Northern Renaissance art is by no means to be considered an appendage to Italian art. As in literature, Italian influence was strong, and some of the greatest of the northern artists were profoundly affected by their own trips to Italy; Drer and Bruegel are good examples. At the same time, the vigorous indigenous traditions of northern art continued to find expression, so that the art of the northern Renaissance manifested a distinct synthesis of native and Italian elements. In fact, the traditions of the North had their own reciprocal influence on Italian art. In particular, the technique of painting in oil, developed in Flanders, was widely adopted in Italy and elsewhere.

In general, northern art continued to carry on the late medieval tradition of great attention to detail. The Italian influence helped to modify this emphasis in the direction of greater simplicity and subordination of less essential features to the main theme. Other contributions of the art of the North were a tendency toward realism and naturalism, great skill in portraiture, and an interest in landscape.

All of this can be seen clearly in the great flowering of Flemish art in the fourteenth and particularly the fifteenth centuries. It was a part of the splendor and vitality of the civilization of the Low Countries in this period, stimulated by the brilliant court of the dukes of Burgundy. The sculptor Claus Sluter (d.1405/6) broke away from the delicacy and artificiality of current Italian models, and gave his figures massiveness and monumental grandeur, which are sometimes combined with extraordinary suppleness and grace. Sluter also achieved great naturalism and emotional power, as shown in the illustration on page 436 of the Madonna on the trumeau, portal of the Chartreuse de Champol.

One of the founders of Flemish painting in the fifteenth century was the so-called Master of Flmalle who is often identified with Robert Campin (c.1378 1444). His realism is shown in his careful attention to detail, as in the Mrode Altarpiece. Here the central panel, depicting the Annunciation (Illustration page 422) contains many genre touches of a domestic interior, and one of the side panels shows St. Joseph as a carpenter with the tools of his craft scattered about on his workbench. His paintings reveal a special talent for landscape, sometimes shown in the background through an open window. His preoccupation with the representation of spatial depth and perspective is another facet of his realism. In some of his depictions of the Passion and the events surrounding it, he conveys intense emotion.

Campin's art has been referred to as middle class. More courtly and aristocratic was the work of Jan van Eyck (c.1395 1441), the other founder of the school of Flemish realism. In some of his work, Van Eyck had as a collaborator his brother Hubert, a rather shadowy figure whose very existence has sometimes been questioned. From 1425 to the end of his life, Jan van Eyck was court painter to the duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, who also employed him on diplomatic missions.

One of the great masterpieces of the Van Eycks is the Adoration of the Lamb in the Ghent Cathedral. (Illustration page 437) Dated 1432, it is a most complex and elaborate work, with folding wings painted both on the inside and on the outside. The main part is the scene that gives it its title and shows vast numbers of pilgrims in a magnificent landscape, adoring the Lamb. The work makes a great impression of splendor, magnificence, and religious devotion, all heightened by the loving and meticulous detail of flowers, jewels, and other elements. The figures of donors, saints, Adam and Eve, and others are carried out with great psychological skill and variety. An inscription on the frame attributes it to both Hubert and Jan. It has been suggested that Hubert, the older brother, worked out the overall plan and contributed an element of poetry and mysticism, while Jan supplied the realism found in the detail and the psychological aspects.

Annunciation, Mrode Altarpiece by Master of Flmalle (Robert Campin?) Bulloz

Van Eyck's signed painting of the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (1434), is now in the National Gallery in London. (Illustration page 438) It shows his mastery of portraiture, his loving interest in detail, and the jeweled splendor of his colors. It also reveals a mastery of spatial composition. Some of his individual portraits are masterpieces, and his skill in landscape is everywhere apparent, as in the background of the Madonna with Chancellor Nicolas Rolin in the Louvre.

Van Eyck was much less emotional than Campin. His work has been described as classical and humanistic. His calm vision was much closer to Italy than to the more emotional and mystical temperament of northern Europe.

Rogier van der Weyden (c.1399 1464) may have been trained in the workshop of Campin. He was painter to the city of Brussels, and was also patronized by the Burgundian court. His most famous work is an altarpiece now in the Prado Gallery in Madrid and called the Escorial Deposition. (Illustration page 439) It shares many of the characteristics of the work of the Master of Flmalle, including realistic representation of details and great emotional force. The grief of those who are present at the deposition of Jesus from the Cross is strikingly shown. These effects are heightened by the glowing colors and richness of textures that are so conspicuous in Flemish art, and that were made possible by the use of the medium of oil.

In the Deposition the space is enclosed and occupied chiefly by the human figures. Elsewhere in the work one sees other Flemish touches the landscape, sometimes shown through an open window, the naturalistic genre details of domestic interiors. But in his human and emotional appeal, Rogier differs from Jan van Eyck and greatly influenced later Flemish painters.

He is one of the greatest of all portrait painters. His paintings of the last two Burgundian dukes, Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, bring these fifteenth-century figures vividly before us. (Illustration page 440) His portraits are illumined by his human sympathies, and many later artists tried to capture this in their work, without ever equaling his achievement.

Hans Memling (d. 1494) seldom rises to the heights of Rogier, of whom he was a follower, but he was tremendously popular. In some of his portraits he achieves greatness, and he is outstanding as a landscape artist. Otherwise his art lacks the grandeur and depth of Rogier's. Its cheerfulness and decorative charm, however, proved very popular and he became one of the richest men in Bruges.

These artists represent only a very few of the outstanding Netherlandish masters. Later in this chapter we will return to the work of two of their greatest successors, Bosch and Bruegel.


Although reciprocal cultural influences had long flowed back and forth between France and Italy, a new phase of Italian influence in France opened with the French invasions of the peninsula that began in 1494. Starting with Charles VIII, the French kings brought Italian artists home with them and put them to work. The most important of the royal patrons was Francis I, whose active encouragement of humanistic learning has been mentioned. Among the artists who came to France at his invitation were Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Sarto. Francis also collected paintings by great Italian masters, such as Titian, Raphael, and Michelangelo.

None of these artists or works, however, had a decisive impact on French art through the work they did in France. More important were Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, known as Rosso Fiorentino (1495 1540), Francesco Primaticcio (1504 70), who long outlived Francis, and Sebastiano Serlio (1475 1554).

Rosso and Primaticcio, who arrived in the early 1530s, were the first two Italian artists of any stature who did a substantial amount of work in France. The most important evidence of their work is found at the Palace of Fontainebleau, where Francis I had been carrying out a remodeling project since 1528. Here the two Italian artists worked out a novel scheme of decoration, combining painting with stucco sculpture in full relief. Recurrent motifs include the use of fruit, flowers, and the female nude. The effect is rich and elaborate. Instead of being subordinate to the architectural framework, the decoration tends to overshadow and obscure it. The work of the "School of Fontainebleau" had great influence throughout Europe.

After the death of Rosso in 1540, Primaticcio continued to work in the palace of Fontainebleau. Here he evolved a style of figure drawing that was to become standard in France and to be adopted in other countries: slim, elongated figures, often nudes, in easy and elegant poses. In his later years, Primaticcio did some architectural work, and among other projects, designed the tomb of Henry II.

A younger Italian artist, Niccol dell' Abbate (c.1512 71), collaborated with Primaticcio in the Fontainebleau decorations, adding a special skill in illusionism, which he had learned in Italy. He also had a great importance in the field of landscape painting. The panoramic landscape, with its fantastic character, its distant views, its dreamlike mood, influenced by both Italian and Flemish models, was introduced into France by him.

Unlike painting, which had declined in France by the beginning of the sixteenth century, architecture had continued to flourish. Though there was French interest in Italian architecture before the invasions, it was these invasions that provided the decisive stimulus. This came especially through the French occupation of Milan. Milanese architecture emphasized very elaborate decoration, in contrast to the more severe style of Florence. This highly decorative style appealed to the French, and was copied by them. The Certosa of Pavia, which was located in Milanese territory not far from the city of Milan, was the building most admired by the French. There were finer examples of Renaissance architecture being built in Milan, especially the works of the great Bramante, but they were ignored by the French.

This lack of appreciation points to the weakness of much of the work done in France under Italian influence: The artists failed to appreciate the real importance of Italian art and copied only its superficial qualities. In some cases, the Italian artists who worked in France were inferior talents who, nevertheless, had great influence. One of these was Serlio, whom Francis I brought from Italy in 1540 or 1541. A great patron of architecture, Francis built many of the magnificent castles, which are still seen. By the time Serlio arrived, the French could appreciate the real achievements of the Italian Renaissance.

Deposition by Germain Pilon Alinari/Art Resource

Thus there was a great age of French architecture from about 1540, in which the Italian elements were assimilated, and a truly French architecture was produced. In this development, Serlio had an influence out of proportion to his ability, which was not outstanding in comparison to either the best Italian or the best French architects of the time.

Serlio's influence in France came through the buildings he planned or built he built only two and especially through his architectural treatise. However, he lacked the ability to create a style, and what other architects got from his book were individual elements, rather than a coherent whole. Still, he was an important source of Italian ideas in France.

There were two French architects working in the middle of the sixteenth century who were men of genius, Pierre Lescot (c.1515 78) and Philibert de l'Orme (d.1570). Lescot is best known for his work in rebuilding the square court (Cour Carre) of the Louvre, a great royal palace in Paris. He began this late in the reign of Francis I. Lescot's work here was classical but non-Italian; it had more decoration and greater variety than the best Italian work of the time. Thus he created a style that is at once French and classical.

Philibert de l'Orme, the greatest French architect of the period, studied in Rome from 1533 to 1536. A few years after his return to France, he came to the attention of the dauphin and Diane de Poitiers, the dauphin's mistress. When the dauphin became King Henry II in 1547, de l'Orme received the post of superintendent of buildings. After Henry's death in 1559, he lost his position and apparently suffered some mistreatment, having caused great offense by his arrogance during his time of power. Later he was restored to favor by Catherine de' Medici, who gave him important commissions. He also wrote two books on architectural subjects.

His attitude toward both the classical and Italian styles was conditioned by his strong French patriotism. He was opposed to those who followed blindly either of those models; he believed in being guided by reason, practical experience, and a sense of the appropriate.

At the same time, de l'Orme understood classical architecture and knew how to adapt it to his use without sacrificing his own individuality. The result is an architecture that can be called classical without being a mere copy, and that is still French. He also was able to give to his work a monumental character previously unattained in France in this period.

The architects often worked in close collaboration with the sculptors. In the field of sculpture, Italian influence appeared in the person of Benvenuto Cellini, who worked in France from 1540 to 1545. Among the artists he influenced was the great French sculptor, Jean Goujon (16th century). Though he probably studied classical art in Italy and used Italian ideas in his work, he evolved a distinctive style, which was followed widely in France. The exquisite grace of his figures is illustrated by the reliefs of nymphs shown on page 441.

The greatest sculptor of the later years of the century was Germain Pilon (c.1525 90). He was not influenced by Goujon, but in his earlier works he shows the influence of Primaticcio. As time went on, he developed a highly personal style. The Deposition, a bronze relief, (Illustration page 425) shows the flowing quality of his later style, as well as his use of naturalistic details, even harsh ones, to achieve emotional effect.

To turn briefly to the field of painting, we may note two masters of portraiture, the Clouets, father and son. Jean Clouet (dead by 1541) was actually not a native of France. He may have been born in Brussels, though it is not certain, and he never became a French citizen. From 1516 he is known to have worked in the service of the French crown. Though he was not exclusively a portrait painter, his portraits are notable for their keen observation of character, (Illustraton page 442) as in the portrait of Francis I.

In 1541, after his father's death, Franois Clouet (d. 1572) was appointed by Francis I to be his father's successor. To him we owe portraits of many of the members of the French court, including some of the kings.

Both Clouets show Italian influences, but these had been assimilated and subordinated to a native French tradition. So the Italian impact on French art in general, though it was not at first understood and for a while produced some clumsy imitations, was eventually digested and helped to form what was essentially a new, distinctly French style.


The political and religious situation of sixteenth-century Germany had an influence on art. The political disunity and weakness of the empire meant that there was no single artistic center with as deep an influence as the royal court in France though the emperors generally had artistic interests and were active patrons. Thus there were a number of places where important work was being done, with local variations in style and tradition.

The religious troubles of the Reformation also discouraged artistic enterprise. Artists, like other people, sometimes had to change their place of residence to escape persecution. There were fewer patrons, and those who were still commissioning works of art turned to smaller pieces and away from large and monumental works.

In spite of such handicaps, much work was done, and some important artists were produced in sixteenth-century Germany. Three of the greatest may be discussed here: Cranach, "Grnewald," and Drer, all of them born within a few years of one another.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 1553) was court painter at Wittenberg from 1505 to the end of his life. To him we owe perhaps the best portraits of Martin Luther, one of which is reproduced here. (Illustration page 443) His many portraits show penetrating insight into the subjects' thoughts and emotions. He is also remarkable for his feeling for nature: his keen and loving observation of natural detail, his deep emotional response to the grandeur and beauty of sky and trees. Some of his portraits are set in the open air, and in these he matches the natural setting to the mood and temperament of the sitter.

Mathis Gothart-Neithart known as "Grnewald" (c.1480 1528) worked for a while in the service of Albrecht of Brandenburg, archbishop of Mainz, who has been discussed in connection with Luther. However, the artist eventually adopted Lutheran views, and may have been involved in the Peasants' War on the side of the peasants. In addition to painting, he was employed during his career on various projects that required engineering skill; he knew something about medicine as well.

Grnewald is one of the greatest of German artists; his genius finds expression in the depiction of intense emotion, especially painful emotion. This is shown in his best-known work, the paintings on the altarpiece for a chapel in a monastery at Isenheim. The Crucifixion (See next page) that he painted here does not spare the beholder. Grnewald relentlessly brings out all the marks of terrible suffering and agony, induced by the cruelty and torture of the executioners. The faithful figures at the foot of the cross express unbearable grief. There are few if any great paintings that convey so vividly a sense of horror and pain. The painting is Gothic rather than Renaissance in composition and structure.

Crucifixion, Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grnewald Bulloz

Other works of Grnewald convey the same sense of suffering and grief, for example, a painting of the mocking of Christ. He often manages to convey an unearthly, supernatural atmosphere, in keeping with the fevered, overwrought emotional atmosphere that can be found in early sixteenth-century Germany. Though some of his paintings show the influence of Italian Renaissance works, Grnewald remained strongly medieval in outlook and technique.

The sense of balance and measure, the Renaissance concept of human dignity that is lacking in Grnewald, can be found in the work of Albrecht Drer (1471 1528), the greatest of German artists. He is associated primarily with the city of Nuremberg, one of the leading cultural and intellectual centers of Germany. The famous Nuremberg patrician, civic leader, and humanist, Willibald Pirckheimer, was a close friend of Drer. The artist has left two portraits of him, executed at different times.

Italy was very important in Drer's development and in the history of north European art in general. Before Drer's first Italian trip, which took place in 1494 95, the art of the Renaissance in Italy had had little effect in the North. "Drer's first trip to Italy, brief though it was, may be called the beginning of the Renaissance in the Northern Countries."16 Drer came back from Italy full of desire for German artists to participate in the "regrowth" of the arts that had been brought about by the Italians. Here is another clear witness to the fact that many of the leading men of the period were imbued with the idea that a rebirth, revival, or renewal was going on in their own day.

Drer went to Italy again from 1505 until the beginning of 1507, saw the superior social position and learning of Italian artists compared to Germans, and began to acquire for himself the new humanistic learning. Because he was a scholar as well as an artist, he was patronized from 1512 onward by the emperor Maximilian I. (Illustration page 444) He was also a scientist, with an all-inclusive interest in nature. In addition to his artistic work, he wrote books on geometry, fortifications, and human proportions.

Drer was able to capture the authentic classical spirit in his art, even though he had little contact with the original works, but had to approach them through Italian prints and drawings. Under these conditions, Erwin Panofsky thinks this achievement "almost a miracle."17

The self-conscious individualism of the Renaissance, together with its conception of human nobility and dignity, can be seen in Drer's self-portraits. No previous artist had used himself so frequently as the subject of his works. Furthermore, Drer's portraits of himself are not found simply in group paintings, as was often the case with other Renaissance artists who used this device as a sort of signature, but were also independent studies. These self-portraits correspond in their own special field to Montaigne's intense and prolonged interest in exploring himself.

The most remarkable of these self-portraits, one which has often been found shocking, was painted in 1500. (Illustration page 445) It represents Drer himself in such a way that it also appears to be a picture of Jesus. This has seemed blasphemous to many viewers, and yet there was no irreverence in Drer. On the contrary, his life and work show him to have been a deeply religious man. Panofsky's solution to this mystery is, briefly, that such identification was less strange at that time than it would be now, and also that for Drer the work demonstrates humility rather than vainglory. It indicates that the artist must humbly strive for the divine creative gift.18

Drer's numerous other portraits are remarkable for technical skill and penetrating observation. He was also a master of landscape, and in keeping with his scientific character, a keen and loving portrayer of animals. Drer was not only a painter, but also an engraver and a designer of woodcuts. His reputation was, in fact, greater for his work in these fields than for his paintings. Among his best works in woodcuts were several series he did illustrating the Apocalypse and the Passion.

Among Drer's numerous engravings, he produced in 1513 and 1514 the three which are the most famous: Knight, Death, and the Devil; St. Jerome in His Study; and Melencolia I. (Illustration page 446) These three represent respectively three ways of life: the moral, theological, and intellectual. All are of very great importance, but in the brief space we have, we shall choose the Melencolia for discussion. Melancholy is represented by a large winged female figure sitting disconsolately on the ground, surrounded by the instruments and symbols of the arts, both liberal and mechanical. She seems to express the futility and hopelessness of human knowledge, especially theoretical knowledge divorced from practice. She may also symbolize the artist's own mental state a longing for a perfection of knowledge which he knows he can never attain.

A critical change in Drer's life, which strongly affected his art, was his conversion in 1519 to Lutheranism. Thereafter he concentrated chiefly on religious subjects, and adopted a more austere style, which conveyed a deeper emotional expression.

Another important German artist was Hans Holbein the Younger, but so much of his work was done in England that we can discuss him in connection with that country.


A number of foreign artists, many of them from the Low Countries, were active in England during the sixteenth century. The greatest of them was the German Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 1543). Holbein, born in Augsburg, came from a family of painters, including his father, the elder Hans, his uncle Sigismund, and his brother, Ambrosius. While still in his teens, he was working in Basel, where he became acquainted with Erasmus. From these years came his delightful illustrations to The Praise of Folly. At this early date he was already painting portraits, a field in which he was to prove one of the greatest geniuses. He painted three portraits of Erasmus by 1523; the one reproduced here (Illustration page 447) perhaps brings out better than any other the character and personality of the great humanist and scholar. He also worked for publishers, producing woodcuts to be used in their books. It is likely that he made an Italian journey.

In 1526 he went to England, with letters of introduction from Erasmus to William Warham, the archbishop of Canterbury, and to Sir Thomas More. This voyage to England lasted eighteen months, after which he returned to Basel. The religious disorders there, which culminated in the triumph of the Reformation in 1529, made his work difficult. He, therefore, left Basel for good in 1532, and spent the rest of his life in England. He left behind abandoned his wife and children.

In England Holbein produced the remarkable series of drawings and paintings that bring the great figures of the reign of Henry VIII vividly before us. Henry VIII patronized him from 1536. Holbein's portraits are noteworthy, among other things, for their objectivity and detachment; he does not identify with his subjects, nor does he conceal their weaknesses.

Among native artists may be mentioned Nicholas Hilliard (1547 1619), who was a goldsmith and painter of miniatures. He was the favorite painter of Queen Elizabeth, and by royal patent received a monopoly on painting portraits of the queen.

Christ Carrying the Cross by Hieronymus Bosch Bulloz

It was architecture rather than painting or sculpture that most engaged the interests of the English, especially the upper classes. Many of the noble and wealthy had a passion for building, and some of their great houses still stand. In the reign of Henry VIII, one of the various factors that led to the downfall of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, involved his grandiose building plans. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, built more than one great house. The redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, countess of Shrewsbury, was deeply interested in building. Hardwick Hall, designed for her by Robert Smythson in the 1590s, is an imposing structure. Like other great English houses of the period, it is still somewhat medieval in appearance. Although English builders were familiar with the writings of Continental theorists on architecture, English building was far behind the times compared to the most advanced work on the Continent.


The great medieval artistic tradition of the Low Countries was continued in the Renaissance. Of the numerous important artists who worked there, two can be mentioned here: They are Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, both of whom retained strong medieval elements in their work.

Bosch (c.1450 1516), a Dutchman, is one of the most fascinating and puzzling of painters, and it is impossible to decipher all the meanings in his works. Some of his paintings are fairly straightforward, and seem to reveal a distinctly pessimistic view of human nature. This is true of his many works dealing with aspects of the Passion, such as the Crowning with Thorns, the Mocking of Christ, or Christ Carrying the Cross. (Illustration page 431) In this work, we can see how the gentle, suffering face of the Savior, although placed in the center of the composition, is more or less overshadowed by the hideous, grotesque faces of his persecutors.

Bosch had a wild and lurid imagination, which in some of his works expresses itself in all sorts of fanciful monsters and apparitions. Devils abound, as do visions of Hell, with its ghastly lurid atmosphere illuminated by flames. There seems to be a satirical and moralistic strain in Bosch, even though his exact meaning is sometimes far from clear. He is untouched by many of the characteristics of the Italian Quattrocento, such as mathematical perspective and the careful study and representation of the human body. In his works, the human figures are flat and sketchily outlined, and perspective is ignored, although Bosch is important as a landscape painter. He departs even from the native Netherlandish tradition in not being skillful at portraiture or perhaps merely uninterested in it. On the other hand, he is often much concerned with precision of detail. Thus he is essentially a medieval artist in many ways, but there is no denying his power and artistic greatness. One of his admirers was King Philip II of Spain, an avid collector of Bosch's works.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525 69) was referred to by some critics as a second Bosch, because many of his works do reflect Bosch's influence, but this description of him would be very incomplete. Equally misleading is the view that sees him largely as a painter of amusing scenes from peasant life. He is now regarded as one of the greatest artistic geniuses of his age, and a profoundly serious artist. Though his career was unfortunately short, he left a substantial body of paintings and drawings.

Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Though there was a tradition that he was of peasant origin, his birthplace is not known; it may have been the city of Breda. He was in Italy in 1552 and 1553. He worked for some years in Antwerp, the artistic capital of the Low Countries, and later moved to Brussels. He was in touch with a circle of Erasmian humanists who were affected by some of the advanced religious thought of the time; we should recall that the Netherlands had been the birthplace of some radical thought on religious matters. Bruegel was deeply concerned with human vice and follies, and expressed this concern in his works. Thus he was no simple peasant, but a highly sophisticated and learned man with a like-minded group of friends, and possessed of a deep moral concern. To these qualities he added great artistic power and a superb technique.

Some of his paintings are filled with figures, as the Netherlandish Proverbs, above, in which the people are acting out about a hundred current proverbs. Here Bruegel has a great opportunity to comment on human wickedness and foolishness, as did Sebastian Brant and Erasmus in their writings. In this painting, a woman is putting a blue hood over her husband, which means that she is making him a cuckold. A man is filling the well after the calf has been drowned, as we would speak of locking the barn door after the horse is stolen. A man bites a pillar, which shows that he is a hypocrite, and so on.

Throughout all his work was the same sharp observation and criticism of human weakness. His two paintings of the building of the Tower of Babel show the folly and futility of pride. The Wedding Dance and The Wedding Banquet, far from being merely representations of merrymaking among the peasants, show the effects of lust and gluttony respectively. In his great painting of The Parable of the Blind we see all men as lost, hopeless and without good leadership.

The inexhaustible interest in Bruegel's works is partly due to the richness and precision of his detail; there is always something more to see. He was also a master of landscape and one of the great figures in the development of that field of painting. He was not a portraitist, but this was not his intent. The people in his paintings often have round, blank, heavy faces, expressionless, mindless, sometimes malicious; they are types rather than individuals, and their purpose is to convey a message.


Patronage of artists and collections of works of art was a characteristic of the Hapsburgs, and of none more so than Philip II. In the midst of the arduous labors of governing his vast dominions, he found time to build an important library, supervise the construction of the great palace of the Escorial, collect works of art, and patronize artists. We have mentioned his interest in buying the works of Bosch. He continued the patronage of Titian, which had been begun by his father, Charles V. Foreign influences, so carefully barred from the country in other fields, entered freely in the world of art, especially from Italy and Flanders. Strictly speaking, of course, these influences could not be considered altogether foreign since Italy was largely dominated by Spain in the time of Philip, and the Low Countries were a part of his dominions. Even after the revolt of the Netherlands, Flanders remained under Spanish rule.

And yet the most important Spanish artist of the period was a Greek, born on the island of Crete. Domenikos Theotokopoulos is, in fact, generally known as El Greco (1541 1614). In spite of his Greek origin and the fact that he lived and worked in Venice and Rome until he was about thirty-six, he seems to us the most Spanish of painters. He received a couple of commissions from Philip II, but the king rejected one of his paintings because it failed to please him.

One can see why. To an eye unaccustomed to his work, El Greco's art must have seemed strange. He deliberately distorts and elongates his figures, sets them often in a lurid, unearthly atmosphere, uses an agitated, flickering light, ignores the rules of perspective, and heightens the effect by areas of brilliant color. His painting is usually religious, and its effect is to express, in visions that seem to disregard the barrier between the natural and supernatural, a mystical intensity that is a fitting expression of the Spain of the Counter Reformation. (Illustration Burial of Count Orgaz page 448) Though he spent his last years in poverty and left great debts behind him, he has been granted the posthumous recognition that is accorded to great artists who dared to depart from the accepted usages of their age.


In a book of this sort, it is possible to mention only a few of the artists and works of art of the period. This inevitable and unfortunate oversimplification must not be allowed to obscure the fact that the artistic production of Northern Europe in the sixteenth century was vast, rich, and complex. Though the changes and upheavals of the age may have produced conditions inimical to artistic development, they could not quench it.

Readers must also be careful not to try to reduce so vast a subject to a few easy generalizations. It is convenient to classify art and artists according to schools and trends, but these are, after all, nothing more than conveniences. An artist or a group of artists, a work of art or a group of works, may be called medieval, Early Renaissance, High Renaissance, Mannerist, and so forth; but each artist, each picture or statue or building is unique. One great work for example, a painting by Bruegel or an etching by Drer can provide material for almost endless study and reflection. The study or appreciation of the work of one of the great masters can occupy a lifetime. Madonna, Portal of the Chartruse de Champol

by Claus Sluter and Shop

Mystic Adoration the Lamb, Ghent Altarpiece

by Hubert(?) and Jan van Eyck

Arnolfini Wedding Portrait

by Jan van Eyck

Escorial Deposition

by Rogier van der Weyden

Charles the Bold

by Rogier van der Weyden

Nymphs, Fontaine des Innocents

by Jean Goujon

Francis I

by Jean Clouet

Martin Luther

by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Emperor Maximilian I

by Albrecht Dürer

Self-Portrait (1500)

by Albrecht Dürer

Melencolia I

by Albrecht Dürer

Erasmus 1523

by Hans Holbein the Younger

Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco