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 begins approximately with the careers of Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck. It lasts at least to the death of Gerard David in 1523; many scholars extend it to the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1569, or the start of the Dutch Revolt in 1566 or 1568, or to the start of the 17th century. 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 central Italy. Because the art of these painters represent the culmination of the northern European Medieval artistic heritage and the incorporation of Renaissance ideals, it is categorised as belonging to both the Early Renaissance and the Late Gothic.
The major artists of this period include Campin, van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Dieric Bouts, Petrus Christus, Simon Marmion, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Gerard David, Hieronymus Bosch and Bruegel. Such 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. The works of this period are mostly panel paintings, which might comprise single panels or more complex altarpieces, usually in the form of hinged triptychs or polyptychs. Illuminated manuscripts and sculptures were also common, being produced mainly for the higher end of the market.
The Early Netherlandish period coincides with the height of Burgundian influence across Europe. The Low Countries became a political and economic centre, noted for crafts and the production of luxury goods. Driven by the success of the Burgundian duchy, the region enjoyed a period of financial prosperity and became an area of intellectual and artistic free thought. The paintings of the Netherlandish masters were often exported for German and Italian merchants and bankers. Aided by the workshop system, high-end panels were mass-produced both for sale on the open market (usually through market stalls at fairs) and on commission.
Terminology and scope 
The Early Netherlandish painters are as difficult to categorise chronologically as geographically. Broadly the term applies to painters active in the areas under the control of Dukes of Burgundy and later the Habsburg dynasty. The era is usually accepted as beginning with Campin, and in the strictest sense ends with the death of Gerard David. However the mid and late 16th century Netherlandish schools, including Masseys and Bosch, are frequently associated, although their style and approach is often dramatically different from the 15th-century tradition.
The painters are known by a variety of terms; "Late Gothic" and the "Flemish Primitives" are earlier designations, especially in Dutch and German. "Primitives" in the context of 15th- and 16th-century art does not refer to any perceived lack of sophistication; rather it identifies the artists as the originators of a new tradition in painting, notably for the innovative handling of oil paint over tempera. Art historian Erwin Panofsky applied the term "Ars nova" ("new art") and "Nouvelle pratique" ("new practice"), thereby linking the movement with innovative composers such as Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois favoured by the Burgundian court of the time. "Late Gothic" emphasizes 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. In English, the term Flemish has assumed many different meanings over the centuries, and since the early 20th century has been seen as too vague a descriptor. Following the lead of Max Friedländer, Erwin Panofsky, Otto Pächt and other German-language art historians, English-language scholars typically describe the period as "Early Netherlandish painting" (German: Altniederländische Malerei).
The use of the term "Early Netherlandish painting", as well more general descriptors like "Ars nova" and the inclusive "Northern Renaissance art", allows for a broader geographic base beyond current geopolitical designations of Flanders and the Netherlands for the artists associated with the period than the more exclusive "Flemish". During the 15th to mid 16th centuries, the modern national borders of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands did not exist. Flanders is a term that now refers specifically to distinct parts of Belgium. Painters and merchants, both native and foreign, congregated in the Flemish cities of Bruges and Ghent, the main regional centres of international banking, trade and art. Commentators often used the terms Flemish and Netherlandish (that is, "of the Low Countries") interchangeably: to 16th-century Italian painter and historian Giorgio Vasari, all northern painters were "fiamminghi", or "Flemmings".
A number of the artists traditionally associated with the movement had linguistic origins that were neither Dutch nor Flemish in the modern sense and 'Netherlandish' refers to the Low Countries as a whole rather than the modern state of the Netherlands. The Francophone Rogier van der Weyden was born Rogier de la Pasture. 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, which was intermittently by ruled the Burgundian court between 1435 and 1471.
A number of different schools of painting developed across northern Europe in the early 15th century. The International Gothic era was waning, giving way to the influence of the Italian Renaissance. New and distinctive painterly cultures sprang up, with Ulm, Nuremberg, Vienna and Munich being the most important artistic centers around the start of the 16th century. Technical developments and the emergence of new media profoundly changed the art of the region, including printmaking (using woodcuts or copperplate engraving) and other innovations borrowed from France and southern Italy. A consolidating change in approach came with van Eyck's use of oil as a medium to allow better manipulation of paint. His technique was quickly adopted and developed further by Campin and 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.
By the mid-15th century, the innovations of the early masters had spread throughout Europe for a new generation of artists to absorb and develop. By the time of his death, van Eyck's paintings were highly sought after by wealthy patrons across Europe seeking to embellish their collections. Copies of his works also 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 Netherlandish and Italian artists lead to patronisation by significant figures such as Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, who commissioned works from both traditions.
In Bavaria, Albrecht Dürer emulated van Eyck's attention to detail but focused that precision in a new, more secular and personal direction. The early Netherlandish masters' influence also reached artists such as Stefan Lochner and the Master of the Life of the Virgin, who, working in mid-15th century Cologne, drew inspiration from imported commissions by van der Weyden and Bouts, painters who had already passed beyond the High Gothic. By the 16th century the techniques had become standard throughout northern Europe. In addition, painters had begun to enjoy 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.
As Bruges diminished as an artistic centre around 1500 and Antwerp's influence increased, the so-called Antwerp Mannerists came to the fore. Although their names are largely lost and they were active only from about 1500 to 1530, their emergence is sometimes considered to mark the end of the Early Netherlandish period. The Antwerp Mannerists are so-called because, although incorporating Italian influences, they were thought to represent a "latent Gothic" still informed by the Netherlandish traditions of the preceding century.
Gerard David provides the link between Bruges and Antwerp, and often travelled between the cities. He moved there in 1505 when Quentin Matsys was the head of the Antwerp painters guild, and the two men became friends. Tellingly, David's syle is more fluid than van Eyck's, he is less concerned with the older master's forensic approach. His lines are easier, he avoids diagonals in favour of a harmonious balance of verticals and horizontal strokes. He favoured deep and harmonious colouring.
Hieronymus Bosch was active in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and remains one of the most important and well-known of the Netherlandish painters. However he was anomalous in that he showed less interest in realistic depictions of nature or human existence and was largely unconcerned with perspective. Many of his works included fantastical elements that tended towards the hallucinatory. Pieter Bruegel the Elder followed and developed Bosch's style, but was among the few to do so.
Relationship to the Italian Renaissance 
The new style in the north emerged almost simultaneously with the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. While developments in Italy came from a rediscovery of the classical Greek and Roman traditions, the Netherlandish painters retained many elements of their Gothic past. The philosophical and artistic traditions of the Mediterranean were not part of their heritage and at the time many elements of Latin culture were looked down upon. While Italy saw radical changes in architecture, sculpture and philosophy, the revolution in Netherlandish art was largely confined to painting. Gothic architecture remained the dominant style through the 16th century, and continued to inform the local style as Italian influences gradually spread north.
The role of Renaissance humanism was not as pronounced in the Low Countries as it was in Italy. Local religious trends such as Devotio Moderna were more apparent in the north and had a strong influence on the subject, composition and form of many artworks. While religious paintings—including altarpieces for churches or private devotion—remained dominant in Early Netherlandish art, secular portraiture became increasingly common both in northern and southern Europe as Netherlandish and Italian artists freed themselves from the medieval idea that portraiture should be restricted to saints and historical figures. In Italy this development was tied to the ideals of humanism; in the Low Countries the rise of individualism was not as pronounced at first, and arose partly because of a merchant class that was newly able to afford such commissions and partly through the daring of individual artists.
Italian influences on Netherlandish art are first apparent in the late 1400s, when some of the painters began to travel south. By then Mannerism was the predominant style in Italy, a reason 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 carouches, 'twisted' figures, and stunningly unrealistic colours—actually employ[ing] the visual language of Mannerism". As in Florence, where banking and trade led to numerous private commissions, wealthy merchants commissioned religious paintings for private devotion (often including themselves in the form of donor portraits) as well as secular portraits. Additionally, the presence of the Burgundian court in Urbino and other Italian cities allowed court artists to flourish. Painters were increasingly aware of their position in society: they signed their works more often, painted self-portraits, 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. Innovations introduced in the north that were adopted in Italy included the setting of figures in domestic interiors and the viewing of an interior from multiple vantage points through openings such as doors or windows, Hugo van der Goes's Portinari Altarpiece played an important role in introducing Florentine painters to trends from the north, and artists like Antonello da Messina probably came under the influence of Netherlandish painters working in Sicily, Naples and later Venice. Early Netherlandish painters were not immune to the innovations occurring south of the Alps, however. Jan van Eyck may have traveled to Italy around 1426 to 1428, a trip that would have influenced his work on the Ghent Altarpiece. In addition, the international and economic importance of cities like Bruges meant a great influx of foreign influences.
The artists and work 
Technique and material 
The early work of Campin, van Eyck and van der Weyden revolutionised the approach towards naturalism and realism in Northern European painting. They sought to closely reflect the natural world, and depicted figures with a realism that made them more human-looking while also allowing a greater complexity of emotions than had been seen previously. The artists became interested in the accurate reproduction of objects (according to Panofsky they painted "gold that looked like gold") as well as natural phenomena such as beams of light and the plays of reflection. They abandoned the flat perspective and merely 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.
Innovations in the use of materials and painterly techniques 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 medium in Northern European painting can be traced to the 12th century, however until the 1430s egg tempera was the dominant medium. Egg when used as a binder tends to dry quickly and produce bright and light colours, therefore it is a difficult medium in which to achieve naturalistic textures or deep shadows.
In contrast, oil creates smooth translucent surfaces, and can be applied in a range of thicknesses, from fine lines to thick broad strokes. It dries slowly and thus can be manipulated while still wet, giving the artist more time to add subtle detail and allow hatching, wet-on-wet painting and the ability to achieve smooth transition of colours and tones by removing layers of paint to expose those below. In addition 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, seen notably in van Eyck's portrayals of light falling on jewellery, wooden floors, rich textiles and household objects.
Glue was often used as an inexpensive alternative to oil. Although a large number of works using this medium were produced, few survive today, mainly due to both the perishability of linen cloth to which the pigment was applied and the solubility of the hide glue from which the binder was derived. Well-known and relatively well-preserved—though substantially damaged—examples include Quentin Matsys' c. 1415–25 The Virgin and Child with Saints Barbara and Catherine and Dieric Bouts' c. 1440–55 Entombment. The paint was generally applied with brushes, but sometimes with thin sticks or brush handles. Artists sometimes softened the contours of shadows with their fingers, at times to blot or reduce the glaze. Typically the frames of hinged works are engaged, in that they were constructed before the individual panels were worked on.
The majority of the works were painted on wood rather than the less-expensive canvas. The wood was usually oak, often imported from the Baltic region. The preference was for radially cut boards as they were less likely to warp. Typically the sap was removed and the board well-seasoned before use. Wood over other material has greatly aided dendrochronological dating, while the type of 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.
Patronage and status 
Most of the major artists of first generation were literate, well-educated and from middle-class backgrounds. A number were financially successful and much sought after in the Low Countries and by patrons in northern Germany and across Europe. Van der Weyden sent his son to the Catholic University of Leuven, while many, including Gerard David and Bouts could afford to donate large works to churches, monasteries and convents of their choosing. Vrancke van der Stockt was able to invest in land. Van Eyck was a valet de chambre at the Burgundian court, and appears to have had easy access to Philip the Good. Although most lived in towns rather than in cities or at court, they still had access to both domestic and central European patrons. The merchant and banker classes were in their ascendancy, and patronage came from regions including the north German cities and Baltic coast, the Iberian cities, Venice, Milan and Florence in Italy, and the powerful families of England and Scotland.
The taste of the Burgundian dukes tended towards extravagance. The created a high demand for highly decorated Illuminated Manuscripts and tended towards such opulence as gold-edged tapestries and cups bordered with pearls and rubies. Their taste for finery trickled down through their court and nobles, to the people who for the large part commissioned local artists. While Early Netherlandish paintings were not gilded with gold and were not intrinsically valuable, they were perceived as being equally worthy. A 1425 document written by Philip the Good explains that he hired a painter "because of the excellent work that he does in his craft" (pour cause de l'excellent ouvrage de son mėtier qu'il fait).
The work of the Netherlandish artists were well-regarded as far as Italy and Spain, and an export market developed for the paintings. By the 1460s they were being commissioned specifically for export to Naples or Florence. Campbell notes that the works that were exported tended to have had a higher survival rate; mainly due to the local mid-16th century iconoclasm and the devastation of Northern Europe during the Second World War. Wealthy foreign patronage and the development of international trade afforded the established masters the chance to build up workshops with assistants. The masters' workshops typically consisted of a family home with lodging for apprentices who were either earning their entry into the painters' guild or fully trained journeymen artists who had not yet paid the dues required to establish their own workshop.
In the workshop system, the master would often be responsible for painting the focal or important portions of the work, such as the face or fingers of the figures, and the richly embroidered clothing. The more prosaic sections would be left to the assistants, and in many works it is possible to discern abrupt shifts in style which reveal which areas were worked on by the master and which by his workshop. If the master was secure enough financially, as van Eyck was, he could dedicate his workshop to the production of copies of his commercially successful works, or on new compositions in his style. In this case, the master would usually produce the underdrawing or design. Because of this practice many surviving works are today attributed to "The workshop of ..."
The mid-14th century saw a huge increase in demand for art works, which were sold either from the workshop or at market stalls specialising in luxury goods. The period saw the rise of art dealers; some masters acted as dealers, attending fairs where they could also buy frames, panels and pigments.
Although the religious iconography used by the Netherlandish painters is often complex, layered and abundant, a common misunderstanding is that it is obscure. In fact many of the symbols appear repeatedly and come from contemporary motifs of Christian myth, especially from scenes of the Virgin with the Child and scenes from the Life of Christ. When an artist chose to include an iconographical element that would not have been commonly known to the well-educated, the tendency was to make the reference explicit by surrounding it with more popular symbols. In many ways the imagery is similar to that employed by Italian artists, although the favoured biblical subject matter differs owing to regional differences in doctrine.
Research has been hampered by the fact that there is so little surviving contemporary documentation, while that which has survived often refers to panels that have not.
Painting formats 
Single panel portraits 
Before 1430 secular portraiture was rare in European art. A large number of single panels showing saints and biblical figures were being produced, but the practice of depicting historically real, known individuals did not begin until the era of the Netherlandish painters, with van Eyck the pioneer. His 1432 Léal Souvenir is one of the earliest surviving examples, and is considered emblematic of the new style. It marks a new approach to representation in a number of ways, primarily in its realism and acute observation of the small details of the unknown man's appearance. This is evident through its portrayal of his narrow shoulders, pursed lips and thin eyebrows, down to detailing of the moisture of his blue eyes.
In 1508–09 Albrecht Dürer described the basic function of portraiture as "preserving a person's appearance after his death" During the 15th century portraits were objects of status, and served to ensure that the individual's personal success was recorded and would endure after death. Before 1500, most tended to exclusively show royalty, the upper nobility or princes of the church. However the new affluence in the Burgundian Netherlands saw a wider variety of clientele as members of the upper middle class were now able to afford to commission a portrait, or very often, commission a religious work in which their likeness would be inserted. For this reason we know more about how the people of the region looked and dressed since any time since the late Roman period. Whereas European art had previously been preoccupied with representations of saints and biblical figures, the early Netherlandish painters abandoned the tradition of idealisation and began to paint faces with a high degree of individuality who for the first time stare out confidently at the viewer.
Donor portraits typically show the patron kneeling to one side in the foreground before a saint. The convention held that although the patron could be shown in close proximity to the heavenly figures, there would be no eye contact; they would be typically shown with averted eyes, gazing into a middle distance.
Although the Netherlandish artists saw portraiture as a different and separate activity to religious subject matter, depictions of the Virgin and Child may have been created within portrait tradition. The painters guilds across northern Europe was guided Saint Luke, patron saint of artists, who is said to have created at least one portrait of the Virgin.
The Netherlandish artists replaced the traditional profile view, popular since Roman coinage and medals, with the three-quarters pose. In this angle, more than one side of the face is visible as the sitter's body is—almost but not quite—directly facing the viewer, while the far ear is generally not visible. The three-quarters pose allows a better view of the shape and features of the head and allows the sitter to look out directly at the viewer. Van Eyck's 1433 Portrait of a Man is an early example of the method, and is all the more notable as it its likely van Eyck himself who stares out at us. Yet the gaze of the sitter rarely engages the viewer. Although there is direct eye contact between subject and viewer, normally the look is 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 where the object of the work is to make the sitter as attractive as possible to the intended assessors. In these cases the sitter was often shown smiling, with an engaging, fresh and radiant expression designed to appeal to her intended.
Although van Eyck was the innovator in the new approach to portraiture, Rogier van der Weyden developed the technique and was arguably more influential on the following generations of painters. Rather than follow van Eyck's meticulous attention to detail, van der Weyden's focus was on providing a more abstract and sensual representation. He was highly sought after as a portraitist; there is a noticeable similarity in his portraits, likely because, as a labour-saving device, he used and reused the same under-drawings, that met a common ideal of rank and piety, for his works. He would then add finishing touches to highlight the facial expressions of the particular sitter. Following van der Weyden's death, Petrus Christus was the first to set his figures against naturalistic as opposed to flat featureless backgrounds.
Of the following generation Hans Memling became the leading portraitist of the region and accepted commissions not only from the local middle class but also from Italy. He was highly influential on other painters and is credited with inspiring Leonardo's positioning of the sitter in the Mona Lisa before a landscape view. The French artist Jean Fouquet was similarly influenced by van Eyck and van der Weyden, while in Germany the influence can be seen in the works of Hans Pleydenwurff and Martin Schongauer amongst others.
Triptychs and altarpieces 
The first generation of Netherlandish masters, particularly van Eyck and van der Weyden, borrowed many of the established conventions of triptych altarpieces from the Italian artists of the 13th and 14th centuries. Typically the mid-ground of the central panel would contain saints, with angels or supplementary scenes from the saint's life shown in the wing panels. Triptychs produced in the Low Countries became popular across Europe from the late 14th century, and sustained a high level of demand until the early 1500s. The Burgundian empire was at the peak of its influence, and the innovations made by the Netherlandish painters were soon recognised across the continent. The earliest known Netherlandish altarpieces are "compound" works, that is incorporating both engraving and painting; usually a carved central corpus which could be folded over by two painted wings. Such types were being commissioned by German patrons by the 1380s, however large-scale export did not begin until around 1400. During the iconoclasm of the 1560s, many of those kept in the Low Countries were destroyed, and most extant examples from pre-1400 come from German churches and monasteries.
Very few of the early examples survive. Those that do date from after 1380 and tend to be unattributed "compound altarpieces" consisting of a carved centre corpus with two painted hinged wings. The word triptych did not exist during the era; the works were known as "paintings with doors". That they could be opened and closed served a practical purpose. Typically the interior images would only be visible on religious holidays, when the generally prosaic outer panels would be replaced by the more lush interior view. Polyptychs offered even more scope for variation as there were a greater number of combinations of viewable interior and exterior panels. The 1432 Ghent altarpiece is known to have had different configuration for weekdays, Sundays and holidays. It comprises 12 exterior and 14 interior painted panels, and the different possible combinations of panels would lead to different combinations of meanings.
The high demand for Netherlandish altarpieces in the mid-15th century can be deduced by their frequent occurrence in the churches of the more important monasteries and cities of northern Germany and southern Europe. According to art historian Till-Holger Borchert, "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 being exported to churches in northern Germany, 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 owing to their innovation of dividing the creation of the different portions of the panels between specialised workshop members, which Borchert describes as an early form of "division of labour".
When Mannerism emerged in the mid-1500s, the Netherlandish multi-panel paintings fell out of favour and were considered old fashioned, while iconoclasm deemed them unfavourable or offensive in many areas. The works were often broken up and sold as individual works, especially if one of the panels featured an image that could be passed off as a portrait or genre piece. 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".
Diptychs originated in the Netherlands in the mid 15th century and were especially popular from the 1430s to the 1560s as a less expensive and reduced in scale device for attracting buyers to have their donor panels placed alongside those of saints. The format was developed by Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling and Jan van Scorel. Diptychs were usually diminutive in scale, and comprise two same size panels joined with flexible hinges so that they could be opened and closed like a book. Typically the inner images were thematically linked: when the wings are closed, the interior panels were protected and the images on the exterior, often a crest of arms, became visible.
Diptychs are distinct to pendants in that they are joined by hinges and are not merely two paintings hung side-by-side. They typically served a private devotional purpose, but at a reduced and more affordable scale when compared to triptychs. The panels frequently included commissioned donor portraits, often of husbands and their wives. Many of the same religious scenes appear over and over; numerous depictions of "The Virgin and Child" survive (Memling in particular produced many such images), reflecting the Virgin's contemporary popularity as a subject of devotion.
The development and popularity of diptychs has been linked to a change in religious attitude in northern Europe in the late 14th century, when a more meditative and inwards approaches to devotion, for example the practices of the Devotio Moderna movement, grew in popularity. Private, solitary reflection and prayer were encouraged, and the usually small scale, more affordable Netherlandish diptychs fitted this purpose, and were popular both amongst the newly emerging middle class and the more affluent monasteries of the Low Countries and Germany. In many instances the diptych would have been commissioned not just for purposes of devotion, but also to acquire a symbol of wealth and status.
Technical examination of surviving examples indicate that the panels of many diptychs and triptychs, especially those in which one wing is given over to a donor, show significant differences in technique, indicating that it was common for areas of the works to be finished by members of the master's workshop. Art historian John Hand believes that, especially with diptychs, the divine panel was often produced for the open market while the donor panel was added after the master had found a commissioning patron. As with Netherlandish altarpieces and triptychs, many of the diptychs were later broken apart and sold as single "genre" panels. Today there are few surviving examples intact with their original pendant, frame and hinges.
Illuminated manuscripts 
During the early to mid-1400s, illuminated books were considered a higher art form than panel painting. While they had traditionally been created in monasteries, by the 12th century levels of demand led to their production in specialist workshops known in French as libraires. The works included religious works such the books of hours and prayerbooks, but also histories, romances, poetry and a wide range of moralizing works that we might today class as self-improvement books. By the 14th century, the production of luxury manuscripts by monks writing in the monastic scriptorium had almost fully given way to commercial urban scriptoria, espically in Paris, Rome and the Netherlands. While the process of creating an illuminated manuscript did not change, the move from monasteries to commercial settings was a radical step. Demand for manuscripts grew to an extent that the monastic libraries were unable to meet with the demand, and began employing secular scribes and illuminators These individuals often lived close to the monastery and, in certain instances, dressed as monks whenever they entered the monastery, but were allowed to leave at the end of the day. In reality, illuminators were often well-known and acclaimed and many of their identities have survived.
At the time illuminated manuscripts were considered treasured works of high craft and their ownership were considered indicators of wealth, status and taste. In addition they became common as diplomatic gifts, or offerings to commemorate dynastic marriages. Paris was the major source of supply after their production spread from the monasteries. However, its importance was supplanted in the 1440s by the cities of Bruges and Ghent, in part due to the patronage of the cultured Philip the Good, who by his death had collected over 1,000 individual books. When, in the early to mid 15th century, manuscripts were held in higher regard than panel paintings, masters would often produce single leaf illustrations to be almost randomly inserted into precious books, as a means for the master to display and advertise his skill.
The Limbourg brothers and Simon Marmion were perhaps the best known and most successful artists specialising in this area. Van Eyck is thought to have contributed to the "Turin-Milan Hours" as the anonymous but superior artist known as Hand G. A number of illustrations from the period show a strong stylistic resemblance to the work of Gerard David, though it is unclear whether they are by his hand or by his followers. There was considerable overlap between panel painting and illumination, and by the second half of the century large manuscript commissions were often shared between several different masters, with more junior painters, many women, assisting, especially in producing the increasingly elaborate border decoration.
With the advent of Mannerism in the mid-1600s, the work of the Early Netherlandish painters fell out of favour. Little is known of the artists due to paucity of surviving documentation in the official record; very little is known about even the most significant artists. The most significant early research on the painters occurred in the 1920s, in Max Jakob Friedländer's pioneering Meisterwerke der niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, which was followed by Erwin Panofsky's analysis in the 1950s and 1960s. This research tended to focus on establishing biographies and interpreting the complex iconography, while more recent research (notably that of Lorne Campbell of London's National Gallery) relies on X-ray and infra-red photography to develop an understanding of the techniques and materials used by the painters.
Attribution is especially difficult; a problem compounded by the workshop system, which often produced multiple versions of a single work of its master. It was not until the late 1950s, after the research of Friedländer, Panofsky and Meyer Schapiro that the attributions generally accepted today were established. Even so, the major artists' biographies are, for the most part, scanty reconstructions from scattered mentions in legal records. In many instances their identities are unknown or contested, and names of convenience, were used, largely by Friedländer, to group works sharing similarities of style, time and location. The so-called Master of the Legend of the Magdalen, who may or may not have been Pieter van Coninxloo, is one of the more notable examples.
In addition many surviving panels are either fragments or wings from lost larger altarpieces.
The 16th century saw the rise of royal art collections. Mary of Hungary and Philip II of Spain were the first of the period 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, however the emphasis 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. In his first edition of Vite, Vasari -mistakenly- credited Jan van Eyck with the invention of oil painting. Yet, both writers were instrumental in forming the later international opinion as to which of the region's painters was the most significant, with emphasis on van Eyck as the innovator.
The Netherlandish and Flemish primitives fell out of fashion and were forgotten during the 17th and 18th centuries after the spread of Mannerism. 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. She had to undertake primary archival research because, beyond official legal documents, there was very little historical record of the masters. Schopenhauer 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 can Eyck.
In 1830 the Belgian Revolution split Belgium from the Netherlands of today and created new national divisions between the cities of Bruges (van Eyck and Memling), Antwerp (Matsys), Brussels (van der Weyden and Bruegel) and Leuven (Bouts). The newly-emerged state of Belgium sought to establish a cultural identity, and during the 18th century, Memling's reputation came to equal that of van Eyck. Memling was seen as the older master's match technically, with a deeper emotional resonance. Among later civic collectors, German museums were in the vanguard. Edward Solly's unusually far-sighted 1818 purchase of six panels from van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece hung in Berlin. When in 1848 the paintings of Prince Ludwig of Oettingen-Wallerstein at Schloss Wallerstein were forced onto the market, his cousin Prince Albert arranged a viewing at Kensington Palace; though a catalog 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 that also included two Robert Campin portraits and panels by Simon Marmion, it was a ground-breaking acquisition.
Significant research on the Netherlandish painters occurred in the 1920s, in German art historian Max Jakob Friedländer's pioneering Meisterwerke der niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts. This was followed by the analysis of Erwin Panofsky in the 1950s and 1960s. This research tended to focus on establishing biographies and interpreting the complex iconography, while more recent research, notably by Lorne Campbell of the National Gallery, London, relies on X-ray and infra-red photography to develop an understanding of the techniques and materials used by the painters.
The modern academic rediscovery of the art of the period and era climaxed with Friedländer's two works, 1903's Meisterwerke der niederländischen Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts and the 1916 Von Jan van Eyck bis Bruegel. Friedländer's work mainly focused on providing biographical detail on the painters, establishing attribution, and closely examining the major works, an extremely difficult task, given the lack of surviving biographical detail or even historical record on most of the major artists. Working near contemporaneously, Panofsky followed Friedländer's lead but paid more attention to the painting's iconographic meaning, an area in which Friedländer had almost no interest. Panofsky was responsible for developing the language with which the Netherlandish paintings are usually described, and made significant advances identifying the rich religious symbolism of the major altarpieces.
- By around the start of the 17th century van Eyck was already championed as the "new Apelles" of northern European painting by Karel van Mander.
- Spronk, 7
- Janson, H.W. Janson's History of Art: Western Tradition. New York: Prentice Hall, 2006. ISBN 0-13-193455-4
- Campin is usually identified as the Master of Flemalle. See Campbell, Lorne. "Robert Campin, the Master of Flémalle and the Master of Mérode". The Burlington Magazine, Volume 116, No. 860, Nov. 1974. 634–646
- Ridderbos et al (2005), 5
- Campbell (1998), 7
- Flemish and Netherlandish art were only distinguished from each other from the early 17th century. See Spronk, 7
- Panofsky (1969), 165
- Mack, Charles. "Paper Pleasures: Five Centuries of Drawings and Watercolors". Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. 4. ISBN 1-57003-065-0
- Vlieghe, Hans. "Flemish Art, Does It Really Exist?". In Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 26, 1998. 187–200. Points to recent instances where institutions in the French-speaking parts of Belgium have refused to loan painters to exhibitions labeled "Flemish".
- Kemperdick (2006), in "van Eych to Durer". 55
- Smith (2004), 89–90
- Borchert (2011), 117
- Borchert (2011), 101
- Borchert (2011), 247
- van den Brink, Peter; Lohse Belkin, Kristin; van Hout, Nico. Extravagant!: A Forgotten Chapter of Antwerp Painting, 1500–1538 (catalog). Antwerp: Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 2005. This was the language of Mannerism popularised by Walter Friedlaender in his book Mannerism and anti-mannerism in Italian painting, one of the first attempts to define the movement.
- Van Der Elst, Baron. "The Last Flowering of the Middle Ages". Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2005. 96. ISBN 1-4191-3806-5
- Toman, 335
- Toman, 317
- Hand et al., 3
- Toman, 198
- McNamee, Maurice. "Vested Angels: Echaristic Allusions in Early Netherlandish Paintings". Peeters Publishers, 1998. 148. ISBN 90-429-0007-5
- Campbell, 20
- The idea of an exclusive north to south influence first appeared in the scholarship of Friedländer and was supported by Panofsky; 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.
- Described by Panofsky as "the interior viewed through a triple arcade". See Panofsky (1969), 142
- Panofsky (1969), 142–3
- Howell Jolly, Penny. "Jan van Eyck's Italian Pilgrimage: A Miraculous Florentine Annunciation and the Ghent Altarpiece". Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte. Vol. 61, no. 3, 1998. 369–394
- Ridderbos et all (2005), 378
- Panofsky (1969), 163
- Smith (2004), 58–60
- "The Virgin and Child with Saints Barbara and Catherine". National Gallery, London. Retrieved 23 March 2012
- The oil was usually derived from flax but also from walnuts and other sources.
- Jones (2011), 9
- Smith (2004), 61
- Jones (2011), 10–11
- Borchert (2011), 22
- Borchert (2011), 24
- Toman, 322
- "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.
- Campbell (1998), 31
- 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
- Campbell (1998), 29
- Ridderbos (2005), 296-97
- 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
- Campbell 1998, 20
- Châtelet, Albert. "Early Dutch Painting, Painting in the northern Netherlands in the 15th century". Montreaux: Montreaux Fine Art Publications, 1980. 27-8. ISBN 2-88260-009-7
- Bruges was an important banking centre to the Medici
- Smith (2004), 26–27
- Jones (2011), 25
- Campbell, 21
- Jones (2011), 28
- Jones (2011), 29
- Powell, 708
- Wolffe & Hand, xii
- Bauman, 4
- Kemperdick (2006), 19
- 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 traveled there between 1520–21 and visited Bruges, Ghent and Brussels amongst other places. See Borchert (2011), 83
- 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
- Rothstein, 51
- Bauman, 5
- Smith (2004), 96
- Kemperdick (2006), 21, 92
- Kemperdick (2006), 21–23
- Smith (2004), 104-7
- Kemperdick (2006), 24
- Kemperdick (2006), 25
- Borchert (2011), 277–283
- Blum, 116
- Borchert (2011), 35–36
- Borchert (2011), 35
- Jacobs, Lynn. Opening Doors: The Early Netherlandish Triptych Reinterpreted. Penn State Press, 2011. ISBN 0-271-04840-9
- Toman, 319
- Borchert (2011), 52
- Campbell (1998), 405
- Smith (2004), 144
- Smith (2004), 134
- Smith (2004), 178
- Hand et. al, 16
- De Hamel (1992), 45
- De Hamel (1992), 57
- De Hamel (1992), 65
- "Manuscript Illumination in Northern Europe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
- Kren, 9
- Wieck, 233
- Kren, 83
- Hand et all, 63
- Campbell (1998), 114
- Smith (2004), 411-12
- The Boisserée collection was bought in 1827, on the advice of Johann Georg von Dillis, to form part of the nucleus of the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
- Ridderbos et al (2005), viii
- Ridderbos et all (2005), 219–224
- Smith, 413-16
- Herrmann, Frank. 1972. The English as Collectors: "Edward Solly", 204
- 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.
- Ridderbos et al (2005), 248
- Ainsworth, Maryan. "Implications of Revised Attributions in Netherlandish Painting." Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 27, 1992
- Bauman, Guy. "Early Flemish Portraits 1425–1525". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 43, no. 4, Spring, 1986
- Blum, Shirley Neilsen. "Early Netherlandish Triptychs: A Study in Patronage". Speculum, Vol. 47, no. 2, April 1972
- Borchert, Till-Holger. Van Eych to Durer: The Influence of Early Netherlandish painting on European Art, 1430–1530. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. ISBN 978-0-500-23883-7
- Campbell, Lorne. The Fifteenth-Century Netherlandish Paintings. London, National Gallery. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-300-07701-7
- De Hamel, Christopher. Medieval Craftsmen: Scribes and Illuminations. Buffalo: University of Toronto, 1992.
- Friedländer, Max J. Early Netherlandish Painting. Translated by Heinz Norden. Leiden: Praeger, 1967–76. ASIN B0006BQGOW
- Friedländer, Max J. From Van Eyck to Bruegel. (First pub. in German, 1916), London: Phaidon, 1981. ISBN 0-7148-2139-X
- Hand, John Oliver; Metzger, Catherine; Spronk, Ron. Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych. Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-300-12155-5
- Harbison, Craig. "The Art of the Northern Renaissance". London: Laurence King Publishing, 1995. ISBN 1-78067-027-3
- Harbison, Craig. "Realism and Symbolism in Early Flemish Painting". The Art Bulletin, Volume 66, No. 4, Dec, 1984. pp. 588–602
- Jones, Susan Frances. Van Eyck to Gossaert. National Gallery, 2011. ISBN 978-1-85709-504-3
- Kemperdick, Stephan. The Early Portrait, from the Collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the Kunstmuseum Basel. Munich: Prestel, 2006. ISBN 3-7913-3598-7
- Kren, Thomas. Illuminated Manuscripts of Belgium and the Netherlands at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles: John Paul Getty Museum, 2010. ISBN 1-60606-014-7
- Panofsky, Erwin. Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art. New York: Harper & Row, 1969
- Panofsky, Erwin. Early Netherlandish Painting. London: Harper Collins, 1971. ISBN 0-06-430002-1
- Powell, Amy. "A Point 'Ceaselessly Pushed Back': The Origin of Early Netherlandish Painting. The Art Bulletin, Volume 88, no 4, 2006
- Ridderbos, Bernhard; Van Buren, Anne; Van Veen, Henk. Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-89236-816-0
- Smith, Jeffrey Chipps. The Northern Renaissance (Art and Ideas). Phaidon Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7148-3867-5
- Spronk, Ron. "More than Meets the Eye: An Introduction to Technical Examination of Early Netherlandish Paintings at the Fogg Art Museum". Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, Vol. 5, no. 1, Autumn 1996
- Toman, Rolf (ed). Renaissance: Art and Architecture in Europe during the 15th and 16th Centuries. Bath: Parragon, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4075-5238-5
- Wieck, Roger. "Folia Fugitiva: The Pursuit of the Illuminated Manuscript Leaf". The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, Vol. 54, 1996
- Wolff, Martha; Hand, John Oliver. Early Netherlandish painting. National Gallery of Art Washington; Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-521-34016-0
Further reading 
- Ainsworth, Maryan. "Intentional Alterations of Early Netherlandish Paintings." Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 40, 2005
- Ainsworth, Maryan (ed.) Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critique of Current Methodologies. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. ISBN 0-300-09368-3
- Ainsworth, Maryan W. (1994). Petrus Christus: Renaissance master of Bruges. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780870996948.
- de Vos, Dirk. The Flemish Primitives: The Masterpieces. Princeton University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-691-11661-X
- Frere, Jean-Claude. Early Flemish Painting. Vilo International, 1997. ISBN 2-87939-120-2
- Harbison, Craig. The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN 0-13-183322-7
- Pächt, Otto. Van Eyck and the Founders of Early Netherlandish Painting. New York: Harvey Miller, 2000. ISBN 1-872501-28-1
- Pächt, Otto. Early Netherlandish Painting from Rogier van der Weyden to Gerard David. New York: Harvey Miller, 1997. ISBN 1-872501-84-2
- Rothstein, Bret Sight and Spirituality in Early Netherlandish Painting (Studies in Netherlandish Visual Culture). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-83278-0
- Snyder, James. The Northern Renaissance: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2004. ISBN 0-13-189564-8
- Centre for the Study of Fifteenth-Century Painting in the Southern Netherlands and the Principality of Liège List of 1700 works by artist.
- Flemish artists in Italy – Early Netherlandish works painted for Italian patrons in the 15th century.
- Flemish Art Collection: Exotic Primitives – About exotic themes in the paintings of the Flemish Primitives