15Th-Century Europe Flanders France Germany Italy: Florence the Princely Courtsimages Courtesy

15Th-Century Europe Flanders France Germany Italy: Florence the Princely Courtsimages Courtesy

15th-Century Europe
Flanders :: France :: Germany :: Italy: Florence :: The Princely CourtsImages courtesy of
In the 15th century, Flanders (more or less equivalent to modern Belgium, Holland, and parts of northern France) was part of the Duchy of Burgundy, a region in what is today east-central France. Some Flemish sculpture shows an intense observation of natural appearances. In painting, the new oil technique was used to enhance the naturalistic representation of figures and objects with meticulous detail. In both sculpture and painting, textures are skillfully and minutely differentiated. Figures are lifelike and usually shown wearing heavy draperies with voluminous folds. Religious events are often shown in contemporary 15th-century settings where everyday objects may also function as religious symbols. Portraiture emerges as an independent genre. Medieval ideas and conventions, however, persist in the treatment of space, scale, and figure proportions, and in the visionary quality of such paintings as the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.
In the 14th century, the Duchy of Burgundy acquired through marriage counties in the Netherlands that included Bruges and other rich industrial, commercial, and banking cities, such as Ghent, Louvain, and Ypres. Bruges became the financial clearinghouse for all of northern Europe. After 1477, the southern Burgundian lands were absorbed by France, and the Netherlands, through marriage, became part of the Holy Roman Empire under Maximilian of Hapsburg.
Chartreuse de Champol:
Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, endowed the Chartreuse de Champmol near Dijon.
The fountain of life:
For the cloister of the Chartreuse de Champmol, Claus Sluter designed a large sculptural fountain located in a well. Six realistically carved and painted statues of prophets surround a base that once supported a Crucifixion group. The structure served as a symbolic fountain of life.
8-1: CLAUS SLUTER, Well of Moses, Chartreuse de Champmol, Dijon, France, 1395-1406. Limestone with traces of paint, figures approx. 6' high.

  1. Well of Moses
  2. Well of Moses
  3. Well of Moses
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  5. Well of Moses

Flemish altarpieces:
Public altarpieces were often in the form of polyptychs, with hinged side panels that could be opened to reveal the main panel on Sundays and feast days, and closed at other times.
Redemption and salvation:
Two of the exterior panels of Jan van Eyck's triptych of the Ghent Altarpiece in the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Ghent depict the donors next to two panels of painted illusionistic stone sculptures of Ghent's patron saints, with an Annunciation scene above. When opened, in the upper register sit God the Father, the Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist, with, to either side, a choir of angels and an angel playing an organ. Adam and Eve appear in the far panels. In the central panel in the lower register, saints converge in a landscape on an altar of the Lamb and a fountain of life. The painting is colorful and very detailed.
8-2: JAN VAN EYCK, Ghent Altarpiece (closed), Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, completed 1432. Oil on wood, approx. 11' 6" x 7' 6".

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8-3: JAN VAN EYCK, Ghent Altarpiece (open), Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, completed 1432. Oil on wood, approx. 11' 6" x 15'.

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Oil paints and glazes:
The exactitude found in the work of van Eyck and others was facilitated by the use of oil paint that allowed painters to build up their pictures by superimposing translucent paint layers (glazes) on a layer of underpainting. Flemish painting is characterized by deep, intense tonalities; the illusion of glowing light; and hard enamel-like surfaces.
The drama of Christ's death:
Rogier van der Weyden's fluid and dynamic compositions stress human action and drama. His moving Deposition shows the figures and action compressed onto a shallow stage. The group of figures is unified by a series of lateral undulating movements and by their shared anguish.
8-4: ROGIER VAN DER WEYDEN, Deposition, from Notre-Dame hors-les-murs, Louvain, Belgium, ca. 1435. Oil on wood, approx. 7' 3" x 8' 7". Museo del Prado, Madrid.

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Private Devotional Imagery
Individuals demonstrated piety by commissioning artworks for private devotional use in the home. Personal devotion was advocated by popular reform movements and served to link religious and secular concerns. Religious scenes in paintings were often presented as if taking place in the familiar setting of a Flemish house.
The symbolic and the secular:
The Mérode Altarpiece was commissioned for private use. The central panel shows the Annunciation taking place in a well-kept, middle-class Flemish home. Familiar accessories, furniture, and utensils, however, also function as religious symbols.
8-5: MASTER OF FLÉMALLE (ROBERT CAMPIN), Mérode Altarpiece (open), The Annunciation (center panel), ca. 1425-1428. Oil on wood, center panel approx. 2' 1" x 2' 1". Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (The Cloisters Collection, 1956).

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Marriage portraits:
In Jan van Eyck's skillfully painted double portrait, Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride, the couple stand in a Flemish bedchamber in which almost every object also serves a symbolic function. The painting may have served as a record of their marriage.
8-6: JAN VAN EYCK, Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride, 1434. Oil on wood, approx. 2' 8" x 1' 11 1/2". National Gallery, London.

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Enigmatic Painter
Hieronymus Bosch's so-called Garden of Earthly Delights is difficult to interpret. The triptych perhaps served as a warning to viewers of the fate awaiting decadent and immoral sinners. 8-7: HIERONYMUS BOSCH, Garden of Earthly Delights. Creation of Eve (left wing), Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel), Hell (right wing), 1505-1510. Oil on wood, center panel 7' 2 5/8" x 6' 4 3/4". Museo del Prado, Madrid.

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In France, the Hundred Years' War decimated economic enterprise and prevented political stability. Despite this instability, French artists joined the retinues of the wealthiest nobility the dukes of Berry, Bourbon, and Nemours and sometimes the royal court where they could continue to develop their art.
Very sumptuous hours:
The illuminations by Jean Pucelle in the Belleville Breviary occupy the entire page. The borders include decorative tendrils, ivy , floral ornaments, insects, small animals, and grotesques.
An Opulent Prayer Book: In the Trés RichesHeures du Duc de Berry, the Limbourg Brothers include calendar pictures with the 12 months represented in terms of the associated seasonal tasks. In a lunette above each picture is the chariot of the sun shown passing through the 12 months and zodiac signs. The inclusion of everyday genre scenes reflects the increasing integration of religious and secular concerns in both art and life at the time.
8-8: LIMBOURG BROTHERS (POL, HENNEQUIN, HERMAN), October, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1413-1416. Tempera (need to check with owning institution), and ink on vellum, approx. 8 1/2" x 5 1/2". Musée Condé, Chantilly.

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Portraying the pious:
Jean Fouquet painted the portrait of Étienne Chevalier with his patron saint, Saint Stephen, in a format known as a donor portrait. The portrait of the kneeling donor is evidence of devotion. 8-9: JEAN FOUQUET, Étienne Chevalier and Saint Stephen, left wing of Melun Diptych, ca. 1450. Oil on wood, 3' ½" x 2' 9 1/2". Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Virgin and Child, right wing of Melun Diptych, ca. 1451. Oil on wood, 3' 1 1/4" x 2' 9 1/2". Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium.

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The lack of a strong centralized power in the holy roman empire led to provincial artistic styles. In the absence of a court culture, artworks were commissioned by the middle class, wealthy merchants, and the clergy. German art in the 15th century comprises several provincial artistic styles that rely largely on established medieval pictorial conventions. Large carved wooden altarpieces (retables) express the intense piety and emotionalism of late gothic culture. German printmakers show great technical skill in the production of woodcuts and engravings.
Ornate wooden retables:
In the center panel of the Creglingen Altarpiece, Tilman Riemenschneider carved intricate Gothic forms set in a restless design. The troubled facial expressions of the figures and their floating and flowing draperies create a sense of anxious spirituality.
8-10: TILMAN RIEMENSCHNEIDER, The Assumption of the Virgin, center panel of the Creglingen Altarpiece, parish church, Creglingen, Germany, ca. 1495-1499. Carved lindenwood, 6' 1" wide.

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Woodblock printing:
Michel Wolgemut used woodblock prints to illustrate the so-called Nuremberg Chronicle.
Drawing on metal:
In his engraving of Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, Martin Schongauer shows considerable skill and subtlety in distinguishing tonal values and textures.
8-11: MARTIN SCHONGAUER, Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, ca. 1480-1490. Engraving, approx. 1' 1" x 11". Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Rogers Fund, 1920).

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A new artistic culture emerged and expanded in Italy in the 15th century - the Renaissance. The spread of humanism and the growing interest in classical antiquity contributed significantly to the remarkable growth and expansion of artistic culture in 15th-century Italy. Also important were political and economic changes that contributed to the rise of a new class of wealthy patrons who fostered art and learning on a lavish scale.
Shifting power relations among the numerous Italian city-states fostered the rise of princely courts and control of cities by despots. Princely courts emerged as cultural and artistic centers. Their patronage contributed to the formation and character of Renaissance art. Among the best known high-level patrons of this time was the Medici family, which acquired its vast fortune from banking.
Sculpture and civic pride:
The republic of Florentine cultivated civic pride and responsibility in its citizens, which resulted in projects to embellish the city's buildings. The competitive and public nature of these projects, which were usually sponsored by civic or lay-religious organizations, promoted innovation and served to signal official approval of the new, classically inspired style. The emulation of antique models, however, was also supplemented by a growing interest in the anatomical structure of the human body (though often classically idealized) and the desire to show a naturalistic illusion of space (which resulted in the development of linear perspective). Human life and experience was acutely observed by artists such as the sculptor Donatello, who sought to convey through gesture, pose, and facial expression the personality and inner psychological condition of his figures.
Ghiberti and Brunelleschi:
Filippo Brunelleschi's competition panel shows a sturdy and vigorous interpretation of the Sacrifice of Isaac. Lorenzo Ghiberti's competition panel emphasizes grace and smoothness. 8-12: FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI, Sacrifice of Isaac, competition panel for east doors, baptistery of Florence Cathedral, Florence, Italy, 1401-1402. Gilded bronze relief, 1' 9" x 1' 5". Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

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8-13: LORENZO GHIBERTI, Sacrifice of Isaac, competition panel for east doors, baptistery of Florence Cathedral, Florence, Italy, 1401-1402. Gilded bronze relief, 1' 9" x 1' 5". Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

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The "Gates of Paradise":
Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" are comprised of ten gilded bronze relief panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament. In Isaac and His Sons, Ghiberti creates the illusion of space using perspective and sculptural means. Ghiberti also persists in using the medieval narrative method of presenting several episodes within a single frame.
8-14: LORENZO GHIBERTI, east doors ("Gates of Paradise"), baptistery, Florence Cathedral, Florence, Italy, 1425-1452. Gilded bronze relief, approx. 17' high. Modern copy, ca. 1980. Original panels in Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence.

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Renaissance perspective and science:
The early 15th-century artists developed the methods of linear and atmospheric perspective to give their works a greater and more mathematically accurate sense of depth.
Donatello and Or San Michele:
A sense of motion is conveyed in Donatello's Saint Mark by the weight-shifted stance of the figure. The saint's drapery also falls naturally and implies a body underneath.
8-15: DONATELLO, Saint Mark, Or San Michele, Florence, Italy, 1411-1413. Marble, approx. 7' 9" high. Modern copy in exterior niche. Original sculpture in museum on second floor of Or San Michele.

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Masaccio's revolution:
Masaccio's fresco of the Tribute Money in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence shows psychologically and physically credible figures illuminated by a light coming from a specific source outside the picture. The light models the figures to produce an illusion of deep sculptural relief. The main group of figures stand solidly in a semi-circle in the foreground of a spacious landscape. Masaccio also employs linear perspective and aerial perspective to enhance the sense of space and distance.
8-16: MASACCIO, Tribute Money, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy, ca. 1427. Fresco, 8' 1" x 19' 7".

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Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Masaccio's Holy Trinity fresco in Santa Maria Novella embodies two principal Renaissance interests: realism based on observation, and perspective.
8-17: MASACCIO, Holy Trinity, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, ca. 1428. Fresco, 21' x 10' 5".

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Brunelleschi, architecht:
The architect Filippo Brunelleschi adopted a classically inspired rational approach to architecture that employed both classical architectural forms (e.g., round arches, columns) and a system of design based on carefully proportioned shapes (e.g., the square, circle) or units fitted together in strict but simple ratios. Also noteworthy is the differentiation in height and surface treatment from one story to the next and the classically inspired open colonnaded court of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.
Filippo Brunelleschi studied the ancient monuments in Rome. A crowning achievement:
Brunelleschi's double-shelled dome for Florence Cathedral is original in section and designed around a skeleton of twenty-four ribs, of which eight are visible on the exterior. The structure is anchored at the top with a heavy lantern.
8-18: FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI, dome of Florence Cathedral (view from the south), Florence, Italy, 1420-1436.

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Santo Spirito and modular design:
Brunelleschi's modular-based design for Santo Spirito has aisles, subdivided into small squares covered by shallow saucer-shaped vaults, which run all the way around the flat-roofed central space. The scale of each architectural element in the interior is based on a unit that served as the building block for the dimensions of every aspect of building. The austerity of the decor enhances the restful and tranquil atmosphere.
8-19: FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI, interior of Santo Spirito (view facing northeast), Florence, Italy, begun ca. 1436.

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A palace fit for a Medici:
Michelozzo's design for the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi has heavy rustication on the ground floor, dressed stone on the upper levels, and a heavy cornice at the top. The open interior court has a round-arched colonnade.
8-20: MICHELOZZO DI BARTOLOMMEO, façade of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, Italy, begun 1445.

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8-21: MICHELOZZO DI BARTOLOMMEO, interior court of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, Italy, begun 1445.

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Of ratios and rationality:
Alberti's design for the façade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence follows a Romanesque model but organizes the elements according to a system of proportions that can be expressed in simple numerical ratios. The design also includes the use of scrolls to unite the broad lower part and the narrow upper part of the façade, and to screen the sloping roofs over the aisles. 8-22: LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI, west façade of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, ca. 1458-1470.

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The Medici as patrons:
The Medici family, who had acquired a huge fortune from banking, were lavish patrons of art and learning.
A classically inspired David:
Donatello's bronze statue David is the first freestanding nude statue since ancient times. The biblical David was a symbol of the independent Florentine republic. The figure stands in a relaxed classical contrapposto position. 8-23: DONATELLO, David, late 1420s - late 1450s. Bronze, 5' 2 1/4" high. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

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Battling nudes:
The engraving Battle of the Ten Nudes further demonstrates Pollaiuolo's interest in the realistic presentation of human figures in action. His lean and muscular figures appears écorché(as if without skin), with strongly accentuated delineations at the wrists, elbows, shoulders, and knees.
8-24: ANTONIO POLLAIUOLO, Battle of the Ten Nudes, ca. 1465. Engraving, approx. 1 3" x 1' 11". Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (bequest of Joseph Pulitzer, 1917).

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Visual poetry:
Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus is a lyrical and courtly image. The nude figure of Venus was derived from the ancient Venus statue of the Venus pudica type. 8-25: SANDRO BOTTICELLI, Birth of Venus, ca. 1482. Tempera on canvas, approx. 5' 8" x 9' 1". Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

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A cat on a horse:
Donatello's equestrian statue of Gattamelata rivals the grandeur of the mounted portraits of antiquity, such as that of Marcus Aurelius. The statue conveys an overwhelming impression of irresistible strength and unlimited power.
In Padua and Venice are notable examples of large, bronze, equestrian portrait statues. In a fresco portrait of Pope Sixtus IV, his nephews, and librarian, Platina -- a work which originally decorated a wall in the Vatican Library in Rome -- the figures are seen as if from below.
8-26: DONATELLO, Gattamelata (equestrian statue of Erasmo da Narni), Piazza delSanto, Padua, Italy, ca. 1445-1450. Bronze, approx. 11' x 13'.