The Renaissance in the North

s Northern artists began to study nature, the influence of the Middle Ages art style began to diminish, making way for an intense and constant observation of  life. It is uncertain why this new style emerged particularly in Germany and the Netherlands, but it is possible that these regions had the same social and political advantages as Florence, in Italy. Even though these two styles came to pass in the same time period, they possess a very different type of thinking in their creation. Florentine artists were looking for the ideal figures that the masters of old had conveyed in the Classical era (Greek and Roman Art), along with the deep humanist thought, giving a more fundamental and systematical approach; the Northerners were mostly focused in the flawless representation of nature and “the conquest of the visible world” (H.W Janson, Anthony F. Janson. History of art, 504) filled with symbolism and conceptual elements, and even though they did not share the same thought doctrine, it does not demerit the incredible artwork nor the innovations achieved by its artists.

Let’s move on to analyse and study two art pieces, corresponding to the Early and High Northern Renaissance:


Jan Van Eyck. Man in a red turban (self portrait?). 1422. Oil on panel. The National Gallery, London.

Jan Van Eyck. Man in a red turban (self portrait?). 1422. Oil on panel. The National Gallery, London.

Van Eyck’s  composition is fairly simple, depicting the man in 3/4 view, which gives depth and variation of form. Presumably being a self portrait, the expression of the man is serious and analytical , “the slight strain about the eyes seems to come from gazing into the mirror” (Janson, H. W., Anthony F. Janson, 510). Every detail of shape and texture has been recorded almost in microscopic precision.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 11.04.23 PMThe illusion of line is caused by the shading of the artwork, but as we must know, line does not exists in nature, but it has been used for the underdrawing. Different from the Byzantine art period and the Middle Ages, outline has vanished from the painting’s finish.

Caused by the technique itself, texture has been achieved with the masterful use of oil painting on panel. Admixture in oils makes pigment translucent, which allows artists to paint thin layers over and over until they have achieved the desired saturation of color.

The mixture that Van Eyck used for his oils was a combination of linseed and nut oil, boiling them with his pigments. The origin of this mixture was a problem with his previous formula, which caused his panels to split when they were put to dry in the sun. With this new mixture, a whole new range of options opened up, able to display vibrant colors, better malleability of the paint on the panel and quality over the years. This new formula overcame the old egg tempera technique and was also adopted by other artists at the time (Jenny Graham, “Inventing Van Eyck”, 10). The color palette of the portrait at first glance is red, yellow, green, brown and dark brown, but it may be way more complex. The colours used for the skin tone have the highest point of contrast with the rest of the surrounding hues, which directs the eye straight to the subject’s eyes, later traveling through texture details, the red turban and finally the dark coat.

salvator mundi

Salvator Mundi. Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528). Oil on wood; 22 7/8 x 18 1/2 in. (58.1 x 47 cm). The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (32.100.64)

A religious unfinished painting portraying Christ as Salvator Mundi (savior of the world) looking directly at us. His hands, one of them blessing (or maybe pointing at heaven) and the other one holding a globe, make the composition interesting and add variation to form. The head has a slight tilt, avoiding symmetrical features in the composition.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 11.04.23 PM Dürer is recognised by the extensive amount of underdrawing in his paintings. We can see that the oil painting layers are being laid down, completely covering the underdrawing in its final stage. This unfinished painting gives us a unique opportunity to see Dürer’s hand at work. The use of hatching and cross hatching to understand the volume of the shapes was commonly used.

Textures emulated by the technique are seen in the drapery, skin and hair. Regarding drapery, we can see an apparently finished blue area between the two hands, where the most saturated blue color stands out from the surrounding pale colored areas.

Oil painting on wood. Just as Van Eyck, Dürer used layered oil painting to achieve the saturation of color as well as his darkest shadows. Although we are analyzing an oil painting, the artist is remarkable on every medium that he worked on: watercolor, wood carving, pencil, among others. Regarding color, the oil glazes must be added to achieve saturation one at a time. The color harmony of this piece is achieved by the natural combination of red, blue and green. Skin is not rendered at all, but we can see a small hint of what it could look like in Christ’s left hand, although most of the volume is achieved by the detailed underdrawing of Dürer.

Just as previous posts, the image analysis has been followed by the creation of digital paintings trying to emulate the style guide of the subject matter. In case of this post, I’ve researched the work of Joachim Patinir ((c. 1480 – 5 October 1524), a Flemish painter mostly known for his interesting and innovative landscape paintings. On the other hand, a character concept (self-portrait) has been created inspired by Van Eyck’s portrait of a man in red turban.

"The village of Franz Krieger''. Francisco Guerrero. Digital painting, 2013.

“The village of Franz Krieger”. Francisco Guerrero. Digital painting, 2013.

Landscape style diagram. Francisco Guerrero, digital. 2013.

Landscape style diagram. Francisco Guerrero, digital. 2013.

"Portrait of Franz Krieger". Francisco Guerrero, digital painting. 2013.

“Portrait of Franz Krieger”. Francisco Guerrero, digital painting. 2013.

Character style diagram. Francisco Guerrero, digital. 2013.

Character style diagram. Francisco Guerrero, digital. 2013.


Franz Schneider (1368-1390) is a noble man, living in the outside lands of Mainz, landlord of the village. His interest in art started by the influence of Johannes Gutenberg, his childhood friend who later introduced printing to Europe, devising the movable type machine that allowed to configure text pages and the mass production of books. As a curious artist, blacksmith and designer, Gutenberg relied on Franz as a important investor and sponsor for his most ambitious projects.

That is all, hopefully you enjoyed the post!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s