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Art of The Netherlands: Painting in the Netherlands

Author

Rosie Mitchell

Faculty of Arts, University of Cumbria, UK

Introduction

As in most European countries, the first paintings in the Netherlands can be seen on the walls of religious buildings. These were largely in the form of frescoes and religious texts such as illuminated manuscripts. It was not until the 15th century, when the region gained wealth from its sea trades, that painting in the Netherlands came into its own, producing some of the most recognised and influential painters of the period. The earliest form of this painting is in the work of the Early Netherlandish painters, working through the 15th century. This work demonstrated decisive differences from Renaissance works produced in Italy at the time. The Italian influence and the Renaissance gradually affected these artworks via the Mannerist painters of Antwerp, and blossomed into the Baroque with the work of Rubens. This golden age of painting saw further distinctions in Flemish artworks with the introduction of new subjects of painting including, landscapes, still life and genre painting.

The golden age of painting in the Netherlands was aided by the wealth of the region at this time as well as the presence of King Philip and the Burgundian court, which allowed court artists to flourish. The influence of art of the Netherlands on the European scene grew significantly at this point, with many of its masters gaining the respect and following of numerous Italian artists. The growth of the status of ‘artist’ in the Netherlands is demonstrated by an increase in artists who sign their name and paint self-portraits.

Chapter 1: Early Netherlandish Painting

Early Netherlandish painting refers to the work of painters in the Low Countries in the 15th and 16th centuries. The distinctive Flemish style which emerged in the 15th century was unlike that of the Renaissance occurring in Italy at this time. The style which arose from manuscript illumination and the Burgundian court embodies both medieval artistic traditions of northern Europe with new Renaissance ideals. In this way it is categorised under both the late Gothic and the early Renaissance style.

Characteristics of Early Netherlandish Painting are a closely observed realism and attention to detail, bright, rich colours of materials and fabrics and an elaborate religious symbolism*. The Flemish works of this era are predominantly religious, and rarely display the narrative and mythology of those in Italy. One of the most significant developments of this school was its use of oil paint instead of tempera. The beginning of this period is marked by the work of Jan Van Eyck and the end by that of Gerard David in the 16th century, and was mainly centred on the flourishing cities of Bruges and Ghent.

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