The French word “Renaissance” or “revival” was used to describe the time period from the 15th century to the middle of the 16th century. Italy believed this period resembled a break from the past and an opportunity to reinvent their civilization in order to be separate from classical Greece and Rome. The rebirth of values in Northern Europe emerged more slowly than they did in Italy. Trade and commerce brought the ideas of Italy to the north, where eventually they influenced artistic traditions. Trade had begun to increase, which helped to bring prosperity to an influential merchant class.
Both Italy and Northern Renaissance used the Guild system. The Guilds were the best way a man could learn a craft, whether it was a painting, or sculpture or another trade. The training in the artist’s specialty was long as well as difficult and it consisted of several steps. Once the artist had completed their “masterpiece,” it then had to gain acceptance into a Guild. Then, the guild continued to keep track on the standards and practices among the members. One significant similarity between Italy and the North was that each had an artistic “center” during the 15th century. Artists in Italy looked to the Republic of Florence for their inspiration. In the North, the artistic center was Flanders, which was part of the Duchy of Burgundy. There was the thriving commercial city, Bruges, which like Florence made its money from banking and wool (Esaak, 2010).
The city of Florence was ruled by the Medici family. The Medici’s were responsible for bringing wealth to Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici had the first public library since the ancient times and had it stocked with manuscripts, as well as Greek and Roman books. Also, Cosimo was responsible for employing major Italian artists, architects, writers and philosophers. This helped to turn Florence into a cultural center for Italy.
Besides the Italy Renaissance being characterized by an interest in art, literature, and law, there was also an expressed interest in the individual person. One true example of this is Masaccio’s Trinity with the Virgin, St. John, Evangelist, and Donors resembles several characteristics of the Italian Renaissance. Also, this portrayal of the life-size donors shows new concern for the individual. Italian artists, writer, and philosophers were inspired to explore classical antiquity. These artists believed that Humanism led humans to be more dignified and worthy (Benton and DiYanni, 2008).
The Northern Renaissance held onto the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. This Renaissance also had fewer centers of the free commerce than Italy. The art that was created during this time was mainly in France, the Netherlands and Germany. Due to the fact that these places are north of Italy, the word “Northern” had been used.
Northern Europe had fewer centers of free commerce than Italy. Italy had numerous Duchies and Republics. This gave a rise to a wealthy merchant class that spent a decent amount of funds on art; however, in the North this was not the case. In Burgundy, the Dukes were great patrons of the arts; however, the art that they had supported was different from their Italian counterparts. The interests of the Dukes were the illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, and furnishings. In Italy, the patrons were more interested on paintings, sculptures, and architecture. Northern Renaissance artists had a different approach to art than Italy. Where the Italian artists were subject to consider the specific scientific principles behind their creation, the northern artists were more focused on the look of their art. Color was considered to be more important than any other form (Esaak, 2010).
According to Benton and DiYanni (2008), oil paintings had been used for centuries to paint stone and metal, but it was not used on wood panels until the 15th century. The Northern Renaissance artist that was credited with this new technique was Jan van Eyck. One example of his work is the Ghent Altarpiece, which van Eyck painted with his brother, Hubert van Eyck. This painting consists of twenty-six panels. When it is shut, it portrays the Annunciation across four of the panels created to form one room. When the panels are opened, the altarpiece focuses on salvation and redemption of humans.
The cultural influences between Italy and Northern Europe had a great impact on the way the art was developed. The Italian Renaissance helped to create some of the best known artwork today, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Famous artwork like this is still influential today and it is still taught and talked about today.
Benton, J. R., & DiYanni, R. (2008). Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Esaak, S. (2010). The Renaissance in Northern Europe- Art History 101 Basics. Retrieved from http://arthistory.about.com/cs/arthistory10one.