Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

7: Renaissance in the North and Spain

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)


    There is certainly an argument to be made that the Renaissance in Northern Europe begins with the incredible paintings of Jan van Eyck in the early 1400s. There were not many writers documenting the creative events in Northern Europe at that time. Whereas in Italy, several writers were documenting the creative achievements of artists like Donatello, Brunelleschi, Fra Lippi, Botticelli, and others, in part because of their association with the Medici family.

    By 1500, the ideas and concepts of the Renaissance moved into many regions throughout Europe. We also have another factor that plays into the creation of artwork of religious subjects. We have the Reformation starting in Germany and spreading across Europe in the early 1500s, soon to be followed by the counter reformation of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation will move art away from religious images that support Roman Catholic concepts and beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church in response to the ever-growing Protestant movement will hold fast to its belief s and create images supporting the sacraments, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. Vast sums of money will be spent on paintings, sculpture, and architecture to help bolster Roman Catholic beliefs and to bring back the people to the church.

    clipboard_e938c41260a6d6f6f23253828a8866876.png clipboard_e92979926a1a6dfd94f76ad183a86ca61.png

    The Burial of Count Orgaz, Santo Tomè, Toledo Sapin El Greco 1586

    Domenikos Theotokopoulos was born on the island of Crete and was trained in Byzantine painting techniques. By the time he traveled to Italy and Spain he became known as El Greco (The Greek). His painting style, with mystical, distorted and elongated figures fits into Mannerism. The subjects were typical of Counter Reformation art emphasizing the Virgin Mary, saints, holy sacraments, and Roman Catholic beliefs.



    The Crucifiction and The Annunciation; Modonna and Child with Angels; The Resurrection Matthias Grünewald 1509/10-1515


    The Resurrection, Grünewald

    Grünewald paints a triptych showing the great suffering of Christ on the cross. The painting emphasizes the wounds inflicted on Christ’s skin as he was tortured prior to His crucifixion. With the panel closed during the week, the invalids suffering from St. Anthony’s Fire housed in the Isenheim hospital could see the incredible suffering Christ endured on the cross and relate this experience with their own painful and fatal skin and central nervous system disease. During Holy days and Sundays, the triptych is opened revealing the beauty, happiness, and ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ mission on earth, culminating in the supernatural and glorious rising of Jesus from the tomb.

    The Resurrection painting by Grünewald is a surreal masterpiece, both imaginative and powerful in its imagery.

    clipboard_e4db3029a880d68858927683498ad9013.png clipboard_ea22621fac3a5ebaf47935d614e8f4da1.png

    The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Albrecht Dürer 1498 Hare, Albrecht Dürer 1502


    Self Portrait, Dürer 1500


    Melencholia I, Dürer 1514


    The Four Apostles, Dürer 1523-1526

    Albrecht Dürer became the first European artist to be known worldwide through his many published artworks that were printed in Germany in the early 1500s. Dürer travelled to Rome and witnessed firsthand the great Renaissance paintings, sculpture, and architecture created by artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. Just as da Vinci studied human anatomy, science, and math, and was considered a polymath, Dürer also had an intense interest in the properties of the natural world, including birds, plants, and mammals. He, too, is considered the prototypical Renaissance man having many talents in various academic and artistic areas, such as graphic design, wood block and engraved printing, oil painting, and the study of science. During his career, he will paint religious subjects, secular subject matter and artwork related to literature enabling him to be both graphic designer and illustrator. He is considered, along with Da Vinci, one of the first scientific illustrators in history. He will complain that his paintings are undervalued, and that he makes his fortune through his printed artwork.


    Henry VIII, Hans Holbein the Younger 1540

    Hans Holbein the Younger, the son of a painter, grows up in Germany, travels to the Netherlands, and then on to England where he will receive many commissions. He becomes the major painter for the Tudor court. His ability to capture the character of his sitters is quite unique. A tremendous artist from this era, his works are both unique and important for its ability to document the major characters of this time and place. His portrait of Henry VIII shows an imposing king filling the canvas and looking out at the viewer with authority and power. Paintings such as this would hang on the wall behind the king as he received dignitaries and visitors. It was another way to express wealth, power, and control.


    A Young Man Among Roses, Nicholas Hilliard 1588

    Portrait miniatures were painted during the 1500s and were quite popular during this time. They were used in court life and carried a message of loyalty and power. Since they were small, they were portable and could be used to communicate information across Europe. Queen Elizabeth I was a major patron of Hilliard and much of his work followed the style he establishes when painting her image.


    Portrait of Elizabeth I, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger 1592

    Although there are many paintings of Elizabeth I, the painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger demonstrates the power of the queen over England. It is a propaganda painting representing a carefully choregraphed image of the queen. She stands over her kingdom as the ultimate power and as an individual who has devoted herself to the success of her country above her own personal desires and needs. Signs of power, including holding a glove in her left hand, are included in the iconography in the painting.


    The Meat Stall, Pieter Aertsen 1551

    Painting market scenes become popular during this time. What Aertsen paints here is interesting in that he paints a large still life along with a religious scene in the background. In this painting we see the Holy family distributing alms as we look through the meat stall into the distance.


    The Return of the Hunters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1568

    The Return of the Hunters, has connections with earlier medieval illumination paintings that depict the seasons. What we see is a rare glimpse into the lives of the people of this region after a significant snowstorm. The hunters are returning with rather meager success along with their hunting dogs, while women create a bonfire outside an establishment that has a bit of damage to its signage. We see women ice fishing on the frozen creek that ends in a frozen pond. In the distance is a another frozen pond where kids ice skate hand in hand and couples skate around as well. The town has a church and residential buildings covered in snow. Far off in the distance is another town with its church spire rising. The painting is the first large scale painting of this genre and has the typical elements of landscapes including a foreground, middle ground, and background.


    Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1568


    The Blind Leading the Blind, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1568

    Bruegel gives us a glimpse into the everyday lives of peasant in the painting Peasant Wedding. Apparently, he slipped into a wedding party disguised as a peasant and documented the wedding traditions allowing for authenticity in this painting. Humor and lightheartedness are apparent in his paintings as we catch the meaning and lesson in The Blind Leading the Blind.

    Bruegel’s son continues this tradition with his own version of a peasant wedding.

    7: Renaissance in the North and Spain is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?