Make A Playlist: Add a video to get started!
faq  |  playlists  |  log in  |
Make A Playlist: Add a video to get started!
Add to Playlist

The Northern Renaissance, Flemish Painting, and Jan van Eyck


The North featured the art of merchants and businessmen. Paintings were happy slice-of-life scenes, not preachy but feel-good and affordable. Masters like Jan van Eyck painted with rich symbolism and astonishing detail.

Complete Video Script

[104, Bruges] The Northern Renaissance wasn't a Renaissance in the literal or Italian sense — like the rebirth of classical culture in Florence. It was a cultural boom funded by an economic boom. While in the south it was art for kings, nobility, and the Church, here in the north it was more the art of merchants and businessmen.

[105, La Grand-Place, Brussels] Europe's North was humming with commercial hubs like Brussels. Its magnificent main square and towering city hall proclaimed the wealth of the new merchant class. These ornate buildings were the headquarters for the different professional guilds — bakers, brewers, tanners, and so on.

[106] The nearby city of Bruges was another economic and cultural powerhouse. Its soaring bell tower announced that it was a self-ruling city of the prosperous region of Flanders. (That's the Dutch — or Flemish-speaking northern half of Belgium.) This church — also with a skyscraping tower of bricks, the most practical local building material — was filled with cultural treasures, from its powerful pipe organ to its elaborate tombs.

[107, Groeninge Museum, Bruges] The appetite of the market shaped the art. Here in the north, where the patrons were mostly merchants, they didn't want to be preached at. They wanted art that celebrated their values and their hard work…art that was feel-good and affordable.

[108] It was no-nonsense portraits of themselves and their families. Happy scenes of everyday life. Flemish painters were great story-tellers. Rather than just Madonnas and saints, it was also peasants, landscapes…and food.

[109] Northern paintings were filled with symbolism and extremely realistic — with astonishing detail.

[110, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, Jan van Eyck, National Gallery, London] This Flemish power couple hired a famous painter to portray — with lots of symbolism…their wealth, loyalty, piety, and fertility. Their rich belongings from fancy clothing to their stylish headwear are proudly on display. The dog at their feet? Loyalty…you can practically count the hairs on its head. Rosary beads on the wall…that meant a strong faith.

[111] While the woman may look pregnant, she's most likely not — just gathering together her fine cloth to show it off or creating the impression that she's fertile or maybe she's just boasting the belly of a well-fed, upper-class woman. Perhaps the first famous canvas to use oil-based paint, the detail is ground-breaking: the reflection of the couple from behind in the mirror and even the artist himself, the masterful treatment of light and shadow…