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

By Otto Benesch | Go to book overview

VIII
Related Trends in Arts and Sciences of the Late Renaissance

IF WE inquire which intellectual force grew strongest in Europe at the end of the sixteenth century, we shall find that it was neither art nor religion, neither poetry nor humanism that answered the most burning questions of the cultural world. This task was fulfilled by the same power which dominated Europe undisputedly in the seventeenth century, science. The era of science began to eclipse the era of art. It was science not in the intuitive form of the pantheistic thinkers of the first half of the sixteenth century, but science in the most intellectual and exact form: astronomy, mathematics, and anthropology.

One can read, mainly in older textbooks, that the late phase of the sixteenth century with which we have to deal in this last chapter is sometimes called "Early Baroque." This is incorrect. We shall see in the analysis of the works of art which we are going to discuss that their basic formal structure is Manneristic. We have become acquainted with Mannerism as the stylistic expression of the epoch of Late Renaissance, an epoch which lasted very long, especially in Northern Europe. It lasted longer there than in the Italian South, because Mannerism, as we have seen, implies a certain resuscitation of Gothic transcendence and expressiveness -- values to which the North always inclined in accordance with its characteristic mental disposition. While in Italy Caravaggio's powerful realism put an end to Mannerism in the first years of the seventeenth century, it still survived in the rest of Europe, blending with the beginnings of the Baroque in a kind of twilight1 which brings to our mind the blending of Late Gothic and Renaissance in the Netherlands a hundred years before. Therefore, it is justified if we extend the time-limit of our consideration into the beginning of the seventeenth century.

A few words should be said about the method of approach to

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