Early Netherlandish painting
Early Netherlandish painting refers to the work of artists, also known as the Flemish Primitives, active in the Low Countries during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance, especially in the flourishing Burgundian cities of Tournai, Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. The period follows the decline of the International Gothic style, and begins approximately with Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the early 1420s. It lasts at least to the death of Gerard David in 1523, although many scholars extend it to the Dutch Revolt in 1566 or 1568. Early Netherlandish painting corresponds to the early and high-Italian Renaissance but is seen as an independent artistic culture, separate from the Renaissance humanism that characterised developments in Italy. Because the works of these painters represent the culmination of the northern European Medieval artistic heritage and the incorporation of Renaissance ideals, the painters are categorised as belonging to both the Early Renaissance and Late Gothic.
The Early Netherlandish period is concurrent with the height of Burgundian influence in Europe. Driven by the success of the Burgundian duchy, the Low Countries became a political and economic centre noted for its crafts and high end luxury goods. Their produce included panel paintings, illuminated manuscripts tapestries and carved retables. The output of the Netherlandish masters was often exported for the German, Italian and other southern European markets. Aided by the workshop system, panels and a variety of crafts were sold on commissions from foreign princes or to merchants through market stalls.[A] A majority of the works were destroyed during waves of iconoclasm in the 16th and 17th centuries, and today only a few thousand examples survive. Religious art in general was not well regarded from the early 17th century and the painters and their output is not well documented until the mid-19th century when Early Netherlandish art was rediscovered. However, it took almost another 100 years for art historians to establish the barest outlines of the lives of even the major artists, while attribution of major works may still be hotly debated.
The major painters of this period also include Rogier van der Weyden, Dieric Bouts, Petrus Christus, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes and Hieronymus Bosch. These artists made significant advances in natural representation and illusionism, and their work often features complex iconography. Their subjects are usually religious scenes or small portraits, with narrative painting or mythological subjects being relatively rare. Landscape, although often lush and well described, was usually relegated to the background before the early 16th century. The works consist mostly of panel paintings, which might comprise single panels or more complex altarpieces, usually in the form of hinged triptychs or polyptychs. In addition, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass and sculptures were common luxury goods produced for the higher end of the export market.
- 1 Terminology and scope
- 2 The painters
- 3 Iconography
- 4 Formats
- 5 Relationship to the Italian Renaissance
- 6 Destruction and dispersal
- 7 Rediscovery
- 8 Scholarship and conservation
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Terminology and scope
Early Netherlandish art applies broadly to painters active during the 15th and 16th centuries in the northern European areas controlled by the Dukes of Burgundy and later the Habsburg dynasty. In contemporary political and art historical terms, the "North" in the context of "Northern Renaissance," of which Early Netherlandish painting was an early driving force, excludes Scandinavia, Poland and the then borders of Russia; countries that were pursuing their own artistic and quite separate heritage, reinforced by the fact that Russia was Orthodox Christian. The Burgundian lands straggled areas that encompass both today's France and Germany. The Netherlandish artists have been known by a variety of terms: "Late Gothic" and "Flemish Primitives" are earlier designations[B] in use today especially in Dutch and German. "Late Gothic" emphasises continuity with the Middle Ages, while "Flemish Primitives" is a traditional art history term borrowed from the French that came into fashion in the 19th century.
"Primitives" in this context does not refer to any perceived lack of sophistication; rather it identifies the artists as originators of a new tradition in painting, notably for the use of oil rather than than tempera as a medium. Erwin Panofsky used the term "Ars nova" ("new art"), thereby linking the movement with innovative composers such as Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois favoured by the Burgundian court as opposed to artists attached to the French court. When the Burgundian dukes established centres of power in the Netherlands, they brought with them a more cosmopolitan outlook. According to Otto Pächt a simultaneous shift began sometime between 1406 and 1420 when a "revolution took place in painting" as what he calls "a new beauty" in art emerged, one that reflected the visible world instead of being rooted in the metaphysical. It was this "new art", which went on to become popular throughout Europe. When the Burgundian dukes established centres of power in the Netherlands, they brought with them a more cosmopolitan outlook.
The artists were classified according to nationality in the 19th century, with van Eyck identified as German against van der Weyden's (born Roger de la Pasture[C]) obvious French origins. Scholars were at times preoccupied as to whether the school's genesis began in France or Germany. In the early 1900s the artists were variously referred to as the "Bruges school" or "Old Netherlandish school" and after 1902 the term primitifs flamands caught on. The argument whether the artists were French or German dissipated after World War I, and following the leads of Max Friedländer, Panofsky, and Pächt, English-language scholars now, almost universally describe the period as "Early Netherlandish painting", although many art historians view the Flemish term as more correct. In the 14th century, as the domination of Gothic art gave away to the International Gothic era (which began to decline by the end of the 1400s), a number of schools developed in northern Europe with the Early Netherlandish school developing from the then prominent French courtly art. It is especially tied to the tradition and conventions of Illuminated manuscripts. Modern art historians see the era as beginning with 14th-century manuscript illuminators. They were followed by panel painters such as Melchior Broederlam and Robert Campin, the latter now identified with the Master of Flémalle under whom van der Weyden served his apprenticeship. Illumination reached its peak in the region in the decades around 1400, mainly due to the patronage of Burgundian and House of Valois-Anjou dukes such as Philip the Bold, Louis I of Anjou and Jean, Duke of Berry.
By mid-century, demand for illuminated manuscripts declined, perhaps due to the costly production process, especially in comparison to panel painting, although it was still popular at the luxury end of the market in the 1460s. Print was the major contributing factor, while reproductions of woodcuts or metal plates became popular at the mid and lower range, notable from designs by artists such as Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Dürer.
Following Jan van Eyck's innovations, the first generation of Netherlandish painters emphasises light and shadow, which was absent even in 14th-century illuminated manuscripts. Biblical scenes became more real or naturalistic and so accessible to viewers, while individual portraits were more alive and evocative than before. Johan Huizinga said that it was meant to be fully integrated with daily routine, to "fill with beauty" the devotional life in a world closely tied to the liturgy and sacraments. After 1500 a number of factors turned against the pervading Northern style, not least the rise of Italian art, which began to approach Netherlandish works in commercial appeal by 1510 and overtake it some 10 years later. Two key events symbolically and artistically reflect this: the transporting of a marble Madonna and Child by Michelangelo to Bruges in 1506; and the movement of Raphael's tapestry cartoons to Brussels in 1517. Although the influence of Italian art was soon widespread across the north, it in turn had drawn on the 15th-century northern painters, with Michelangelo's Madonna based on a type developed by Hans Memling.
In the narrowest sense Netherlandish painting ends with the death of Gerard David in 1523. A number of mid and late 16th-century artists, including Quentin Matsys and Hieronymus Bosch, maintained many of the conventions and are frequently, but not always, associated with the school. The style and approach of these painters is often dramatically different from the first generation. The early 16th century can be seen as directly leading from the painterly innovations and iconography of the previous century, with painters following the traditional formats and iconography established in the previous century producing a plethora of copies; others began to be influenced by humanism, turning toward secular narrative cycles, and biblical imagery began to be blended with mythological themes. A full break from the mid-15th-century style and subject matter was not seen until the development of Northern Mannerism around 1590. There was considerable overlap, and many of early to mid-16th-century innovations led directly to Mannerism, including unidealised secular portraiture, the depiction of ordinary (as opposed to courtly) day-to-day life, and the development of elaborate cityscapes and landscapes which were more than background views. In the early 1500s artists began to explore illusionistic depictions of three dimensions.
The origins of the Early Netherlandish school lie in the miniature paintings of the late Gothic period. During the Middle Ages, Gothic and later Romanesque architecture were the dominant art forms. The 14th century saw radical developments in painting as architecture stagnated, and by the end of the century painting had overtaken it in prestige and demand. This innovation was first seen in manuscript illumination which after 1380 established new levels of realism and an ability to convery perspective, together with a skill in rendering colour and the conveyance of gradients of light. This art form reached a peak with artists from today's France, epitomised by the Franco-Flemish Limbourg Brothers and later by the Netherlandish artist known as Hand G of the "Turin-Milan Hours". Although his identity has not been definitively established Hand G is thought to have been either Jan van Eyck or his brother Hubert. Georges Hulin de Loo wrote about his contributions to the Milan Turin Hours, that "These seven leaves constitute the most marvelous group of paintings that have ever decorated any book, and, for their period, the most astounding work known to the history of art."
A significant development came with Jan van Eyck's use of oil as a medium, allowing far greater manipulation of paint. His technique was quickly adopted and developed further by Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden. These three artists are considered the first rank and most influential of the early generation of Early Netherlandish painters. Their influence was felt across northern Europe, from Bohemia and Poland in the east, to Austria and Swabia in the south.
A number of artists traditionally associated with the movement had linguistic origins that were neither Dutch nor Flemish in the modern sense. The Francophone van der Weyden was born Rogier de la Pasture, although spellings vary. The German Hans Memling and the Estonian Michael Sittow both worked in the Netherlands in a fully Netherlandish style. Simon Marmion is often regarded as an "Early Netherlandish" painter because he came from Amiens, intermittently ruled by the Burgundian court between 1435 and 1471. The Burgundian period was at the peak of its influence, and the innovations made by the Netherlandish painters were soon recognised across the continent. By the time of his death, van Eyck's paintings were sought by wealthy patrons across Europe seeking to embellish their collections. Copies of his works became popular and circulated widely, resulting in the spread of the Netherlandish style to southern and central Europe. Central European art was then under the dual influence of innovations from Italy and from the north. Often the influence was cross-bred, and the exchange of ideas between the Low Countries and Italy led to patronage from significant figures such as Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, who commissioned works from both traditions.
The first generation of artists were literate, well-educated and mostly from middle-class backgrounds. Van Eyck and van der Weyden were both highly placed in the Burgundian court, with van Eyck in particular assuming roles for which an ability to read Latin was necessary; inscriptions found on his panels indicate that he had a good knowledge of both Latin and Greek.[D] A number of artists were financially successful and much sought after in the Low Countries and by patrons across Europe. Van der Weyden sent his son to the Old University of Leuven, while many artists, including David and Bouts, could afford to donate large works to the churches, monasteries and convents of their choosing. Van Eyck was a valet de chambre at the Burgundian court and had easy access to Philip the Good, who later employed Jan Gossaert. Van der Weyden was a prudent investor in stocks and property; Bouts was highly commercially-minded and married the heiress, Catherine "Mettengelde" (Catherine 'with the money'). Vrancke van der Stockt investmented in land.
The early Netherlandish masters' influence reached artists such as Stefan Lochner and the painter known as the Master of the Life of the Virgin, who, working in mid-15th-century Cologne, drew inspiration from imported works by van der Weyden and Bouts, who had already developed a style seperate to the High Gothic. New and distinctive painterly cultures sprang up, Ulm, Nuremberg, Vienna and Munich being the most important artistic centres in the Holy Roman Empire at the start of the 16th century. Stylistic development, the move away from purely religious subject matter and the tendency towards specialisation, combined with the development of new mediums to change the art of the region. There was a rise in demand for printmaking (using woodcuts or copperplate engraving) and other innovations borrowed from France and southern Italy. Some 16th-century painters followed a traditional path and copied earlier 15th-century paintings and innovations, as in Jan Gossaert's copies of van Eyck's Madonna in the Church, but simultaneously began to move away from the traditional 15th-century modes, blending the secular with biblical as in his paintings of Adam and Eve which show remarkable similarities to his mythological subjects.
Gerard David links the styles of Bruges and Antwerp, as he often travelled between the cities. He moved to Antwerp in 1505 when Quentin Matsys was the head of the local painters' guild, and the two became friends. David's style is more fluid than van Eyck's, showing less concern with a forensic approach. His lines are easier, he avoids diagonals in favour of a harmonious balance of verticals and horizontal strokes and tends towards deep and harmonious colouring.
By the 16th century the visual and iconographical innovations and painterly techniques developed by van Eyck had become standard throughout northern Europe. Albrecht Dürer emulated van Eyck's attention to detail and precision, while focussing on the secular. Painters enjoyed a new level of respect and status; patrons no longer simply commissioned works but rather courted the artists themselves, sponsoring their travel and exposing them to new and wider ranges of influences. Hieronymus Bosch, active in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, remains one of the most important and popular of the Netherlandish painters. He was anomalous in that he was not primarily interested in realistic depictions of nature or human existence and was largely unconcerned with perspective. His better known works can be characterised by fantastical elements that tended towards the hallucinatory. These may draw from the hellscape in van Eyck's Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, but are independent at the same time. Bosch diverted significantly from the humanism of art of the period, perhaps towards moralism and pessimism. Although his paintings, especially the triptychs, are among the most significant and accomplished of the late Netherlandish period, he followed his own muse and worked apart from the typical conventions of the time.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was among the few who followed Bosch's style. The Reformation brought changes in outlook and artistic expression: biblical figures were depicted in a more humanistic and approachable manner. Moralism and didacticism increased, as seen in works such as Pieter Aertsen's Deeds of Christian Charity, where the biblical images are relegated to the background. The period drew to a close with an emphasis on overwhelmingly sweeping landscapes, moralisation and humanism. Bruegel is an important bridge; his work retains many 15th-century conventions, but his perspective is distinctly modern, in its many genre working class scenes, at times religious scepticism, and hints towards nationalism.
Technique and material
The innovations of Campin, van Eyck and van der Weyden instilled a tendency towards naturalism and realism in Northern European painting. These artists sought to show the world as it actually was, and depict people in a way that made them more human-looking, with a greater complexity of emotions than had been previously seen. This first generation of Early Netherlandish artists were interested in the accurate reproduction of objects (according to Panofsky they painted "gold that looked like gold") paying close attention to natural phenomena such as light, shadow and reflection. They advanced past the flat perspective and outlined figuration of earlier painting in favour of three-dimensional pictorial spaces, while the position of the viewers and how they might relate to the scene became important for the first time. Van Eyck positions the Arnolfini Portrait for viewers as if they had just entered the room containing the two figures. Advancements in technique allowed far richer, more luminous and closely detailed representations of people, landscapes, interiors and objects.
The chief innovation came from the handling of oil paint. The use of oil as a binder can be traced to the 12th century, but egg tempera was the dominant medium until the 1430s. Egg, when used as a binder, dries quickly and produces bright and light colours, but it is a difficult medium in which to achieve naturalistic textures or deep shadows. Oil allows smooth translucent surfaces, and can be applied in a range of thicknesses, from fine lines to thick broad strokes. It dries slowly and thus manipulated while still wet. This gives the artist more time to add subtle detail and allows hatching, wet-on-wet painting. It further allows smooth transition of colours and tones because portions of the intermediary layers of paint can be removed or wiped as the paint dries. Oil allows differentiation between degrees of reflective light, from shadow to bright beams as well as minute depictions of light effects through use of transparent glazes. This new freedom in controlling light gave rise to more precise and realistic depictions of surface textures; van Eyck and van der Weyden typically show light falling on surfaces such as jewellery, wooden floors, textiles and household objects.
The majority of the works were painted on wood rather than the less expensive canvas.[E] The wood was usually oak, often imported from the Baltic region, with the preference for radially cut boards which are less likely to warp. Typically the sap was removed and the board well seasoned before use. The common use of wood allows for dendrochronological dating, while the particular use of Baltic oak gives clues as to the artist's location. The panels generally show very high degrees of craftsmanship. Lorne Campbell notes that most are "beautifully made and finished objects. It can be extremely difficult to find the joins." Many of the frames were altered, repainted or gilded in the 18th and early 19th centuries when it was common practice to break apart hinged Netherlandish pieces so they could be sold as genre pieces. A majority of the surviving panels are painted on both sides, often with the reverse bearing family emblems, crests or ancillary outline sketches. In the case of single panels, the markings on the reverse are often wholly unrelated to the obverse and may be later additions, or as Campbell speculates "done for the artist's amusement". The practice of painting each side of a panel had a practical basis, as it prevented the wood from warping.
Glue was often used as an inexpensive alternative binder to oil, in a technique usually known by the German term tüchlein. Although a large number of works using this medium were produced, few survive today, mainly because the perishability of the linen cloth to which the pigment was usually applied, as well the solubility of the hide glue from which the binder was derived. Well-known and relatively well-preserved – though substantially damaged – examples include Matsys' c. 1415–25 Virgin and Child with Saints Barbara and Catherine and Bouts' c. 1440–55 Entombment. The paint was generally applied with brushes, but sometimes with thin sticks or brush handles. The artists often softened the contours of shadows with their fingers, at times to blot or reduce the glaze. Usually the frames of hinged works were constructed before the individual panels were worked on.
Guild and workshop system
The most usual way in the 15th century for a parton to commission a piece was to visit a master's workshop. Only a certain number of masters could operate within any city bounds. They were regulated by artisan guilds, to whom they had to be affiliated, in order to be allowed to operate and receive commissions from patrons. This entailed undergoing four to five years apprenticeship ending with the production of a "masterpiece" that proved their ability as a craftsman, followed by the payment of a substantial entrance fee. While this system had a protectionist element, it ensured levels of quality, and through the nuances of the fee system, encouraged local artistic production. Yet it was a self goverening body, with panel painters usually the most wealthy and influential guild members.
Workshops typically consisted of a family home for the master and lodging for apprentices, who were either starting out and gaining experience or fully trained journeymen who had not yet paid the dues required to establish their own workshops. The masters typically builts up inventories of prepainted panels as well as patterns or outline designs for ready sale. With the former, the master was responsible for overall design of the painting, and typically painted the focal portions, such as the faces, hands and the embroidered parts of the figure's clothing. The more prosaic elements would be left to assistants; in many works it is possible to discern abrupt shifts in style, with the relatively weak Deesis passage in van Eyck's Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych being a better known example. If the master was secure enough financially, he could dedicate his workshop to the production of copies of his commercially successful works, or on new compositions based on his designs. In this case, the master would usually produce the underdrawing or overall composition to be completed by assistants. When a master died, pupils would often complete unfinished panels or continue to produce variations of his origional designs without informing patrons that the master had passed. Because of this many surviving works that evidence first rank composition but average execution are attributed to workshops members or followers.
By the 1400s, the reach and influence of the Burgundians meant that the Low Countries merchant and banker classes were in the ascendancy. The early- to mid century saw a large increase in international trade and domestic wealth, leading to enormous increase in the demand for art works. Artists from the area attracted patronage from the Baltic coast, north German and Polish regions, the Iberian Peninsula, and cities such as Venice, Milan, Florence and the powerful families of England and Scotland. Luxury goods were sold through a developing specialist international trade. The mid-century saw the development of art dealership as a profession; at first masters acted as their own dealers, attending fairs where they could also buy frames, panels and pigments until it became a purely commercially driven activity dominated by the mercantile class. By the 1460s orders came directly from patrons as far as Naples and Florence.
Specific works were not usually produced on commission; more often the masters anticipated the formats and images most sought after and would produce designs later developed into specific paintings by members of their workshop. Prototypes were sold at regularly held fairs, or the buyers could visit workshops, which tended to be clustered in certain areas of the major cities. In addition the masters were allowed to display on their front windows, inviting the patrons to have their likeness added as a donor in the final work. This was the typical mode for the thousands of panels produced for the middle class – city officials, clergy, guild members, doctors and merchants. A different process applied to the upper end of the market.
The Burgundian dukes tended towards extravagance. Philip the Good followed the example set earlier in France by his great-uncle John of Berry by becoming a strong patron of the arts and commissioning a large number of art works. The Burgundians were seen as arbiters of taste and their appreciation in turn drove demand for the highly luxurious and expensive illuminated manuscripts, gold-edged tapestries and jewel-bordered cups. Their appetite for finery trickled down through their court and nobles, to the people who for the large part in the 1440s and 1450s commissioned local artists in Bruges and Ghent. While Early Netherlandish paintings were not so heavily lined with gold that they had intrinsic value, they were perceived as being of the first rank of European painting. A 1425 document written by Philip the Good explains that he hired a painter for the "excellent work that he does in his craft". Jan van Eyck painted the Annunciation while in Philip's employ, and Rogier van der Weyden became the duke's portrait painter in the 1440s.
The consolidation of the ducal households created a large class of courtiers and functionaries who emulated ducal trends. Some gained enormous power and commissioned paintings to display their wealth and influence, as evidenced by Nicolas Rolin's two paintings: van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin and van der Weyden's Last Judgment, the latter placed in the Beaune hospice. Civic leaders could also commission works from major artists, such as Bouts' Justice for Emperor Otto III, van der Weyden's The Justice of Trajan and Herkinbald or David's Justice of Cambyses. Civic commissions were less common and paid less; but they brought notice to and increased a painter's reputation, as with Memling whose St John altarpiece for Bruges' Sint-Janshospitaal brought him additional civic commissions.
Less expensive cloth paintings (Tüchlein) were more common in middle-class households, but records show a strong interest in domestically owned religious panel paintings. Members of the merchant class typically commissioned smaller devotional panels, containing specifically desired themes, images or motifs.
Painting was protected and regulated by guilds which amongst other things, oversaw production, export trade and raw material supply. The guilds maintained different sets of regulations for panel painters, cloth painters, sculptors and book illuminators. Overall, panel painters enjoyed the highest level of protection, and even in the higher end of the market, the patron has little say in the design of the final product. Access to the guilds was difficult; a master had to serve an apprenticeship in the region, and was required to show proof of citizenship, which could be obtained either through birth, long residence, or by purchase.
Wealthy foreign patronage and the development of international trade afforded the established masters the chance to build up workshops with assistants. Although first rank painters such as Petrus Christus and Hans Memling found patrons among the local nobility, they catered specifically to the large foreign population in Bruges. Painters not only exported goods but exported themselves; foreign princes and nobility, striving to emulate the opulence of the Burgundian court, hired painters away from Bruges.[F]
The paintings of the first generation of Netherlandish artists are often characterised by the use of hidden symbolism and biblical references, typically expressed through iconography. Van Eyck pioneered this development; his innovations were then taken up by van der Weyden, Memling and Christus. Each of these artists tended towards the dramatic, and employed rich and complex iconographical elements to create a heightened view of 15th-century beliefs and spiritual ideals. In general they tended to evoke a long Christian tradition by employing Latin inscriptions. Morally the works expresses a fearful outlook, but evidence a respect for restraint and stoicism. The paintings above all emphasise the spiritual over the earthly. Because the cult of Mary was at an apex at the time, iconographic elements related to the life of Mary vastly predominate.
Art historian Craig Harbison describes a blending of realism and symbolism which may perhaps be "the most important aspect of early Flemish art". Generally, early in the 15th century a generation of painters were preoccupied with making religious symbols more realistic and believable, which according to Harbison was "largely a technical achievement"; he emphasises, however, technique should not be seen as the central cause because van Eyck's innovative blending of symbolism and reality occurred on a much larger scale than others, regardless of technique.
Van Eyck incorporated a wide variety of iconographic elements, often to convey what he saw as a co-existence of the spiritual and material worlds, to the point that realism appears to blend with symbolism. The iconography was embedded in the work unobtrusively; typically the references comprised small but key background details. Groups or configurations of sets of symbols were employed such that, seen as a whole, they "appear to enact the meanings they symbolise." Van Eyck's religious paintings in particular "always present the spectator with a transfigured view of visible reality". To van Eyck the day-to-day is steeped in symbolism, so that, according to Harbison, "descriptive data were rearranged in all of van Eyck's religious works so that they illustrated not earthly existence but what he considered supernatural truth." His harmoniously blended realism and symbolism creates a vision that the "essential truth of Christian doctrine is made evident to man by the marriage of secular and sacred worlds, of reality and symbol". He depicts overly large Madonnas, thereby separating heavenly from earthly, placing them in earthly settings such as churches, a domestic chamber, or seated with a court official.
Yet the earthly churches are infused with heavenly symbols; the domestic chamber (as in the Lucca Madonna), disguises a heavenly throne; and the setting for a painting such as Madonna of Chancellor Rolin is difficult to determine: is the chancellor seated with the Madonna in the earthly sphere, or are the two in the heavenly looking out on the earthly? The significance of van Eyck's iconography is often so densely and intricately layered that a work has to be viewed multiple times before even the most obvious meaning of an element is apparent. The symbols were often subtly woven into the paintings so that they only became apparent after close and repeated viewing, while much of the iconography revolve around the idea that, according to John Ward, "the promised passage from sin and death to salvation and rebirth".
Other artists employed symbolism in a more prosaic manner despite van Eyck's influence which was huge and deeply infused both his contemporaries and later artists. In contrast, Campin showed a clear separation between spiritual and earthly realms; unlike van Eyck, he did not employ a program of concealed symbolism. Campin's symbols do not alter the sense of the real – in his paintings a domestic scene is no more complicated than a domestic scene showing religious iconography the viewer would have recognised and understood. Van der Weyden employed symbolism in a more nuanced manner than Campin but never took it the extent of van Eyck's densely packed iconography. According to Harbison, van der Weyden incorporated his symbols so carefully, in such an exquisite manner, that "Neither the mystical union that results in his work, nor his reality itself for that matter, seems capable of being rationally analyzed, explained or reconstructed."  His treatment of architectural details, niches, colour, and space, are presented in such an inexplicable manner that "the particular objects or people we see before us have suddenly, jarringly, become symbols with religious truth."
Although the Netherlandish artists are remembered primarily for their paintings, their output includes a wide variety of luxury goods, including tapestries, carved retables and illuminated manuscripts. The demand for art from the region included sculpture, tapestry, stained glass, brass objects and carved tombs. According to art historian Susie Nash, the region led the field in almost every aspect of portable visual culture, "with specialist expertise and techniques of production at such a high level that no one else could compete with them". The Burgundian court favoured tapestry and metalwork, which are well recorded in surviving documentation, while demand for panel paintings is less evident, – they may have been less suited to itinerant courts. Wall hangings and books functioned as political propaganda and as a means to showcase wealth and power, whereas ducal patrons commissioned fewer portraits. Those that were commissioned functioned to document lines of succession, such as van der Weyden's portrait of Charles the Bold; or for betrothals as in the case of van Eyck's lost portrait of Isabella of Portugal.
Religious paintings were commissioned for royal and ducal palaces, for churches, hospitals, convents, and for wealthy clerics and private donors. Civic authorities commissioned paintings for public buildings, often with secular scenes or scenes from the Last Judgment. Less expensive cloth paintings were more common, but records show a strong interest in domestically owned panel paintings. Artists often worked in more than one medium; van Eyck and Petrus Christus are both thought to have contributed to manuscripts, while van der Weyden designed tapestries, though few survive. The Netherlandish painters were responsible for many innovations, including the advancement of the diptych format, the conventions of donor portraits, the crystallization of new conventions for Marian portraits, and, through works such as van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin and van der Weyden's Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin in the 1430s, laying the foundation for the development of landscape painting as a separate genre.
Before the mid-1400s, illuminated books were considered a higher form of art than panel painting. Their ornate and luxurious qualities better conferred notions of wealth, status and taste to their owners. They were ideally suited as diplomatic gifts or offerings to commemorate dynastic marriages. From the 12th-century specialist workshops in monasteries (French libraires) produced books of hours, psalters, prayerbooks and histories, as well as romance and poetry books. By the turn of the 14th century, the largely Gothic manuscripts coming from Paris dominated the market. These were overtaken in importance from the mid-15th century by works originating from Ghent, Bruges and Utrecht. English production, once of the highest quality, had greatly declined, and relatively few Italian manuscripts were exported. A number of factors led to the popularity of Netherlandish illuminators, especially the tradition and expertise that had developed in the region over the last two hundred years following monastic reform and the growth in the number and prominence of monasteries, abbeys and churches. A significant number were producing lavish and highly intricate liturgical texts from the 12th and 13th centuries. Netherlandish illuminators were dependant o the export market, with many works designed specifically for the English market. Following a decline in domestic patronage after the death of Philip the Good's son Charles the Bold, in 1477, the export market became more important. Illuminators responded to the difference in taste by producing more lavish and extravagantly decorated works tailored for the first ranks of foreign notability, including James IV of Scotland and Eleanor of Viseu.
There was considerable overlap between panel painting and illumination. Significant commissions were often shared between several masters, with more junior painters assisting, especially in producing the often elaborate border decorations. Masters would often produce single leaf illustrations to be almost randomly inserted into precious books. The masters rarely signed their work, so it is often difficult to attribute works from any century to specific artists, and the identities of some of the more significant illuminators are lost. They are now referred to by notnames, that is provisional names to distinguish anonymous masters based on their major works, location, the most distinctive feature of their work, or the theme or iconographical element they are best associated with.
The success of Bruges and Ghent as centers of production was in part due to the mastery of naturalism achieved by the artists working in the regions, and also to the patronage of Philip the Good who collected over 1,000 illuminated books. Netherlandish artists found increasingly inventive and innovative ways to highlight and differentiate their ability from manuscripts produced in surrounding countries, including elaborate page design and devising ways to relate scale and space. They explored the interplay between the three essential components of a manuscript: border, miniature and text. An example is the c. 1467–80 Nassau book of hours by the Vienna Master of Mary of Burgundy, in which the borders are lined with large illusionistic decorations such as flowers and insects. These elements achieved their effect by being broadly painted, as if scattered across the gilded surface of the miniatures. This technique was continued by, amongst others, the Flemish Master of James IV of Scotland (possibly Gerard Horenbout), known for his innovative layout of the pages. Using various illusionistic elements, he often blurred the line between the miniature and its border, frequently using both in his efforts to advance the narrative of his scenes.
The Limbourg brothers' work, notably their ornate Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, perhaps marks the high point of illumination. Later the Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy explored the same mix of illusionism and realism. The Limbourgs' career ended just as van Eyck's began. By 1416 all the brothers (none of whom had reached 30) and their patron Jean, Duke of Berry were dead, most likely from plague. Van Eyck is thought to have contributed several of the more acclaimed miniatures of the "Turin-Milan Hours" as the anonymous artist known as Hand G. A number of illustrations from the period show a strong stylistic resemblance to Gerard David, though it is unclear whether they are from his hands or those of followers.
This leaf from the "Turin-Milan Hours" is attributed to the anonymous artist known as Hand G (possibly Jan van Eyck). Illumination on parchment, c. 1409, Turin
From the "Livre du cœur d'Amour épris", Barthélemy d'Eyck, c. 1458–60
Single devotional panels
Paintings and precious objects served an important aid in the religious life to those who could afford them. Prayer and meditative contemplation were means to attain salvation for all people, while the very wealthy could also establish churches or extensions, or commission artworks or other devotional pieces as a means to guarantee salvation in the afterlife. Vast numbers of Virgin and Child paintings were produced, with original designs widely copied and exported. Many of paintings were based on Byzantine prototypes of the 12th and 13th century, of which the Cambrai Madonna is probably the best known. In this way the traditions of the earlier centuries absorbed and re-developed as a distinctly rich and complex iconographical tradition.
Marian devotion grew from the 13th century, mostly forming around the concepts of the Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into heaven. In a culture that venerated the possession of relics as a means to bring the earthly closer to the divine, Mary left no bodily relics, thus assuming a special position between heaven and humanity. By the early 1400s, Mary had grown in importance within the Christian doctrine to the extent that she was commonly seen as the most accessible intercessor with God. It was thought that the length each person would need to suffer in limbo was proportional to their display of devotion while on earth. The cult of Mary reached an apex in the early 15th century. From the 16th century, portrayals of the life of Christ, especially of his infancy, tended to be entred around the iconography of the Man of Sorrows.
The veneration that developed around Mary led to high demand for works depicting her likeness, and, from those who could afford them, donor portraits, often in the diptych format. Van der Weyden largely imitated the existing northern tradition of half-length Marian portraits which echoed in format and colourisation the "miracle-working" Byzantine icons then popular in Italy. The format became extremely popular across the north, and the innovations he brought to a traditional format is a major contributing factor in the emergence of Marian diptychs as an enduring Early Netherlandish format.
Triptychs and altarpieces
Northern triptychs[G] and polyptychs were widely popular across Europe from the late 14th century, the peak of demand lasting until the early-1500s. During the 1400s they were the most widely produced format of northern panel painting, preoccupied with religious subject matter, and mostly intended for use in liturgical settings. The earliest northern examples are compound works incorporating engraving and painting; usually two painted wings that could be folded over a carved central corpus.[H] That hinged works could be opened and closed served a practical purpose; on religious holidays the more prosaic and everyday outer panels were replaced by the lush interior panels. The first generation of Netherlandish masters borrowed many conventions from 13th- and 14th-century Italian altarpieces. Although triptychs were commissioned by German patrons from the 1380s, large-scale export did not begin until around 1400. Few of these very early examples survive. Polyptychs were produced by the more accomplished masters. They provide greater scope for variation, and a greater number of possible combinations of interior and exterior panels that could be viewable at any one time. The Ghent altarpiece, completed in 1432, is known to have had different configurations for weekdays, Sundays and church holidays.[I]
The conventions for pre-1400 Italian triptychs were quite rigid. The central panels' mid-ground were populated by members of the Holy Family, or in early works, especially from the Sienese or Florentine traditions, overwhelmingly characterised by images of the enthroned Virgin, set against a gilded background. The wings usually contain a variety of angels, donors and saints, but there is never direct eye contact or rarely a narrative connection with the central panel figures. Netherlandish painters adapted many of these conventions, but, as Acres explains, subverted them almost from the start. Van der Weyden was especially innovative in terms of changing earlier rigidly set structures, as apparent in his 1442–45 Miraflores Altarpiece and c. 1452 Braque Triptych. In these paintings members of the Holy Family appear on the on the wings instead of being relegated to the central panels. The latter is notable for the continuous landscape connecting the three inner panels.
The level of demand for Netherlandish altarpieces outside of the Burgundian lands is evident from the many surviving examples found in churches in northern Germany and across southern Europe. Till-Holger Borchert describes how "these splendid altarpieces reflect a refined culture of representation for purposes of prestige which, in the first half of the fifteenth century, only the workshops of the Burgundian Netherlands were capable of achieving." By the 1390s, Netherlandish altarpieces were exported mostly from Brussels or Bruges. The popularity of Brussels altarpieces lasted until around 1530, when the output of the Antwerp workshops became more favoured, in part because they were able to produce at a lower cost by allocating different portions of the panels among specialised workshop members, a practice Borchert described as an early form of division of labour.
From the 1490s Hieronymus Bosch painted at least 16 triptychs[J] the best of which subverted existing conventions. These works evidence a number of innovations, including a move towards a more secular approach, and a stronger emphasis on the exterior, which now were more complex and painterly, and less disconnected from the interior panels. Bosch also unified the scenes in the inner panels. After Mannerism came to the fore in the mid-1500s, the Netherlandish multi-panel paintings fell out of favour and were considered old-fashioned. Iconoclasm deemed them unfavourable or offensive, when many of those kept in the Low Countries were destroyed. Extant examples are mostly found in German churches and monasteries. As secular works grew in demand, triptychs were often broken up and sold as individual works, especially if a panel or section contained an image that could be passed as a secular portrait. In some instances, a panel would be cut down to only the figure with the background over-painted so that "it looked sufficiently like a genre piece to hang in a well-known collection of Dutch 17th-century paintings."
The diptych format was widely popular in northern Europe from the mid-15th century to the early 16th. Diptychs consisted of two equally sized panels joined by hinges (or less often, a fixed frame). Panels with hinges could be opened and closed like a book, allowing for both an interior and exterior view. Closing the wings protected the image on the inside and displayed the images outside, often a crest of arms. Typically the two sets of images were thematically linked. Originating from conventions in Books of Hours, diptychs typically functioned as less expensive and more portable altarpieces. Diptychs are distinct from pendants in that they are physically connected wings and not merely two paintings hung side by side. They were usually near-miniature in scale and some emulated medieval "treasury art", which were small pieces made of gold or ivory. The tracery seen in examples such as van der Weyden's Virgin and Child reflects that seen in ivory carving of the period. The format was adapted by van Eyck and van der Weyden on commission from members of the House of Valois-Burgundy, and refined by Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling and later Jan van Scorel.
Most diptychs of the period illustrated one of a small range of religious scenes, including numerous depictions of the Virgin and Child which reflect the Virgin's contemporary popularity as a subject of devotion. The inner panels consisted mainly of donor portraits—often of husbands and their wives—alongside saints or the Virgin and Child. The donor was nearly always shown kneeling in full or half length, with hands clasped in prayer. The vast majority of donors were male. Andrea Pearson ascribes this to the fact that all women – even those with the means to commission devotional objects – were encouraged to pay devotion in private and often enclosed spaces, rather than in public.
The development and commercial worth of diptychs has been linked to a change in religious attitude in northern Europe in the 14th century, when a more meditative and solitary devotion – exemplified by the Devotio Moderna movement – grew in popularity. Private reflection and prayer was encouraged and the small-scale diptych fitted this purpose. It became popular amongst the newly emerging middle class and the more affluent monasteries across the Low Countries and northern Germany.
Late 20th-century technical examination has shown significant differences in technique and style between the panels of individual diptychs. The technical inconsistencies may be the result of the workshop system, in which the more prosaic passages were often completed by assistants. A change in style between panels may be seen, according to historian John Hand, because the divine panel was usually based on a general design offered on the open market, while the donor panel was added after a patron was found.
Few intact diptychs survive. As with Netherlandish altarpieces, the majority of diptychs were later separated and sold as single "genre" panels, for a number of reasons. In the workshop system some panels were interchangeable, and the religious panels may have been paired with newly commissioned donor panels. Later, as the Burgundian nobility dispersed widely throughout Europe, panels were separated and taken across long distances. During the Reformation, religious scenes were removed from diptychs, and burgeoning art markets capitalised on diptychs by creating two salable works from one.
Secular portraiture was a rarity in European art before 1430, when the format did not exist as a a separate genre, and was only found infrequently at the highest end of the market in betrothal portraits or royal family commissions. While such undertakings may have been profitable, they were considered a lower art form and the majority of surviving pre-16th-century examples are unattributed. Large numbers of single devotional panels showing saints and biblical figures were being produced, but depictions of historical, known individuals did not begin until the early 1430s. Van Eyck was the pioneer; his seminal 1432 Léal Souvenir is one of the earliest surviving examples, emblematic of the new style in its realism and acute observation of the small details of the sitter's appearance. Van der Weyden developed the conventions of portraiture and was arguably more influential on the following generations of painters. Rather than merely follow van Eyck's meticulous attention to detail, van der Weyden created more abstract and sensual representations. He was highly sought after as a portraitist, yet there is a noticeable similarity in his portraits, likely because he used and reused the same underdrawings, which met common ideals of rank and piety. These were then adapted to show the facial characteristics and expressions of the particular sitter.
Petrus Christus was an innovative second-generation painter who placed his sitter in a naturalistic setting rather than a flat and featureless background. This approach was in part a reaction against van der Weyden, who, in his emphasis on sculptural figures, utilised very shallow pictorial spaces. In his 1462 Portrait of a Man, Dieric Bouts went further by situating the man in a room complete with a window that looks out at a landscape. In the 1500s, the full-length portrait became popular in the north. This was a format practically unseen in earlier northern art, although it had a tradition in Italy going back centuries, most usually in fresco and illuminated manuscripts. Full-length portraits were reserved for depictions of the highest echelon of society, and were associated with princely displays of power. Of the second generation of northern painters, Hans Memling became the leading portraitist, taking commissions from as far as Italy. He was highly influential on later painters and is credited with inspiring Leonardo's positioning of the Mona Lisa in front of a landscape view.Van Eyck and van der Weyden similarly influenced the French artist Jean Fouquet and the Germans Hans Pleydenwurff and Martin Schongauer amongst others.
The Netherlandish artists were responsible for the move away from the profile view, the standard since Roman coinage and medals, towards the less formal but more engaging three-quarter view. At this angle, more than one side of the face is visible as the sitter's body is rotated toward the viewer. This pose gives a better view of the shape and features of the head and allows the sitter to look out towards the viewer. Van Eyck's 1433 Portrait of a Man is an early example, and is all the more notable as it is likely van Eyck himself who stares out at us. Yet the gaze of the sitter rarely engages the viewer. Although there is often direct eye contact between subject and viewer, the look is normally detached, aloof and uncommunicative, perhaps to reflect the subject's high social position. There are exceptions, typically in bridal portraits or in the case of potential betrothals, when the object of the work is to make the sitter as attractive as possible. In these cases the sitter was often shown smiling, with an engaging and radiant expression designed to appeal to her intended.
Around 1508, Albrecht Dürer described the function of portraiture as "preserving a person's appearance after his death".[K] During the 15th century portraits were objects of status, and served to ensure that the individual's personal success was recorded and would endure beyond his lifetime. Most portraits tended to show royalty, the upper nobility or princes of the church. The new affluence in the Burgundian Netherlands, however, brought a wider variety of clientele, as members of the upper middle class were now able to afford to commission a portrait. As a result, more is known about the appearance and dress of the region's people than at any time since the late Roman period. The portraits were not usually executed with the subject sitting for the artist for long periods; typically a series of preparatory drawings were used to flesh out the final panel. Very few of these drawings survive, a notable exception being van Eyck's study for his Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati.
Quentin Matsys, Portrait of a woman, 1520.
During the mid-15th century, tapestry was perhaps the most sought after visual product in Europe. Commercial production of woven wall hangings proliferated from the early 1400s across the Netherlands and northern France, especially in the cities of Arras, Bruges and Tournai. The perceived technical ability of these weavers was such that, in 1517, Pope Julius II sent Raphael's cartoons to Brussels to be woven into hangings. These played a central political role as diplomatic gifts, especially in their larger format, as seen in the surviving example handed to Philip the Good at the Congress of Arras in 1435, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their practical use results from their portability; textiles provided easy to put together interior environments for conducting religious or civic ceremonies. Their value is reflected in their relative positioning in contemporary inventories, where they are typically found at the top of the record. They are then usually ranked in accordance with their colouring or material, with white and gold considered at the first mark. Charles V of France had 57 tapestries, of which 16 were white. Jean de Berry owned 19, while Mary of Burgundy, Isabella of Valois and Isabeau of Bavaria and Philip the Good all held substantial collections. 
Most of the commercial organisation centred on weaving. Looms were active in all the major Flemish cities, in most of the towns and in many of the villages, which allowed for subtracting and thus a high output. Commissions could be farmed out and distributed across a large number of weavers. The designs, or cartoons (klein patroons in Flemish, petit patrons in French), were typically executed on paper or parchment, and usually put together by qualified painters. They were then sent, often across a great distance, to weavers. Because cartoons could be re-used, craftsmen often worked on source material that was decades old. As both paper and parchment are highly perishable, few of the original cartoons survive.
Looms were outside the guild hierarchy, and depended on a migrant workforce. Their commercial activity was driven by an entrepreneur, usually a trained painter. This entrepreneur would locate and commission patrons, stock cartoons, and provide the raw materials. These often had to be imported, and included wool, silk, and sometimes gold and silver. The entrepeneur interacted directly with the patron, agreeing to the design both at the cartoon and final stages. This was often a difficult business and necessitated delicate management; in 1400 Isabeau of Bavaria pointedly rejected a completed set by Colart de Laon having earlier approved their design, to de Laon's – and presumably his commissioner's – considerable embarrassment.
Because tapestries were largely designed by painters, their formal conventions are closely aligned with the conventions of panel painting. This is especially true with the later generations of painters of the 16th century, those that produced panoramas of heaven and hell. Harbison describes how the intricate, dense and overlaid detail of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights resembles, "in its precise symbolism ... a medieval tapestry".
Landscape was a secondary concern for the mid 1400s Netherlandish painters. Geographical settings were rare and when they did appear usually consisted of glimpses through open windows or arcades. Even then they were rarely based on an actual location.[L] The settings tended to be largely imagined, designed to suit the thematic thrust of the panel. Because most of the settings contained commissioned donor portraits, very often the landscapes were tame and controlled, in harmony with the warm idealised interior setting. In this, the northern artists lagged behind their Italian counterparts, who had already segued interior and exterior pictorial spaces, and were placing their paintings within actual, closely described landscapes. Some of the northern landscapes are highly detailed and notable in their own right, including van Eyck's unsentimental c. 1430 Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych and van der Weyden's widely copied 1435–40 Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin. This changed towards the end of the 15th century, led in part by an emphasis on more secular subject matter and a waning in the dominance of religious iconography. At the same time, still life, for similar reasons but less successfully, also became a genre in its own right.
Second generation Netherlandish painters applied the mid-14th-century dictum of representing "things as they actually are" to nature. In part this was due to the rising affluence of the region's middle class, many of whom had now travelled south and seen countryside noticeably different to their flat homeland. At the same time, the later century saw the emergence of specialisation and a number of masters focused on detailing landscape, most notably Konrad Witz in the mid 1400s, and later Joachim Patinir. Most innovations in this format came from artists living in the Dutch regions of the Burgundian lands, most notably from Haarlem, Leiden and 's-Hertogenbosch. The significant artists from these areas did not slavishly reproduce the scenery before them; in subtle ways they adapted and modified their landscapes to reinforce the emphasis and meaning of the panel they were working on. Hieronymus Bosch adapted elements of the World landscape style in his single panel paintings; in his major works they serve as a backdrop for crowds of figures and are not as concerned to include a variety of landscape elements.
Patinir developed the World landscape genre which showed biblical or historical figures within an imagined panoramic landscape, usually consisting of mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings. The paintings are characterised by an elevated viewpoint, with the figures dwarfed by their surroundings. The format was taken up by, amongst others, Gerard David and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and became popular in Germany, especially with painters from the Danube school. Patinir's works are relatively small and use a horizontal format; this was to become so standard for landscapes in art that it is now called "landscape" format in ordinary contexts, but at the time it was a considerable novelty, as the vast majority of panel paintings before 1520 were vertical in format.
In most respects World landscape paintings retain the same elements as many 15th-century treatments of the same subjects but show, in modern cinematic terms, a long shot rather than a medium shot. Most art historians regard the figure subject as important in the works of Patinir and his followers, rather than as mere staffage for a landscape, and most are of subjects where a wide landscape had relevance. Among the most popular were the Flight to Egypt, and the Netherlandish 15th-century innovation of the Rest on the Flight to Egypt, and subjects showing hermits such as Saints Jerome and Anthony with the world from which they had withdrawn laid out beneath them. As well as connecting the style to the Age of Discovery, the role of Antwerp as a booming centre both of world trade and cartography, and the wealthy town-dweller's view of the countryside, art historians have explored the paintings as religious metaphors for the pilgrimage of life.
Relationship to the Italian Renaissance
The emerging style in the north developed almost simultaneously with the early Italian Renaissance. The philosophical and artistic traditions of the Mediterranean, however, were not part of the northern heritage, to the extent that many elements of Latin culture were actively disparaged in the north. The role of Renaissance humanism in art, for example, was less pronounced in the Low Countries than in Italy. Local religious trends had a strong influence on early northern art, as can be seen in the subject matter, composition and form of many late 13th- and early 14th-century artworks. The northern painters' doctrine was also built on elements of recent Gothic tradition.
While devotional paintings – especially altarpieces – remained dominant in Early Netherlandish art, secular portraiture became increasingly common in both northern and southern Europe as artists freed themselves from the prevailing idea that portraiture should be restricted to saints and other religious figures. While In Italy this development was tied to the ideals of humanism, in the Low Countries it was associated with the rise of an affluent merchant class. In particular, members of the large Italian merchant class living in Bruges commissioned portraits from artists such as Memling who catered strongly to his Italian clients, altering his style according to their tastes.
Italian influences on Netherlandish art are first apparent in the late 1400s, when some of the painters began to travel south. Mannerism was by then the predominant style in Italy, which explains why a number of later Netherlandish artists became associated with, in the words of art historian Rolf Toman, "picturesque gables, bloated, barrel-shaped columns, droll cartouches, 'twisted' figures, and stunningly unrealistic colours – actually employ[ing] the visual language of Mannerism". As in Florence, where banking and trade provided fertile ground for new commissions, wealthy northern merchants could afford to buy paintings from the top tier of artists. With this new demand, painters became increasingly aware of their newfound status in society: they signed their works more often, painted portraits of themselves, and became well-known figures because of their artistic activities.
The northern masters were much admired in Italy, and Friedländer argues that they exercised a stronger influence over 15th-century Italian artists than vice versa. Panofsky agrees that the north's influence was important. By the early 16th century the reputation of the northern masters was such that there was an established trade in their works, although many of the paintings or objects sent south were by lesser artists and of lower quality. Innovations introduced in the north and adopted in Italy included the setting of figures in domestic interiors and the viewing of interiors from multiple vantage points, through openings such as doors or windows.[M] Hugo van der Goes' Portinari Altarpiece, in Florence's Uffizi, played an important role in introducing Florentine painters to trends from the north, and artists like Giovanni Bellini came under the influence of northern painters working in Italy.
Destruction and dispersal
During the schism of the Protestant Reformation and the European wars of religion of the 16th century (known as the Beeldenstorm or "Iconoclastic Fury" in the Netherlands), any "overtly luxurious" object of art with religious or iconographical imagery was considered idolatrous. As a consequence, thousands of religious objects and artefacts were destroyed, including paintings, sculptures, altarpieces, stained glass, and crucifixes. From 1520, reformist iconoclasm broke out across much of Northern Europe for about 130 years. In 19 August 1566, the outburst that had swept through the Netherlands reached Ghent, where Marcus van Vaernewijck (1518–69) chronicled the events. He wrote of the Ghent Altarpiece being "taken to pieces and lifted, panel by panel, into the tower to preserve it from the rioters". One of the most significant losses was a polyptych by van der Weyden, The Justice of Trajan and Herkinbald, which is today known only from a tapestry copy, but had been compared in scale and impact to van Eyck's Ghent altarpiece.
There is no reason to believe that the Early Netherlandish painters were not prolific, yet few artworks survive – even by the major painters. Of van Eyck's work, 22 to 24 paintings can confidently be attributed, though this number continues to be challenged and revised. For Petrus Christus the number is much smaller. Campbell notes that exported paintings were more likely to survive.
Many of the period's artworks were commissioned by clergy for their churches, with specifications for a physical format and pictorial content that would complement existing architectural and design schemes. An idea of how such church interiors might have looked can be seen from both van Eyck's Madonna in the Church and van der Weyden's Exhumation of St Hubert. In van der Weyden's panel is an insightful look at the appearance of pre-Reformation churches and the manner in which images were placed so that they resonated with other paintings or objects. According to Nash, "any one would necessarily be seen in relation to other images, repeating, enlarging, or diversifying the chosen themes". Because iconoclasts targeted churches and cathedrals, important information about the display of individual works has been lost, and with it, insights about the meaning of these artworks in their own time.
Establishing the names of Netherlandish masters and attributing specific works has been challenging. The historical record of their lives is very poor, such that to this day even the major artists' biographies are bare outlines, while attribution of specific works is ongoing, shifting, and often contentious. Well-established attributions today are the result of decades of painstaking research by the early 20th-century art historians.
The avenues for research have been limited by many historical factors. A great many archives were destroyed in bombing campaigns in the two world wars, and many works for which records do exist are themselves lost or destroyed. The record-keeping in the region was anyway inconsistent, and often the export of works by major artists was, owing to the pressures of commercial demand, not adequately recorded. The practice of signing and dating works was rare until the 1420s, and while the inventories of collectors may have elaborately described the works, they attached little importance to recording the artist or workshop that produced them. Surviving documentation tends to come from inventories, wills, payment accounts, employment contracts and guild records and regulations.
Because there is a comparatively good record of Jan van Eyck's life, and because he was so clearly the period's innovator, a great number of works were attributed to him and his brother Hubert when serious art-historical research began. His oeuvre has since shrunk to fewer than 30 works, with the establishment of the identities of van der Weyden, Christus and Memling, while Hubert is now a secondary figure having no works definitively attributed. Many early Netherlandish masters have not been identified, and are today know by names of convenience; the practice lacks an established descriptor in English, but the term "Notname" is often used, a derivative of a German term.[N] Collecting a group of works under one Notname is often contentious; historians have argued in various cases that the grouped works could have been produced by various artists whose artistic similarities can be explained by shared geography, training, and response to market-demand influences. Some major artists who were known by pseudonyms are now identified, sometimes controversially, as in the case of Campin, who is usually, but not always, associated with the Master of Flémalle.
Many unidentified late 14th- and early 15th-century northern artists were of the first rank, but have suffered academic neglect because they have not been attached to any historical person. It is probably a truism to say that, as Nash put it, "much of what cannot be firmly attributed remains less studied". Some art historians believe that this situation has fostered a lack of caution in connecting works with historical persons, and that such connections often rest on tenuous circumstantial evidence. The identities of a number of well-known artists have been founded on the basis of a single signed, documented or otherwise attributed work, from which follow further attributions based on technical evidence and geographical proximity. Examples include Hugo van der Goes, Campin, Stefan Lochner and Simon Marmion. The so-called Master of the Legend of the Magdalen, who may have been Pieter van Coninxloo, is one of the more notable examples.
The lack of surviving theoretical writing on art and recorded opinion from any of the major artists presents still more difficulties in attribution. Dürer, in 1512, was the first artist of the era to properly set down in writing his theories of art, followed by Lucas de Heere in 1565 and Karel van Mander in 1604. A more probable explanation for the absence of theoretical writing on art outside Italy is that the northern artists did not yet have the language to describe their aesthetic values, or saw no point in explaining in writing what they had achieved in painting. Surviving 15th-century appreciations of contemporary Netherlandish art are exclusively written by Italians, the best known of which include Cyriacus Ancona in 1449, Bartolommeo Fazio in 1456, and Giovanni Santi in 1482.
With the advent of Mannerism in the mid-16th century, the Early Netherlandish painters fell out of favour while royal art collections grew in prominence. Mary of Hungary and Philip II of Spain were the first modern royals to seek out Netherlandish painters, and both shared a preference for van der Weyden and Bosch. By the early 17th century, no collection of repute was complete without Northern European works from the 15th and 16th centuries; the emphasis however tended to be on the Northern Renaissance as a whole, especially Albrecht Dürer, who was by far the most collectable northern artist of the era. Giorgio Vasari in 1550 and Karel van Mander (c. 1604) placed the Netherlandish painters at the heart of Northern Renaissance art.[O] Both writers were instrumental in forming later opinion about the region's painters, with emphasis on van Eyck as the innovator.
The Netherlandish painters were largely forgotten during the 17th and 18th centuries. When the Louvre was converted to an art gallery during the French Revolution, Gerard David's Marriage at Cana – then attributed to van Eyck – was the only piece of Netherlandish art on display. More large panels were added to the collection after the French conquered the Lowlands.[P] These works had a profound effect on Schlegel, who after a visit in 1803 wrote an analysis of Netherlandish art, sending it to Ludwig Tieck, who had the piece published in 1805.
In 1821 Johanna Schopenhauer became interested in the work of Jan van Eyck and his followers, having seen early Netherlandish and Flemish paintings in the collection of the brothers Sulpiz and Melchior Boisserée in Heidelberg.[Q] Schopenhauer did primary archival research because there was very little historical record of the masters, aside from official legal documents. She published Johann van Eyck und seine Nachfolger in 1822, the same year Gustav Friedrich Waagen published the first modern scholarly work on early Netherlandish painting, Ueber Hubert und Johann van Eyck; Waagen's work drew on Schlegel and Schopenhauer's earlier analyses. Waagen went on to become director of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, amassing a collection of Netherlandish art, including the Ghent panels (without the nude Adam and Eve wings), a number of van der Weyden triptychs, and a Bouts altarpiece. Subjecting the works to meticulous analysis and examination in the course of acquisition, based on distinguishing characteristics of individual artists, he established an early and necessary scholarly system of classification.
In 1830 the Belgian Revolution split Belgium from the Netherlands of today and created new national divisions between the cities of Bruges (home of van Eyck and Memling), Antwerp (Matsys), Brussels (van der Weyden and Bruegel) and Leuven (Bouts). As the newly emerged state of Belgium sought to establish a cultural identity, Memling's reputation came to equal that of van Eyck in the 19th century. Memling was seen as the older master's match technically, and possessed of a deeper emotional resonance. When in 1848 the collection of Prince Ludwig of Oettingen-Wallerstein at Schloss Wallerstein was forced onto the market, his cousin Prince Albert arranged a viewing at Kensington Palace; though a catalogue of works attributed to the School of Cologne, Jan van Eyck and van der Weyden was compiled by Waagen, there were no other buyers so the Prince Consort purchased them himself. In 1860, when Charles Eastlake purchased for the London National Gallery Rogier van der Weyden's The Magdalen Reading panel from Edmond Beaucousin's "small but choice" collection of early Netherlandish paintings, it was a ground-breaking acquisition.
Netherlandish art became popular with museum-goers in the late 1800s, though the main attractions differed from today's taste. At the turn of the 19th century, van Eyck and Memling were the most highly regarded, with van der Weyden and Christus little more than footnotes. Later many of the works then attributed to Memling were found to be from van der Weyden or his workshop. In 1902, Bruges hosted the first exhibition of Netherlandish art with 35,000 visitors, an event thought to be a "turning point in the appreciation of early Netherlandish art". For a number of reasons, the chief of which was the difficulty of securing paintings for the exhibition, only a few of van Eyck's and van der Weyden's panels were displayed, while almost 40 of Memling's pieces were shown. Nevertheless, van Eyck and van der Weyden, to an extent, were then considered the first rank of Netherlandish artists.
The exhibition renewed interest in the period and initiated scholarship that was to flourish in the 20th century, with Johan Huizinga becoming the first historian to place Netherlandish art squarely in the Burgundian period – outside of nationalistic borders – suggesting in The Waning of the Middle Ages that the flowering of the school in the early 15th century resulted wholly from the tastes set by the Burgundian court. Another visitor, Georges Hulin de Loo, published an independent critical catalogue highlighting the large number of mistakes in the official catalogue, which had used attributions and descriptions from the owners. He and Max Friedländer, who also visited the exhibition and wrote a review, went on to become leading scholars in the field.
Scholarship and conservation
The most significant early research occurred in the 1920s, in German art historian Max Jakob Friedländer's pioneering Meisterwerke der Niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts. Friedländer focused on providing biographical detail about the painters, establishing attribution, and closely examining the major works. The undertaking proved extremely difficult, given the scant historical record of even the most significant artists. The German art historian Erwin Panofsky's analysis in the 1950s and 1960s followed and in many ways challenged Friedländer's work. Writing in the United States, Panofsky made the work of the German art historians accessible to the English-speaking world for the first time. He effectively legitimized Netherlandish art as a field of study, and raised its status to something similar to the early Italian renaissance.
Panofsky was one of the first art historians to abandon formalism. He built on Friedländer's attempts at attribution, but focused more on social history and religious iconography. Panofsky developed the language with which the Netherlandish paintings are usually described, and made significant advances identifying the rich religious symbolism especially of the major altarpieces. Panofsky was the first scholar to connect the work of Netherlandish painters and illuminators, noticing the considerable overlap. He considered the study of manuscripts to be integral to the study of panels, though in the end came to view illumination as less significant than panel painting – as a prelude to the truly significant work of the northern artists of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Otto Pächt and Friedrich Winkler continued and developed the work of Panofsky. They were key in identifying sources of iconography and ascribing attribution, or at least differentiating anonymous masters under names of convenience. The paucity of surviving documentation has made attribution especially difficult, a problem compounded by the workshop system. It was not until the late 1950s, after the research of Friedländer, Panofsky and Meyer Schapiro, that the attributions generally accepted today were established.[R]
More recent research from art historians such as Lorne Campbell relies on X-ray and infrared photography to develop an understanding of the techniques and materials used by the painters. The conservation of the Ghent Altarpiece in the mid-1950s pioneered methodologies and scholarship in technical studies. The technical examination of paint layers and underlayers was later applied to other Netherlandish works, allowing for more accurate attributions. Van Eyck's work, for example, typically shows underdrawings unlike Christus' work. These discoveries, too, hint at the relationships between the masters of the first rank and those in the following generations, with Memling's underdrawings clearly showing van der Weyden's influence.
Scholarship since the 1970s has tended to move away from a pure study of iconography, instead emphasizing the paintings' and artists' relation to the social history of their time. According to Craig Harbison, "Social history was becoming increasingly important. Panofsky had never really talked about what kind of people these were." Harbison sees the works as objects of devotion with a "prayer book mentality" available to middle-class burghers who had the means and the inclination to commission devotional objects. Most recent scholarship is moving away from the focus on religious iconography; instead, it investigates how a viewer is meant to experience a piece, as with donor paintings that were meant to elicit the feeling of a religious vision. James Marrow thinks the painters wanted to evoke specific responses, which are often hinted at by the figures' emotions in the paintings.
- Often through stalls at public fairs. See Campbell, 192
- Flemish and Netherlandish art were only distinguished from each other from the early 17th century. See Spronk (1997), 7
- Or a variant of this name, there is no definitive spelling.
- Van Eyck used elements of the Greek alphabet in his signature, while a number of Ghent painters taught members of their workshops to read and write.
- From contemporary records, it is estimated that about a third were painted on canvas, but as these were far less durable, most extant works are on wooden panels. See Ridderbos (2005), 297
- The Duke of Urbino hired Joos van Gent in c. 1473, and Isabella I of Castile – who owned a collection of 300 paintings – hired Michel Sittow into her service.
- The word triptych did not exist during the era; the works were known as "paintings with doors". See Jacobs (2011), 8
- In 14th-century altarpieces the "nature of the subject" was most important; generally the more sacred the subject the more decorative and elaborate its treatment. See Huizinga (2009), 22
- The work comprises 12 exterior and 14 interior painted panels, and the different possible combinations of panels would lead to different indented meanings. See Toman (2011), 319
- Of which three are document but lost, eight survive fully intact, and five exist in fragments. See Jacobs (2000), 1010
- Dürer's father, a goldsmith, spent time as a journeyman in the Netherlands and met with, according to his son, "the great artists". Dürer himself travelled there between 1520–21 and visited Bruges, Ghent and Brussels amongst other places. See Borchert (2011), 83
- Konrad Witz's Miraculous Draft of Fishes of 1444 is credited as the earliest extant faithful portrayal in European art history of a landscape based on observation of real topographical features. See Borchert (2011), 58
- Described by Panofsky as "the interior viewed through a triple arcade". See Panofsky (1969), 142
- Typically pseudonyms are applied after commonality is established for a grouping of works, of which a similarity of theme, style, iconography, biblical source or physical location can probably be attributed to one individual or workshop.
- In his first edition of Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Vasari mistakenly credited van Eyck with the invention of oil painting.
- The central panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, van Eyck's Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele, and Memling's Morel Triptych
- The Boisserée collection was acquired in 1827, on the advice of Johann Georg von Dillis, to form part of the nucleus of the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
- In the 1960s and 1970s Lotte Brand Philip and Elisabeth Dhanens developed on Panofsky's work, and resolved many of the issues that Panofsky had struggled with, especially in relation to identifying the sources of iconography, and attributing works of the early to mid-1400s.
- Ward (1994), 19
- Elkins, John, "On the Arnolfini Portrait and the Lucca Madonna: Did Jan van Eyck Have a Perspectival System?". The Art Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 1, March, 1991. 53–62
- Spronk (1996), 7
- Harbison (1995), 8
- Janson, H.W. Janson's History of Art: Western Tradition. New York: Prentice Hall, 2006. ISBN 0-13-193455-4
- Campbell (1998), 7
- Panofsky (1969), 165
- Pächt (1999), 12
- Deam (1998), 15
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), 271
- Deam (1998), 12-13
- Nash (2008), 2
- Nash (2008), 3
- Pächt (1999), 12-13
- Chapuis (1998), 19
- Huizinga (2009 ed.), 223-224
- Ainsworth (1998), 319-322
- Harbison (1995), 60-61
- Harbison (1995), 26-7
- Harbison (1995), 25
- Harbison (1995), 29
- Pächt (1999), 179
- Kemperdick (2006), 55
- Vlieghe, Hans. "Flemish Art, Does It Really Exist?". In Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 26, 1998. 187–200. Highlights recent instances where institutions in the French-speaking parts of Belgium have refused to loan painters to exhibitions labelled "Flemish".
- Borchert (2011), 35–36
- Smith (2004), 89–90
- Borchert (2011), 117
- Campbell (1998), 20
- Ainsworth (1998), 24–25
- Nash (2008), 121
- Châtelet, Albert. "Early Dutch Painting, Painting in the northern Netherlands in the 15th century". Montreux: Montreux Fine Art Publications, 1980. 27-8. ISBN 2-88260-009-7
- Borchert (2011), 247
- Ainsworth (1998), 319
- Van Der Elst, Baron. "The Last Flowering of the Middle Ages". Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2005. 96. ISBN 1-4191-3806-5
- Borchert (2011), 101
- Oliver Hand et al., 15
- Toman (2011), 335
- Ainsworth (1998), 326–7
- Orenstein (1998), 381–84
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), 378
- Panofsky (1969), 163
- Smith (2004), 58–60
- Jones (2011), 9
- Smith (2004), 61
- Jones (2011), 10–11
- Borchert (2011), 22
- Borchert (2011), 24
- Toman (2011), 322
- Campbell (1998), 29
- Ridderbos (2005), 296–97
- Campbell (1998), 31
- Spronk (1997), 8
- "The Virgin and Child with Saints Barbara and Catherine". National Gallery, London. Retrieved 7 November 2011
- "The Entombment". National Gallery, London. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
- Harbison (1995), 64
- Jones (2011), 28
- Ainsworth (1998), 32
- Borchert (2008), 86
- Jones (2011), 29
- Chapuis (1998), 13
- Smith (2004), 26–27
- Jones (2011), 25
- Jacobs (1989), 209
- Chapuis, Julien. "Patronage at the Early Valois Court". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- Ainsworth (1998), 24, 28
- Ainsworth (1998), 30
- Ainsworth (1998), 30, 34
- Campbell (1976) 188–189
- Ainsworth (1998), 31
- Campbell (1976), 190–192
- Jacobs (1989), 214
- Ainsworth (1998), 34
- Ainsworth (1998), 25–26
- Ward (1994), 11
- Harbison (1984), 601
- Harbison (1995), 95–96
- Powell (2006), 708
- Ward (1994), 9
- Harbison (1984), 589
- Harbison (1984), 590
- Harbison (1984), 590–592
- Ward (1994), 26
- Harbison (1984), 591–593
- Harbison (1984), 596
- Nash (2008), 87
- Ainworth (1998), 24
- Cavallo (1993), 164
- Cleland, Elizabeth Adriana Helena. More Than Woven Paintings: The Reappearance of Rogier Van Der Weyden's Designs in Tapestry, volume 2. London: University of London, 2002. i–ix
- Jones (2011), 30
- Harbison (1995), 47
- Harbison (1995), 27
- Wieck (1996), 233
- Nash (2008), 93
- Nash (2008), 22
- Kren (2010), 8
- Wieck (1996), 10
- "Manuscript Illumination in Northern Europe". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
- Kren (2010), 9
- Nash (2008), 92–3
- Nash (2008), 94
- Kren (2010), 83
- Hand et al. (2006), 63
- Jones (2011), 14
- Harbison (1991), 159–160
- MacCulloch (2005), 18
- MacCulloch (2005), 11–13
- Borchert (2011), 206
- Jacobs (2000), 1009
- Toman (2011), 319
- Jacobs (2011), ??
- Borchert (2011), 35
- Blum (1972), 116
- Acres (2000), 88–89
- Borchert (2011), 52
- Campbell (1998), 405
- Pearson (2000), 100
- Pearson (2000), 99
- Smith (2004), 144
- Smith (2004), 134
- Borchert (2006), 175
- Smith (2004), 178
- Hand et al. (2006), 3
- Hand et al. (2006), 16
- Borchert (2006), 182–185
- Huizinga (2009 ed.), 225
- Bauman (1986), 4
- Kemperdick (2006), 19
- Kemperdick (2006), 21–23
- Smith (2004), 104–7
- Kemperdick (2006), 23
- Kemperdick (2006), 26
- Kemperdick (2006), 28
- Kemperdick (2006), 24
- Kemperdick (2006), 25
- Borchert (2011), 277–283
- Smith (2004), 96
- Kemperdick (2006), 21, 92
- Awch behelt daz gemell dy gestalt der menschen nach jrem sterben See: Rupprich, Hans (ed). "Dürer". Schriftlicher Nachlass, volume 3. Berlin, 1966. 9
- Smith (2004), 95
- Nash (2008), 88
- Nash (2008), 264
- Nash (2008), 266
- Cavallo (1973), 21
- Nash (2008), 209
- Cavallo (1973), 12
- Harbison (1995), 80
- Harbison (1995), 134
- Harbison (1995), 61
- Silver (1986), 27
- Wood (1993), 42–47
- Wood (1993), 47
- Silver (1986), 26–36; Wood, 274–275
- Toman (2011), 317
- Toman (2011), 198
- See Lisa Deam, "Flemish versus Netherlandish: A Discourse of Nationalism", in Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 1, 1998. 1–33. Also noted (28–29) is the increased interest by art historians in demonstrating the importance of Italian art on Early Netherlandish painters.
- Nash (2008), 35
- Panofsky (1969), 142–3
- Christiansen (1998), 49
- Nash (2008), 14
- Nash (2008), 15
- Van Vaernewijck, Marcus; de Smet de Naeyer, Maurice (ed). Mémoires d'un patricien gantois du XVIe siècle. Paris: N. Heins, 1905–06. 132
- Nash (2008), 16–17
- Campbell (1998), 21
- Nash (2008), 21
- Nash (2008), 123
- Nash (2008), 44
- Nash (2008), 39
- Chapuis (1998), 8
- Pächt (1997), 16
- Nash (2008), 22–23
- Campbell (1998), 114
- Nash (2008), 24
- Smith (2004), 411–12
- Chapuis (1998), 4–7
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), viii
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), 219–224
- Smith (2004), 413–16
- John Steegman, 1950. Consort of Taste, excerpted in Frank Herrmann, The English as Collectors, 240; Queen Victoria donated the best of them to the National Gallery after the Prince Consort's death.
- Campbell (1998), 13–14, 394
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), 5
- Chapuis (1998), 3–4
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), 284
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), 275
- Silver (1986), 518
- Holly (1985), 9
- Ridderbos et al. (2005), 248
- Kren (2010), 177
- Campbell (2004), 74
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