Art of the Northern Renaissance

By: Daniel, Jackson, Jimmy, Patrick

The Sm-orthern Renaissance

Alongside the well-known Italian Renaissance, countries in Northern Europe like France, Germany, England and Poland were experiencing a Renaissance of their own. The period's art, like many other interesting products of the Renaissance, was greatly influenced by factors such as geography, climate, technology and, most of all, wealth. As such, it is important to understand how the Northern Renaissance relates and differs with it's Italian counterpart.

First, let's see where in the world this all takes place...


The Northern Renaissance was centred commercially around the Dutch city of Bruges, in Flanders. The heart of the artistic movement of Northern Europe was in Flanders, was part of the Duchy of Burgundy. Just like the wealthy banking families of Florence to the south, Burgundian Dukes made the artistic evolution possible by using their fortunes to commission fine art. As a result, their tastes and values were reflected in the art of the time period. As we take a look at the examples of Northern Renaissance art in the following section, there will be many common styles and themes that are there because they suited the wealthy families from Burgundy and surrounding regions.

next, look closely at each of these paintings...

Important Sm-artists

Factors affecting the art of the northern european renaissance

Spreading of Ideas - Printing Press

With the invention of moveable type replaced block printing in 1546, associated with Johann Gutenberg (c. 1398-1468) and others in the Rhineland, books were more readily published and distributed than before. The ideas of certain authors and contemporaries, like Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus, could be spread easily throughout Northern Europe. Individuals could read on their own to gain knowledge and form opinions, and governments could publish laws and rules. Thus, the ideas of Humanism spread through Northern Europe, which greatly influenced the art at the time. The printing press also lended itself to the mass production of illuminated manuscripts, which influenced the literature of the time as well as art simultaneously.

Traditional Values vs. italian influence

The Rennaissance art of the Low Countries differed in many ways from the art of the Italian Renaissance. As mentioned above, major factors were the different patrons in the north, and the tighter grip of traditional values. The influence of the renaissance itself was brought north by artists who travelled to rome and other cultural centres of Italy, and subsequently were influenced by what they saw there. Northern Renaissance art retained many Pre-Renaissance Gothic sensibilities and aesthetics. Aesthetics and visuals were also much more important to northern artists than perspective and proportion, and detail and colour were highly valued. Later during the Renaissance northern art also took a decidedly more secular turn, as distance from the centre of Catholic influence led to more freedom in the exploration of reform and secular values.

Climate and geography

The physical elements of the art’s composition were changed as well, mostly due to the colder climate of the North. While Da Vinci suffered from the warm climate as many of his works began to melt in his workshop, the artists of the North needed materials which wouldn’t crack or chip. This led to a great range of mediums, and the widespread use of oil paints. Artforms were also varied as a result of the climate. Whereas in Italy there were many painters and sculptors, tapestries (such as the one above) and stained glass art were much more developed in the North to insulate walls and protect from the elements.


1. What is the main differentiation to be made between the artistic themes of the Northern countries and Italy?

2. Between the two regions, which of the styles do you prefer? Why?

3. What was a practical reason for the difference in mediums used by artists in the North and South of Europe?

4. Of the factors described, justify which one you believe is most significant.