The Art of the Renaissance in Northern Europe: Its Relation to the Contemporary Spiritual and Intellectual Movements

By Otto Benesch | Go to book overview

V
The Pictorial Unity of Late Gothic and Renaissance The Masters of the Netherlands

IT IS one of the peculiarities of the German nation that it is always inclined to break off a course of development and enter a new one, throwing overboard the highest achievements previously gained. Hence the sudden changes, the irrational leaps, the catastrophic turns which we find so often in German history. This is also reflected in the fine arts. We remember what the mature Dürer thought of the works which impressed him in his youth.

The flow of development is much steadier in the Western countries, especially in the Netherlands. Because of their extensive international relations, the Netherlands took up the new discoveries and new trends more speedily than any other country of Northern Europe. Nevertheless, Dutch and Flemish painting of the Renaissance descends in a broad and uninterrupted stream from Old Netherlandish painting of the dying Middle Ages. Pictorial culture reached a height in the Netherlands during the fifteenth century which it had attained nowhere else. A stronger sense of tradition seems to have kept the Dutch and Flemish artists from breaking with the past as radically as the Germans did. I wish to illustrate this with a few examples.1

The leading German painter-engraver in the second half of the fifteenth century was Martin Schongauer, whose works impressed the young Dürer so strongly that he desired to become his pupil. Schongauer best authenticated panel painting, The Madonna in the Rose Arbor of 1473 in Colmar, is the perfect embodiment of the Late Gothic idea of the Virgin. In spite of a balanced composition and emphasis on main accents, it is filled with the restless movement characteristic of the mode of the time. Draperies and

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