Sixteenth Century Northern Renaissance Essay, Research Paper
Although Northern Europe had clung to its Gothic past much longer than Italy, by the early sixteenth century Northern artists began to be influenced by the Italian Renaissance through texts, prints, and direct exposure. Architecture, sculpture, and painting started to exhibit characteristics encompassing both local Gothic and classical elements. While campaigning in Italy, Francais I was introduced to the world of antiquity and saw the artistic transformation brought about by the Italian Renaissance. When he returned to France, he brought back paintings by Titian, Raphael, and Leonardo (It was in the court of Francais I that Leonardo spent the final two years of his life). In 1546, Francais commissioned Pierre Lescot to rebuild the Louvre (Click on history of the Louvre and read to the section “The Louvre Becomes the Artistic Capital of the World”) which then served as a royal palace. This structure encompassed local elements such as the slanted roof, large windows, and ornate sculptural designs, as well as Renaissance elements that included the blind arcade, pilasters, and crowning pediments above the windows. It introduced the roots of the French Classical style that was to dominate French architecture for the next two centuries.
Sixteenth century Germany provided a fertile breeding ground for the seeds of the Reformation. Political, cultural, and ecclesiastic conditions all contributed to the popular support of Martin Luther. (This links you to an extensive site on Martin Luther and the period of the Reformation. It will help to provide a context if you are unfamiliar with the origins of the Reformation. .Click on the Portrait of Martin Luther link) The Holy Roman Emperor, who exercised only a weak centralized control over Germany was unable to stamp out the Luther movement in its early stages. It soon became apparent that it would be politically advantageous to join forces with the movement in a stance against the papacy. The nobility had played the combined role of heads-of-state and heads of the church. The merchants and the peasants saw the Reformation as a way to control the power-hungry leaders. The printing press and graphic arts allowed Protestant activists to rapidly disseminate their ideology. Images were a major vehicle for propaganda. The German cities, sophisticated, intellectual centers, were filled with the young intelligentsia that had been well educated at one of Germany’s sixteen universities, yet had no job opportunities. This spawned their discontent with both the church and the state.
The destruction of religious imagery was never supported directly by Luther, none the less, several of the Protestant divisions eschewed all religious imagery to the point of iconoclasm. In areas that remained Catholic, and in certain Protestant regions, religious commissions continued throughout the sixteenth century, although they were greatly diminished, . In 1510, Matthias Grunewald accepted a commission from two Italian abbots of the monastic hospital at Isenheim, Germany. The Isenheim Altarpiece, (Cursor down and click on the Crucifixion and the Resurrection) perhaps the most expressive, powerful crucifixion in the art world, was painted just prior to Germany’s break with the papacy.
Commissions for religious works rapidly declined in the 1520’s and 1530’s. The Reformation combined with the acceptance of Renaissance ideals by the buying market and produced an emphasis on secular subject matter such as portraits, genre, still lifes, and landscapes. Altdorfer introduced one of the earliest pure landscapes in his painting the Danube Valley which depicted the Northern investigation of humankind’s relationship with nature. He fascination with the “cosmic view” of nature was depicted in Battle of Issus (depicted in the text in plate 23-1 and at the previous web site). Portraiture, an already established art form, became more popular. Holbein captured the personal qualities of the humanist scholar Erasmus while portraying him as a person of extensive power. The inclusion of the text signified that the sitter is a learned individual. Holbein confronts the viewer with an entirely different redering of power in his portrait of Henry VIII. The scale, central position, and opulent clothes of Henry VIII all contributed to the sense of an absolute monarch.
Genre, the portrayal of common people involved in everyday activities, begins to establish itself as acceptable and popular subject matter in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century. Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, portrays the peasant at work and play in paintings that reflect an obscure sarcasm. Notice the scale of the figures compared to the picture plane in the landscape settings. Contrast these Northern landscapes to the Venetian landscapes by Giorgioni and Titian.
The work of the Sixteenth Century Northern artists reflected their medieval roots and classical influences. Albrecht Durer was the best known and most influential of the Northern Renaissance artists. Although some historians have dubbed him the “Leonardo of the North,” Durer never completely rejected his northern heritage. His production of graphic images allowed for the dissemination of his ideas over a vast area and a wide population. Durer raised the level of the graphic arts through both his wood cuts and his engravings. (Take this opportunity to closely explore the differences in the mediums.) The Four Horsemen, from the Apocalypse series, is an example of a wood cut that was completed in 1498, after Durer’s first visit to Italy. Durer, a good businessperson as well as an artist, released the Apocalypse series at the peak of fin de si縦le pessimism. Knight, Death, and the Devil, called The Rider by Durer, is an engraving that Durer made in 1513, after his second trip to Italy. This particular “Christian Soldier” may be based on Erasmus’ handbook to guide the Christian soul through life’s perils. Durer drew heavily on equestrian monuments he saw in Italy for the form of the knight. (This site allows you to magnify any section of the print. Compare the tonal and linear quality of engraving to the woodcut.)
The affect of the Reformation on northern art is seen in the sixteenth century in the form of new genres and in the decline, particularly in Germany, in art production. The Baroque period of the seventeenth century will continue to investigate the changing role of the Northern European artist.