Netherlandish Art

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Netherlandish Art


a school of art that developed in the Middle Ages in the historical region of the Netherlands before the Netherlands bourgeois revolution of the 16th century; the revolution was responsible in part for the division of Netherlandish art into the Dutch and Flemish schools.

Beginning in Carolingian times, Netherlandish architecture was characterized by Christian basilicas (Basilica of Our Lady in Maastricht, tenth to 16th centuries) and, less frequently, by centrally planned chapels (the chapel of the Valkhof in Nijmegen, eighth century, remodeled 11th century). From the 11th to the mid-13th century the Romanesque style, which developed in the Rhineland, Lombardy, and northern France, dominated the architecture of the Netherlands. The style had its fullest expression in the valleys of the Meuse River (Church of Saint Barthélemy in Liège, 11th and 12th centuries) and the Schelde River (the cathedral in Tournai, begun 1110). Other examples of Romanesque architecture in the Schelde Valley are several early stone civil structures, including 12th- and 14th-century bell towers in Tournai and Ghent and the castle of the counts of Flanders in Ghent (1180–1200).

Thirteenth-century Netherlandish architectural centers included Brabant and coastal Flanders. As a result of French influence, church ornament was symbolic in content and stylized in form (the frescoes in the cathedral in Tournai, c. 1175; the capitals of churches in Maastricht, late 12th and early 13th centuries). Also notable are the works of the Maastricht school of miniatures (the Stavelot Bible, 1093–97, British Museum, London), the bronze castings of the Meuse Valley school (the font of the Church of Saint Barthélemy in Liège, 1107–18, Master Renier de Huy), and jewelry (reliquaries in the Tournai cathedral—one by Master Nicholas of Verdun, 1205; the other by an unknown master, 1247).

From the 13th to the 15th century, cities arose around the castles and market squares. Most cities had guild halls and workshops, a city tower, and a town hall; circular-radial layouts predominated. City walls with mighty towers and gates were built, as were fortified bridges. Characteristic were three-story wooden, half-timber (fachwerke), and narrow stone houses with pediments. The combination of Romanesque and Gothic elements resulted in the intricate designs of churches in the Meuse (Church of Nôtre Dame in Dinant, 1227–79) and Schelde valleys (the choir of the Tournai cathedral, 1243–55). In the northern Netherlands, owing to the swampy soil and shortage of stone, brick buildings in the Gothic style, with light roofs supported by wooden arches, were prevalent (St. Jacobs Church in The Hague, 14th to 16th centuries).

From around 1300 to 1530, hall churches were built in the northern Netherlands. The Late Gothic, or flamboyant, style flourished in Brabant; it was marked by the strict subordination of decoration to monumental form and by the contrast of horizontal and vertical masses (cathedrals in Brussels, Mechelen, and Antwerp; structures by the Keldermans and De Waghemakere families in Louvain, Alkmaar, Ghent, Mechelen, and Middelburg). The secular buildings of the Netherlandish Late Gothic, which include town halls (in Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, and Louvain), cloth rows (in Bruges, Louvain, Mechelen, and Ghent), and workshops, are picturesque and occasionally have sumptuous sculptural decoration; at the same time, the buildings are functional, with vast halls.

Depictions of realistic details appeared in Gothic sculpture (The Virgin, Church of St. Jean, Liège, 13th century), monumental painting (The Crucifixion, St. Peter’s Church, Utrecht, c. 1300), easel painting (masters of, or associated with, the school of Burgundy, including J. Malouel, H. Bellechose, and M. Broederlam), and, particularly, Franco-Flemish miniature painting. At the turn of the 15th century, Netherlandish sculptors of the Burgundian school (C. Sluter, C. de Wervé, and A. Beauneveu) and miniaturists (Master Jacomart and the Limburg brothers) adopted principles from Italian art and introduced unprecedented realism, laying the foundations for the Early Renaissance in Northern Europe.

The Netherlandish Renaissance school of painting of the 15th century (altar paintings, portraits, miniatures), marked by an innovative approach to the spiritual and artistic traditions of medieval culture, constituted the most significant school of art in Northern Europe. It is noted for its profound interest in man and nature, its joyful pantheistic apprehension of the world, and its attention to space, light, and the structure and texture of objects. Fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting pays particular attention to human individuality and conveys the value and uniqueness of every detail and every phenomenon, each merging with the harmonious and spiritualized world and containing a deep symbolic meaning.

The day-to-day life of the burghers, as well as its dramatic moments, were brilliantly revealed for the first time in the paintings of R. Campin. J. van Eyck, the foremost Netherlandish painter of the 15th century, beautified the real world in his exquisitely finished paintings through the use of rich colors. He created interesting ideal figures and painted exceptional portraits. P. Christus, D. Bouts, and Geertgen tot Sint Jans furthered the development of Netherlandish Renaissance painting.

In the mid-15th century, Rogier van der Weyden introduced a heightened psychological and spiritual element into Netherlandish painting, and H. van der Goes imparted dramatic tension to his figures, intensifying their democratic and truthful nature. A more idealized and lyrical style characterizes the paintings of H. Memling and G. David. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, H. Bosch, in his symbolic, allegorical, and satirical moralistic paintings, drew upon the legacy of medieval folk culture and introduced a new pictorial rendering of genre and landscape motifs. The 15th century marked the appearance of wood engraving and the development of sculpture in wood (J. Borman, A. van Wessel).

In the 16th century, the classical principles of the Italian and the French Renaissance penetrated Netherlandish architecture. Architects were now professionally trained and wrote theoretical works. A new, very picturesque style developed in secular architecture, combining traditional Gothic structures with an abundance of Renaissance architectural motifs (the town hall in Antwerp, 1561–65, architect C. Floris; the House of the Salmon, Mechelen, 1530–34). A number of imposing ensembles of homogeneous buildings (Grand’ Place, Brussels; Grote Markt square, Antwerp) were designed, as were many elegant interiors (the fireplace in the Palace of Justice, Bruges, 1528–31, architect L. Blondeel). In the north, brick structures with classical details in white stone were developed (the building with the town scales, Alkmaar, 1582–99).

The influence of humanistic ideas brought about a decline in the importance of religious painting, which had embodied an integrated concept of the universe. Secular genres, particularly portraiture, developed (A. More, F. Pourbus). The group portrait (J. van Scorel, D. Jacobsz, D. Barendsz), the landscape (J. Patinir, H. met de Bles), and the genre painting appeared in Netherlandish art. Q. Massys and Lucas van Leyden, versatile artists who sought to combine national traditions with Italian Renaissance principles and with direct observations from life, developed the genre painting and print.

An eclectic movement, Romanism, which directly imitated Italian art (J. Mabuse, B. van Orley, F. Floris), was opposed by democratic masters (J. van Amstel, Pieter Aertsen, J. Beuckelaer, and, especially, P. Brueghel), whose works broadly reflected the people’s life and the contradictions of the revolutionary and prerevolutionary periods. In his genre paintings and landscapes, Brueghel sought to re-create the world in all its fullness. He created a sweeping panorama of life and profound symbols of the contemporary human tragedy. C. Floris and J. Dubroeucq were influenced by Italian art.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, tapestry-weaving, jewelry-making, and embroidery flourished. The famous lace-making industry of the Netherlands developed at the end of the 16th century.


Mander, C. van. Kniga o khudozhnikakh. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940. (Translated from Dutch.)
Vseobshchaia istoriia iskusstv, vol. 2, book 1. Moscow, 1960; vol. 3. Moscow, 1962.
Vseobshchaia istoriia arkhitektury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1966; vol. 4. Moscow, 1966.
Gershenzon-Chegodaeva, N. M. “Vozrozhdenie ν niderlandskom iskusstve.” In the collection Renessans. Barokko. Klassitsizm [collection of articles]. Moscow, 1966.
Benesch, O. Iskusstvo Severnogo Vozrozhdeniia. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from English.)
Panofsky, E. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origin and Character, vols. 1–2. Cambridge, Mass., 1953.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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