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English art and architecture

The Renaissance

The transition from Gothic to a classic Renaissance style was slow in England. Religious art of every kind had declined drastically by 1540, with the dissolution of the monasteries and the break with Rome. John Thynne and Robert Smythson were major builders of the 16th cent. at a time when secular art and architecture began to assume greater importance. Manor houses and palaces were designed for greater comfort than in previous eras and were often arranged according to a symmetrical plan, facing outward toward a splendid garden. Attention was paid to the paneling and stucco adornment of interiors. English builders inconsistently adapted Italian designs, particularly the published works of Sebastiano Serlio.

From the Renaissance onward numerous foreign artists were imported by the nobility, largely for portraiture. From Holbein to Rubens and Van Dyck, these men found few worthy followers in England and no rivals. Such painters as William Dobson and Robert Walker could hardly compete with the Dutch Lely or the German Kneller. However, with the Elizabethan portrait miniaturists Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac and Peter Oliver, an English art of exquisite delicacy came into being.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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