The art of northern Europe in the fifteenth century was closely tied to medieval styles. Architecture was still built in
the Gothic style, and it was often decorated with sculpture, although much of the sculpture from this period was
destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. What does survive shows a precise realism, but figures usually still
sway gently and are set in Gothic frameworks. Painting was by far the most innovative art form of the time. Through
century courts of northern Europe patronized artists who worked in the International Style, which featured
figures with elegant proportions and dress, opulent surfaces (including much use of gold), detailed compositions, a
high horizon line with tilted ground plane, and a realism of particulars—as if each detail mattered exactly as much
as the next. Printmaking was an important new art form in the
century, and German artists lead the way in
developing this technology (recall that Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press in the
In the Renaissance the main techniques used were woodcut and engraving.
In this period, geographical borders do not correspond to the European countries we know today. In the early
fifteenth century, France was divided between the holdings of the king and his brothers, including Philip of Burgundy
whose duchy encompassed eastern France and Flanders (present-day Belgium and parts of Holland). Germany was
a loose confederation of cities under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor. Spain controlled the northern
Jan van Eyck, Arnolfini Wedding
Portrait, 1434.
Robert Campin, The Annunciation from the Merode
Altarpiece, 1425.
Jan van Eyck was a Flemish artist who was associated with the court of Burgundy throughout most of his career. His
painting shows the aristocratic elegance of the international style, but with clearer compositions and layers of
complex meaning. His most famous work is the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, in the National Gallery in London. Van
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