Early Netherlandish Painting: From Van Eyck to Bruegel

By Max J. Friedlænder | Go to book overview

GENERAL REMARKS ON THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY

HISTORIANS of art like to present the turn of the century as an Epoch and begin a new chapter even when describing Northern painting. The familiar contrast 'Quattrocento' and 'Cinquecento' in the South tempts us to make a similar incision in the North. The historian's passion for classification and superstitious belief in the mystery of numbers play their part in converting what was in fact a gradual transformation into a sudden change, whereby impartial observation becomes coloured.

Nevertheless it is permissible to emphasize some features as characteristic for the sixteenth as opposed to the fifteenth century--provided we remember that these traits emerged at intervals, here and there, and over a period extending well beyond and before 1500.

Not a single painter of the sixteenth century combined all the features of the new age in his work. We can enumerate the symptoms but are forced to admit that, of all artists who represent the sixteenth century for us, it is only by one or other aspect of his work that the individual one is stamped as a child of his age. Almost all the painters who began to work between 1490 and 1510 are in some way firmly rooted in tradition, a fact that is overlooked by historians who, whether from ignorance or in the interests of clarity, simplify the historical process. In certain fundamental points Quentin Massys is more archaic than Hugo van der Goes. And an account that places the Louvain master at the beginning of the new period but is forced to include the Ghent master in the old period falsifies the observed facts.

The creative power of Netherlandish art decreases considerably during the second half of the fifteenth century as can be seen particularly at Bruges. Apart from Hugo van der Goes and Geertgen we search in vain for courage and enterprise. Neither Memlinc's pleasant exploitation of inherited wealth nor the passive late-flowering art of David contain seeds for a new beginning.

The period around 1500 offers a confused picture in which simultaneous but widely diverging efforts can be observed in plenty. The character and general conditions can best be defined in negative terms.

-64-

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Early Netherlandish Painting: From Van Eyck to Bruegel
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Contents viii
  • The Geography of Netherlandish Art 1
  • Jan Van Eyck 6
  • Petrus Christus 14
  • Rogier Van Der Weyden 16
  • Dieric Bouts 26
  • Hugo Van Der Goes 32
  • Hans Memlinc 41
  • Gerard David 48
  • Geertgen Tot Sint Jans 53
  • Jerome Bosch 56
  • General Remarks on the Sixteenth Century 64
  • Quentin Massys 68
  • Joachim De Patenier 76
  • Joos Van Cleve 85
  • Jan Provost 91
  • Jan Gossaert 95
  • Jan Joest 105
  • Jan Mostaert 111
  • Lucas Van Leyden 119
  • Jan Van Scorel 126
  • Pieter Bruegel 133
  • Note on This Edition 415
  • Acknowledgements 417
  • List of Plates 419
  • Contents 422
  • Index of Places 423
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