated both at second hand.



Jan Gossaert.

The greatest of the Romanists, Jan Gossaert (c. 1478-1532; nicknamed Mabuse, for his hometown), was also the first to travel south. In 1508 he accompanied Philip of Burgundy to Italy, where the Renaissance and antiquity made a deep impression on him. He nevertheless viewed this experience through characteristically Northern eyes. Except for their greater monumentality, his religious subjects were based on fifteenth-century Netherlandish art, and he often found it easier to assimilate Italian classicism through the intermediary of Durer's prints. Danae (fig. 726), painted toward the end of Gossaert's career, is his most thoroughly Italianate work. In true humanist fashion, the subject of Jupiter's seduction of the mortal is treated as a pagan equivalent of the Annunciation, so that the picture may be seen as a chaste counterpart to Correggio's Jupiter and Io (fig. 693). The god enters Danae's chambers, where she has been confined by her father against all suitors, disguised as a shower of gold comparable to the miraculous stream of light in the Merode Altarpiece (fig. 541). Her partial nudity notwithstanding, she appears as modest as the Virgin in any Annunciation. Indeed, she hardly differs in type from Gossacrt's paintings of the Madonna and Child, inspired equally by Van Eyck and Raphael. She even wears the blue robe traditional to Mary. The geometric perspective of the architectural fantasy, compiled largely from Italian treatises, marks a revolution. Never before have we encountered such a systematic treatment of space in the Netherlands.
 


726. Jan Gossaert. Danae. 1527.
Oil on panel, 113 x 95 cm. Alte Pinakothek, Munich



Later religious art in the Netherlands presents a fusion of Antwerp Mannerism and Romanism, which produced a distinctive strain of Northern Mannerism that persisted until the end of the century. After 1550, however, narrative painting was largely supplanted by the secular themes that loom so large in Dutch and Flemish painting of the Baroque era: landscape, still life, and genre (scenes of everyday life). The process was gradualit began around 1500 and was not complete until 1600
and was shaped less by the genius or individual artists than by the need to cater to popular taste as church commissions became steadily scarcer. (Protestant iconoclastic zeal was particularly widespread in the Netherlands.) Still life, landscape, and genre had been part of the Flemish tradition since the Master of Flemalle and the brothers Van Eyck. In the Merode Altarpiece (fig. 541) we remember the objects grouped on the Virgin's table and the scene of Joseph in his workshop, or think of the setting of the Van Eyck Crucijixion (fig. 542). But these had remained ancillary elements, governed by the principle of disguised symbolism and subordinated to the devotional purpose of the whole. Now they acquired a new independence, until they became so dominant that the religious subject could be relegated to the background.



Joachim Patinir.

We see the beginnings of this approach in the paintings of Joachim Patinir (c.
1485-1524). Landscape with St. Jerome Removing the Thorn from the Lion's Paw (fig. 727) reveals him as the heir of Bosch in both his treatment of nature and choice of subject, but without the strange demonic overtones of The Garden of Delights (sec fig. 553). Although the landscape dominates the scene, the figures, rather than incidental, are central to it, both visually and iconographically. The landscape has been constructed around the hermit in his cave, which could exist happily in another setting, whereas the picture would be incomplete without it. St. Jerome is an allegory of the pilgrimage of life, contrasting the way of the world with the road to salvation through ascetic withdrawal. (Note the two pilgrims wending their way up the hill to the right, past the lion hunt which takes place unnoticed by them.) The church on the mountain represents the Heavenly Jerusalem, which can be reached only by passing directly through the hermit's cave. Like Bosch, Patinir reveals a fundamental ambivalence toward his subject, for the vista in the background, with its well-kept fields and tidy villages, is enchanting in its own right. Yet, he seems to tell us, we should not be distracted lrom the path of righteousness by these temptations.
 


727. Joachim Patinir. Landscape with St. Jerome Removing the Thorn from the Lion's Paw.
. 1520. Oil on panel, 74 x 91 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid





Pieter Aertsen.

Pieter Aertsen
(1508/9-1575) is remembered today mainly as a pioneer of still lifes, but he seems to have first painted such pictures as a sideline, until he saw many of his altarpieces destroyed by iconoclasts. The Meat Stall (fig. 728), done a few years before he moved from Antwerp to Amsterdam, seems at first glance to be an essentially secular picture. The tiny, distant ligures are almost blotted out by the avalanche of edibles in the foreground. We see little interest here in selection or lormal arrangement. The objects, piled in heaps or strung from poles, are meant to overwhelm us with their sensuous reality (the panel is nearly lifesize). Here the still life so dominates the picture that it seems independent of the religious subject. The latter, however, is not merely a pretext to justify the painting; it must be integral to the meaning of the scene. In the background to the left we see the Virgin on the Flight into Egypt dispensing charity to the faithful lined up for church, while to the right is the prodigal son in a tavern. The Northern Mannerists often relegated subject matter to a minor position within their compositions. This "inverted" perspective was a favorite device of Aertsen's younger contemporary, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who treated it with mocking intent in his landscapes. Aertsen belonged to the same ironic tradition, reaching back to the Gothic era, whose greatest representative was the humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam. The Meat Stall may be an elaborate satire on the gluttony of peasants, a favorite subject of Bruegel. Not until around 1600 was this vision replaced as part of a larger change in world view. Only then did it no longer prove necessary to include religious or historical scenes in still lifes and landscapes.



728. Pieter Aertsen. The Meat Stall. 1551.




Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The only genius among these Netherlandish painters,
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525/30-1569), explored landscape and peasant life. Although his career was spent in Antwerp and Brussels, he may have been born near 's Hertogenbosch, the home of Hieronymus Bosch. Certainly Bosch's work impressed him deeply, and he is in many ways as puzzling to us as the older master. What were his religious convictions, his political sympathies? We know little about him, but his preoccupation with folk customs and the daily life of humble people seems to have sprung from a complex philosophical attitude. Bruegel was highly educated, the friend of humanists, and patronized by the Hapsbtirg court. Yet he apparently never worked for the Church, and when he dealt with religious subjects he did so in a strangely ambiguous way.
His attitude toward Italian art is also hard to define. A trip to the South in 1552-53 took him to Rome, Naples, and the Strait of Messina, but the famous monuments admired by other Northerners seem not to have interested him. He returned instead with a sheaf of magnificent landscape drawings, especially Alpine views. He was probably much impressed by landscape painting in Venice, above all its integration of figures and scenery and the progression in space from foreground to background (see figs. 669 and 670).

Out of this experience came such sweeping landscapes in Bruegel's mature style as The Return of the Hunters (fig. 729), one of a set depicting the months. Such series, we recall, had begun with medieval calendar illustrations, and Bruegel's winter scene still shows its descent from the February page in Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (see fig. 536). Now, however, nature is more than a setting for human activities. It is the main subject of the picture. Men and women in their seasonal occupations are incidental to the majestic annual cycle of death and rebirth that is the breathing rhythm of the cosmos.



729. Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The Return of the Hunters. 1565.
Oil on panel
, 117 x 162
cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 

The Peasant Wedding (fig. 730) is Bruegel's most memorable scene of peasant life. These are stolid, crude folk, heavy-bodied and slow, yet their very clumsiness gives them a strange gravity that commands our respect. Painted in flat colors with minimal modeling and no cast shadows, the figures nevertheless have a weight and solidity that remind us of Giotto. Space is created in assured perspective, and the entire composition is as monumental and balanced as that of any Italian master. Why, we wonder, did Bruegel endow this commonplace ceremony with the solemnity of a biblical event? Was it because he saw in the life of the peasant, free of the ambitions and vanities of city dwellers, the natural, hence the ideal, condition of humanity?


730. Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Peasant Wedding, 1565.
Oil on panel, 114 x 162.5 cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 

Bruegel's philosophical detachment from religious and political fanaticism also informs one of his last pictures, The Blind Leading the Blind (fig. 731). Its source is the Gospels (Matthew 15:12-19): Christ, speaking of the Pharisees, says, "And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." This parable of human folly recurs in humanistic literature, and we know it in at least one earlier representation, but the tragic depth of Bruegel's forceful image gives new urgency to the theme. He has used continuous narrative to ingenious effect. Each succeeding pose becomes progressively more unstable along the downward diagonal, leaving us in little doubt that everyone will end up in the ditch with the leader. (The gap behind him is especially telling.) Perhaps he found the biblical context of the parable specially relevant to his time, tor Christ continued: "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders . . . blasphemies." Could Bruegel have thought that this applied to the controversies then raging over details of religious ritual?


731. Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The Blind Leading the Blind. c. 1568.
Oil on panel, 85 x 154 cm.
Museo di Capodimonte, Naples

 
 

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