Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting

Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting represents the 16th century response to Italian Renaissance art in the Low Countries. These artists, who span from the Antwerp Mannerists and Hieronymus Bosch at the start of the 16th century to the late Northern Mannerists such as Hendrik Goltzius and Joachim Wtewael at the end, drew on both the recent innovations of Italian painting and the local traditions of the Early Netherlandish artists. Antwerp was the most important artistic centre in the region. Many artists worked for European courts, including Bosch, whose fantastic painted images left a long legacy. Jan Mabuse, Maarten van Heemskerck and Frans Floris were all instrumental in adopting Italian models and incorporating them into their own artistic language. Pieter Brueghel the Elder, with Bosch the only artist from the period to remain widely familiar, may seem atypical, but in fact his many innovations drew on the fertile artistic scene in Antwerp.

Dutch and Flemish painters were also instrumental in establishing new subjects such as landscape painting and genre painting. Joachim Patinir, for example, played an important role in developing landscape painting, inventing the compositional type of the world landscape, which was perfected by Pieter Bruegel the Elder who, followed by Pieter Aertsen, also helped popularise genre painting. From the mid-century Pieter Aertsen, later followed by his nephew Joachim Beuckelaer, established a type of “monumental still life” featuring large spreads of food with genre figures, and in the background small religious of moral scenes. Like the world landscapes, these represented a typically “Mannerist inversion” of the normal decorum of the hierarchy of genres, giving the “lower” subject matter more space than the “higher”. Anthonis Mor was the leading portraitist of the mid-century, in demand in courts all over Europe for his reliable portraits in a style that combined Netherlandish precision with the lessons of Titian and other Italian painters.

Nordic Humanism
At the end of the fifteenth century, access to a humanistic culture was no longer reserved for a few avant-garde centers, but spread along the long and wide commercial streets of the continent. The Nordic area in general was a land of lively ferment, with many contacts with Italian humanism. If on the one hand classical culture spread, on the other the calls for a more intense and direct religiosity were becoming more and more urgent, in opposition more and more open to the scandals of the Roman Curia.

The protagonist of this season was Erasmus of Rotterdam, who masterfully interpreted the orientation of moral and religious thought at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In the Adagia (1508) he offered an effective combination of popular wisdom, classical quotations and common sense, but it was above all with the famous Elogio della follia (published in 1509) that questioned the very foundations of traditional humanism, urging a rethink on themes such as history, morality and religion.

The spread of printing in movable type allowed accessibility until then unthinkable to education, literacy and culture in ever larger sections of the population. Cities that are very active editorially, both in the publication of classics and modern works, became true forges of culture, like Antwerp in Flanders.

Historical-territorial development

Far more than the Spanish ports, Antwerp became the world center for the sorting of colonial goods. Such economic importance also led to cultural and artistic dominance, based on the recovery of Italian models. An open, highly cultivated, cosmopolitan and tolerant city, it boasted first-class multilingual typographic activities. Even after the Reformation Antwerp remained linked to Catholicism, becoming an outpost of the Counter-Reformation before the Calvinist United Provinces.

Artists of the caliber of Hieronymus Bosch, Quentin Metsys, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Mabuse and Jan van Scorel settled there after their travels in Italy, where they had learned the sense of monumentality and perspective, often participating as protagonists in the formation of the ” manner modern “, in the northern version called” Romanism “.

At that time great conventual complexes arose, entrusted to various religious orders.

But here too there were waves of iconoclasm of the Protestants, such as that of 1579 – 1580 which destroyed many of the works of art in the cathedral, then replaced with the great blades of Rubens.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Brussels had to leave the rank of capital of the duchy of Burgundy in favor of Mechelen, chosen by the regent Margaret of Austria, and then saw it re-entrusted by Charles V, born in neighboring Ghent.

The sixteenth century marked a brilliant historical phase for Brussels, culminating with the construction of the residence of the Spanish royals in the Grand Place (1536) and the achievement of the clear dominance in Europe in the production of tapestries. The local pictorial school, in the wake of that of Antwerp, opened up to Italian novelties, merging also with other suggestions: the traditional taste for the descriptive detail was the basis for the birth of genre painting, popular culture inspired subjects linked to themes like common sense and irrationality (typical of Bruegel’s activity, which left Antwerp for Brussels at the peak of his career), while the strong devotional component was at the base of the paintings ofAdriaen Isenbrant, Lancelot Blondeel and the Dubroeucq sculptures.

In 1556 the city exceeded 100,000 inhabitants, but the abdication of Charles V led to a bloody period of revolts, called troubles. The repression, entrusted to the Duke of Alba, culminated with the beheading of the counts of Egmont and of Hornes in the Grand Place and with the surrender of the Protestants to Philip II in 1585.

The United Provinces
In an independent motion led by the Orange, in 1535 the northern Netherlands began a historical process that led them to a differentiation, religious, economic and cultural, ever deeper with the southern provinces, which culminated in the birth of the Dutch nation. Throughout the sixteenth century the United Provinces enjoyed an extraordinary cultural vivacity, a reflection of the increasingly flourishing commercial situation that culminated in the seventeenth century, the Golden Age.

The humanist movement had its spearhead with Erasmus of Rotterdam, while in the figurative arts triumphed painters and engravers such as Hieronymus Bosch and Luca da Leida. Years later, during Mannerism, the schools of Utrecht and Haarlem became important for Italian models.

The second half of the sixteenth century was an era harshly troubled by wars, revolts and pushes of independence from Spain, without however affecting the grandiose economic flourishing, based on the excellent port organization and the advanced nautical and commercial technology, fully able to face the new overseas routes. If in the southern provinces the revolt was cut short in the blood, in the northern ones the autonomist drive is not even halted by the assassination of William I of Orange (1584), lieutenant and condottiere of independence. The Calvinist religion, tolerant of other confessions, and the Dutch language had already become a basis of national identity,

The protagonists

Hieronymus Bosch
Hieronymus Bosch, the visionary master at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, lived and worked almost always in the hometown of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Author of great triptychs populated by countless symbolic and evocative figures, difficult to interpret, he made a trip to Venice between 1500 and 1503 and on his return, influenced also by Dürer, his works were enriched by a greater spatial awareness, new chromatic effects and a sense for the landscape as far as the eye can see, as seen for example in the Triptych of the temptations of St. Anthony and in the Triptych of the Epiphany.

In 1503 – 1504, back in his hometown boasting a now European reputation, he alternated small jobs for local confraternities with commissions from foreign collectors. The last phase is dominated by a greater assimilation of the Italian point of view, with synthetic and monumental protagonists, often half-figure, which take the place of the multitude of figures observed with a raised and distant point of view.

The wealth of inventiveness in his works, true visions, has often distracted scholars, calling into question doctrines not compatible historically, such as psychoanalysis, and preventing a correct reading. Certainly his work went hand in hand with the religious and intellectual doctrines of central-northern Europe which, unlike the Italian Humanism, denied the supremacy of the intellect, rather placing the accent on transcendent and irrational aspects: they are an example the early elaborations of Martin Luther and the works of Sebastian Brandt and Erasmus of Rotterdam. The fundamental theme of his work thus appears to be that of the freedom granted by God to man, his fall into vice and the consequent descent into hell. A certain pessimism animates his vision of humanity, directed towards perdition, in which only the example of Christ and the saints can provide the key to Salvation.

This moral program is implemented with a brilliant pictorial technique, in which the motifs drawn from the most disparate sources, including the observation of the everyday, are combined and reworked in an original way. The favorite shape is that of the triptych, which allows a scansion of the story in three parts with a “moral” pejorative progression from left to right. Often even the closed doors contain further clarifications of the theme.

Jan Gossaert, nicknamed “Mabuse”, from the ancient name of the birthplace of Maubeuge, was among the most influential artists of the early sixteenth century north of the Alps, for the variety and wealth of the subjects addressed. He visited Rome at the beginning of the sixteenth century following Philip of Burgundy, immediately developing a very particular style, where on the tradition of the Flemish Primitives elements of the modern Italian manner are grafted, such as the perspective rendering, the monumental breath of the figures, the sense of light vivid.

The decorative superabundance of the never forgotten late Gothic tradition is now already projected into mannerism.

Luca da Leida
Exceptionally gifted in design, Luca da Leida was trained in his town at the Cornelis Engebrechtsz workshop. A debutant in the engraving before the age of twenty, he was one of the most prolific and appreciated exponents of this art, second only to Dürer.

In the paintings as in the prints he joined the traditional biblical subjects with precocious “gender” subjects, linked to daily life and peasant society. Influenced by the Italian school of Antwerp, he met Dürer personally, becoming more and more interested in humanism.

In the more mature phase he turned towards the search for greater compositional freedom, as in the great triptychs of the Golden Calf and the Last Judgment.

Quentin Metsys
Quentin Metsys, originally from Leuven, trained at the Dieric Bouts workshop, then in the climate of the last Flemish Primitives. He settled in Antwerp and piloted the local school, in the early sixteenth century, towards the Italian taste, still in the wake of Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling. A trip to Italy enriched his art of suggestions linked above all to Leonardo da Vinci and his nuance.

Open to humanistic culture and exposed to very broad cultural interests, he was a friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More, also pouring into his works his mental versatility, able to explore fields such as realism and the grotesque.

Joachim Patinier
Trained in Bruges, Joachim Patinir moved to Antwerp around 1515, where he admired the works of Bosch, from which he resumed the visionary taste and the ability to create fantastic scenarios starting from the bizarre combination of realistic details. He was among the landscape specialists just before this became an autonomous subject, collecting the heritage of the Danubian school.

In his works, with very deep bird’s eye view of wide-ranging, there are always present subjects that, however small, provide the pretext of representation. Little interested in the representation of the human figure, he was sometimes helped by Quentin Metsys, while his landscapes are unparalleled, played on intense shades of blue and green, often dramatized by strong contrasts between placidly serene areas and areas where nature is disturbing and wild.

Joos van Cleve
Joos van Cleve was another important artist from the Antwerp school, who acted as a junction between the Primitivo season and Mannerism. Thanks to his many travels he touched many nations, reaching an eclectic style, animated by Italian suggestions, but also German, French (he visited the Fontainebleau of Francis I, around 1530) and English.

He appreciated Leonardo, from whom he drew the physiognomy of his Madonnas, taken from Patinir the vast horizon in the landscapes, honored Dürer in the portraits, including the famous ones of Francis I of France and his wife Eleonora of Austria.

Frans Floris
Active in the school of Antwerp, Frans Floris was the link between the generation of the first “Italianists” (Metsys, Mabuse, van Cleve) and the international mannerism, with a melancholy sense towards a golden age that was brought to a conclusion. Educated in Liège and during a trip to Italy, he started a very active shop in his city from 1546. His monumental style, linked to Italian art even in mythological and allegorical subjects, sometimes gathered stimuli from everyday realism, of which some famous artists were made interpreters. It was one of the direct points of reference for the young Rubens.

Pieter Aertsen
Born and died in Amsterdam, but mainly active in Antwerp, Pieter Aertsen interpreted with originality the Italian taste of the second half of the sixteenth century, introducing popular themes and a strong realism, so as to be considered the immediate precursor of the “peasants” of Bruegel the Elder and pioneer of still life.

Evangelical subjects are often used as pretexts, relegated to secondary areas of the painting, to stage market scenes or well-stocked kitchens, laying the foundations for genre painting. Immediate was his success, which made it one of the most requested artists for the princely collections of Europe.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was active in Antwerp, Brussels and Amsterdam. Extraneous to the classical taste and almost impermeable to the Italian taste, despite a trip to Naples in 1552 – 1556, he was active as a draftsman, engraver and painter. His poetics is based on themes such as popular culture, the sentiment of nature, the passing of the seasons, the irony, the banality of existence to which disenchantingly leads even the sacred themes.

In 1565 he started his ambitious cycle, linked to the months of the year, of which there remain today five large tables, while his scenes of rural life are famous. Like Bosch, his art was essentially linked to the local tradition, with small figures and a very high and distant point of view, turning at the end of his career towards more monumental forms and close to the spectator. An extraordinary landscape artist, he made the suggestions of Joachim Patinier and the Danubian school, developing an epic and grandiose feeling, inextricably linked to the life and daily work of man.

Jan van Scorel
Jan van Scorel was perhaps the Flemish artist who was most successful in Italy in the sixteenth century, staying in Rome and entering the circle of Raphael, coming to cover the post of conservative Vatican antiquity after his death. His art is emblematic of the Italian taste that pervaded the Flemish-Dutch art of the time, which he put to good use after returning home, orientating himself towards the nascent mannerist style, with a preference for the Venetian style, derived from Giorgione and Titian.

Maerten van Heemskerk
Maerten van Heemskerk was the most gifted pupil of Jan van Scorel, coming to arouse the antipathies of the master. In his long career he explored numerous subjects and styles, with surprising ductility and a strong dynamic interest in renewal. However, common elements are the excellence of design and references to Italy. He visited Rome and, overcoming the generic raffaellismo of the local school, strengthened his production with plastic accents derived from Michelangelo and classical sculpture.

When he returned home he was a valid interpreter of Mannerism, with nervously graphic accents that refer to the reminiscences of Pontormo and Parmigianino. The “high” production of sacred and mythological subjects alternated effective and prosaic portraits, still lifes, landscapes and other compositions in which the successive developments of genre painting can be read in the Netherlands.

Anthonis Mor
Anthonis Mor was one of the most acclaimed Nordic portrait painters of the late sixteenth century. After a personal meeting with Titian in Augsburg in 1548, he developed a composed and monumental style, detached, perfect to represent the aristocracy of the time, inspired by the dictates of the Spanish court of Philip II. He traveled a lot, collecting the legacy of great artists like Holbein the Younger and the same Titian, combining likelihood, exaltation of social rank, and psychological sides even slightly anguished, like the solitude of the powerful.

Around the seventeenth century
At the beginning of the seventeenth century Flanders and the Netherlands were now heading towards different destinies, although they still represented one of the most vital areas of the whole of Europe.

If the extraordinary season of the Golden Age, dominated by artists of universal value such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, was opening in the Netherlands, in the southern Flanders the Italian thrust manifested itself with the likes of Rubens, who in Italy was among the first artists that contributed to the development of something new, the disturbing baroque art.

Stylistic evolution
Italian Renaissance influences begin to show on Early Netherlandish painting around 1500, but in many ways the older style was remarkably persistent. Antwerp Mannerism is a term for painters showing some Italian influence, but mainly continuing the style and subjects of the older masters. Hieronymus Bosch is a highly individual artist, whose 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 seems more related to Gothic art than the Italian Renaissance, although some Venetian prints of the same period show a comparable degree of fantasy. The Romanists were the next phase of influence, adopting Italian styles in a far more thorough way.

After 1550 the Flemish and Dutch painters begin to show more interest in nature and beauty “in itself”, leading to a style that incorporates Renaissance elements, but remains 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 Fall of Icarus (now in fact considered a copy of a Brueghel work), although highly atypical in many ways, 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.

In painting the Flemish Renaissance includes from the followers of El Bosco and the Mannerism of Antwerp at the beginning of the 16th century to the Late Mannerists of the North, such as Hendrik Goltzius and Joachim Wtewael, which date back to the beginning of the 17th century. They are based both on the innovations of Italian painting and local traditions. Antwerp was the most important artistic center of the area, with great strength up to the bag of Antwerp in 1576. Many Flemish artists develop their work in other parts of Europe, such as Jan Mabuse, Maarten van Heemskerck and Frans Floris, who played a central role in the adoption of Italian models to incorporate them into their own artistic language. The Flemish and Dutch masters of the sixteenth century contributed decisively to the emergence of new pictorial themes, such as landscape (Joaquín Patinir) or genre scenes (Pieter Brueghel the Elder or Pieter Aertsen).

The influences of the Italian Renaissance, although they began to be felt in the primitive Flemings from very early, given the fluidity of the commercial contacts between Italy and Flanders, did not significantly alter the continuity of the pictorial tradition, essentially Gothic, of Flemish painting until well into the sixteenth century. The so-called “Maniersmo de Antwerp” is a term used to label a group of painters who are part of an Italian influence, but who remain essentially as followers of the flamenco style of the old masters. As for El Bosco, a very peculiar artist, he developed a very personal and individualistic art (at the same time ” archaic ” and ” modern “),Apparently irrational iconography, very complex interpretation, that more than a new style gave way to a good number of imitators (like Jan Mandyn or Frans Verbeeck).

A second phase is that of the so-called ” Romanists “; They adopt Italian influences much more radically.

Since the second half of the sixteenth century Flemish and Dutch painters begin to show interest in nature and the beauty per se, leading to a style that incorporates Renaissance elements, but remains far from the elegant lightness of the Italian masters, and connects with the themes of the great masters of Flemish and Dutch baroque painting: landscapes and genre scenes.

This evolution is observed in the works of Joaquín Patinir (the main theme, which remains except religious exceptions, is dominated by the landscape) and Pieter Aertsen (the same, for the still life), as well as in Pieter Brueghel the Elder, who in his treatment of nature and daily life testifies to a preference for the natural condition of man regardless of his social status. As exemplified by the fall of Icarus(now considered as a copy of an original of his), atypical in many aspects, combines several aspects of the Nordic Renaissance: interest in antiquity, dissimulation of the subject away from the foreground, becoming a peasant (who neither looks at the scene gives name to the work), as well as to the painting itself. It shows man as an antihero, comical and sometimes grotesque.

Feature is the introduction of mythological painting and the naked, looking even in matters religious convenient excuses for the representation of scenes of sexual content, strong demand in the art market, increasingly independent of the specifiers institutional.

The portrait
The pictorial portrait had been one of the most appreciated genres in the Flemish school since the “primitives”. 6 In the sixteenth century the portrait cut reached a new level with Antonio Moro.

Caricatures or grotesque, satirical and moralizing scenes
In many cases, ideas derived from the precedents in the genre of the caricature and the grotesque are developed, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Hieronymus Bosch himself. Its reading is satirical and moralizing. A notable example is the work of Quentin Massys, who had a relationship with Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Landscapes and genre scenes

Illustrators and engravers

Historiography of art
Karel van Mander (“the Vasari of the North”) wrote Het schilder-boek (1604), an equivalent to Le vite for the Flemish masters. Among his sources was Pictorum aliquot celebrium Germaniae inferioris effigies (1572), a collection of 23 prints by Dominicus Lampsonius that portray the most famous flamenco painters, and present them with allusive Latin verses (denominating their geographical area in classical terms, such as “Germania lower”). As for the sources of this collection, in addition to the personal experience of its author, with contacts at the academy of Lambert Lombard, was the work of Ludovico Guicciardini Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi (1567).

Source from Wikipedia