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

By Otto Benesch | Go to book overview

VI
Soul and Mechanism of the Universe

THE INFLUENCE of Italian art reshaped Netherlandish painting in the second half of the sixteenth century. The partial adoption of ancient and Renaissance forms, as we saw it at the beginning of the century, was replaced by a different organization of the whole composition based on the principles of tectonic balance, solemn spaciousness, and an enhancement of the figures which gave them majestic beauty and freedom of movement. The scientific elements of Renaissance art were completely subordinated to decorative splendor and magnificence of aspect. It was mainly one event which brought this change about -- the influence of Raphael's classical art, exerted through his large cartoons of the deeds of Christ and the Apostles which were sent to Brussels as models for tapestries woven on order of the Vatican. This change may be clearly noticed in the art of Bernard van Orley, Vrouw Margaret's court painter. The richly interlaced, exuberant style of his early works, in line with the Northern tradition, vanishes in the great rhythms of his tapestries, late works which are of a genuine monumentality. A composition like Abraham Buying the Burial Place for Sarah's Tomb, from the cycle of scenes of the Old Testament, is conceived in a Southern spirit.1 As Roman art was decisive in the development of this style in the Netherlands, it is called "Romanism." Romanism in the Netherlands did not keep this classical Raphaelesque aspect for long. About the middle of the century it entered a new phase. Composition, which in the era of Orley had gradually gone over from the Old Netherlandish tradition into the new classical mode, was completely broken up. The last vestiges of the Old Netherlandish way of organizing a picture were swept away. Instead, a profusion of heaving, struggling, conflicting forms appeared. Heemskerck's Entombment of Christ of 1559-60, in the Museum of Brussels, consists of mighty figures of heroic stature and type, emphatic and pathetic in every gesture and movement, in every curve of the bulging lines. The

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