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Flemish art and architecture

The Northern Renaissance and Its Aftermath

In Flanders Renaissance works of art took on a character quite different from those of Italy. The masterpieces of 15th-century Flemish painting are remarkable for their acute observation of nature, symbolism in realistic disguise, depiction of spatial depth and landscape backgrounds, and delicate precision of brushwork. The achievements in symbolism (see iconography) and realism of Robert Campin (identified with the Master of Flémalle) and the Van Eycks, who mastered the technique of oil painting in the first third of the century, were continued in the second third by Roger van der Weyden, Dieric Bouts, and Petrus Christus. These artists refined the depiction of psychological expression, landscape, and space.

In the last third of the 15th cent. Hugo van der Goes and Hieronymus Bosch were especially sensitive to complex emotional expression and fantastic subject matter, while Hans Memling, Gerard David, Joachim Patinir, Quentin Massys, Justus of Ghent, and Joos van Cleef produced paintings in a calmer mood, based on the achievements of earlier Flemings with occasional influences from Italian art. In general, with the exception of the brilliantly original Pieter Bruegel, the elder, late 15th-century Flemish art followed Italian models, although it preserved interest in genre realism and landscape painting as seen in the works of Paul Brill, Gillis van Coninxloo, and others.

Italy attracted many 16th-century artists, such as Jan Gossaert and Jan van Scorel, who returned to Flanders and imported Italian Renaissance forms and motifs into the North. At this time the center of Flemish artistic activity moved to Antwerp, where a school of mannerist artists arose, more clearly influenced by Southern European aesthetic development (see mannerism). Frans Floris was a leading representative of this trend. The 16th-century landscape style, emphasizing exquisite detail and brilliant color, persisted in the works of Jan Bruegel, the elder; Roelandt Savery; Joost de Momper; and Gilles de Hondecoeter, who worked in Holland.

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

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