The Art of the Northern Renaissance

Throughout the Renaissance there was a need for new developments and the pushing of the boundaries of the visual arts. During this time the science behind oil painting was beginning to be perfected, and it was starting to become the most preferred medium when creating visual art, as wells, the focal point of paintings being focused on humans and themes/symbols that attracted an educated and courtly audience. The Northern Renaissance brought forth many innovative painters, such as, Durer, Bosch, Bruegel, Van Eyck, and many others. Out of all the paintings that were created by these artist there is one that I will always find captivating. ghent Altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece( Adoration of the Mystic Lamb/The Lamb of God, wings open) By Van Eyck


The Ghent Altarpiece was created by Van Eyck, and is a panel painting using 20 panels. Some of the panels are hinged shutters that allow two different painted stories to view based on whether you are viewing the panels when they are opened or when they are closed. The individual panel paintings were completed by Jan Van Eyck between 1430-1432 for the parochial church of John the Baptist (today Saint Bavo Cathedral), although it is said that his brother, Hubert Van Eyck, was the mastermind behind the overall design of the panel design. The Ghent Altarpiece is Van Eyck’s most famous and controversial work. ghentcls

The Ghent Altarpiece( view when wings are closed) By Van Eyck

outer wing

The Ghent Altarpiece( Outer wings; Adam left, Eve right) By Van Eyck


The Ghent Altarpiece( Lower central panel ) By Van Eyck


The Ghent Altarpiece( Lower central panel) By Van Eyck


The Influence of Humanism:

Although it is obvious that The Ghent Altarpiece, in no way, is rejecting religion or the belief in God, like Humanism caused, you can still see aspects of Humanism influencing the piece. For instance, the beautiful way Van Eyck captures the humans in his paintings has a real depth and detail to them. If we look at the panels of Adam and Eve we can see how severely realistic they are. They aren’t given this “god-like” depiction like seen in any other religious drawings, but instead, are given a completely realistic version. If you look closely at these paintings you can see the intricate detail Eyck has worked into their face and body, the bags under their eyes, the definition of their collarbone, and the realism of their skin. Even though this piece is dealing with religious matter it is almost more so focusing on a humans need for religion, like the Greeks need to please their Gods. Also, The Ghent Altarpiece takes on a much more of an educated route.  Van Eyck also pays close attention to earthly items in his paintings, like a persons clothes, their jewelry , and the nature/landscape surrounding them. There are many symbols throughout this piece, like the fact it holds multiple points of view based on the ways the panels are set up,and how a viewer has to piece the story together and interpret it for themselves.

The Influence of The Reformation:

Although The Reformation did not directly influence the creation of this piece, it greatly influenced what happened to it afterwards. For instance, as The Reformation began to come into full control and iconoclasm, or the opposition of religious icons in art and culture, became more prominent it started to effect art pieces like The Ghent Altarpiece. Such outbreaks of iconoclasm caused many of the panels of this piece to come very close to total destruction. Not only were the panels almost completely destroyed, but they were also the cause of a huge back and forth stealing battle.  There are many theories that have been developed dealing with whether the church was involved with this battle or it was just a who wanted it most deal. The masterful work of Van Eyck captivated everyone who saw it and it caused strong need to obtain it by other countries and other people. Even today it captivates everyone who sees it, due to its intricacy and use of metaphorical themes and symbols. Overall, The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck is a piece of artwork of the Northern Renaissance that changed not only it’s time, but the future of art to come. Its exquisite detail and use of different view points, and human depiction creates a piece of work that was extremely ahead of its time. It was able to undergo the trials and tribulations of The Reformation, still coming out strong, and still being a widely important piece of visual art even today.

Work Cited: Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

“Eyck, Jan Van.” WebMuseum:. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

“Ghent Altarpiece.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

“Iconoclasm.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

“The Ghent Altarpiece: The Truth about the Most Stolen Artwork of All Time.” Theguardian. Guardian News and Media, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Web. 12 Feb. 2015.


One thought on “The Art of the Northern Renaissance

  1. This piece of work is fabulous. Did you recognize it as being represented in the movie “The Monuments Men” a true story that help recover stolen art.

    Here is a excerpt from a website that talks about how these pieces were almost destroyed multiple different ways:

    “It’s almost been destroyed in a fire, was nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, it’s been forged, pillaged, dismembered, censored, stolen by Napoleon, hunted in the first world war, sold by a renegade cleric, then stolen repeatedly during the second world war, before being rescued by The Monuments Men, miners and a team of commando double-agents. The fact that it was the artwork the Nazis were most desperate to steal – Göring wanted it for his private collection, Hitler as the centrepiece of his citywide super-museum – has only increased its renown.”

    Amazing art that truly has impacted generations of cultural. I really enjoyed your comments.


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