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This examination was often a difficult business and necessitated delicate management; in Isabeau of Bavaria rejected a completed set by Colart de Laon [] having earlier approved the designs, to de Laon's — and presumably his commissioner's — considerable embarrassment. Because tapestries were designed largely by painters, their formal conventions are closely aligned with the conventions of panel painting. This is especially true with the later generations of 16th-century painters who produced panoramas of heaven and hell.

Harbison describes how the intricate, dense and overlaid detail of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights resembles, "in its precise symbolism Northern triptychs [E] and polyptychs were popular across Europe from the late 14th century, with the peak of demand lasting until the early 16th century. During the 15th century, they were the most widely produced format of northern panel painting.


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Preoccupied with religious subject matter, they come in two broad types: smaller, portable private devotional works, or larger altarpieces for liturgical settings. Polyptychs were produced by the more accomplished masters. They provide greater scope for variation, and a greater number of possible combinations of interior and exterior panels that could be viewed at one time. That hinged works could be opened and closed served a practical purpose; on religious holidays the more prosaic and everyday outer panels were replaced by the lush interior panels.

The first generation of Netherlandish masters borrowed many customs from 13th- and 14th-century Italian altarpieces. In central panels the mid-ground was populated by members of the Holy Family ; early works, especially from the Sienese or Florentine traditions, were overwhelmingly characterised by images of the enthroned Virgin set against a gilded background. The wings usually contain a variety of angels, donors and saints, but there is never direct eye contact, and only rarely a narrative connection, with the central panel's figures.

Van der Weyden was especially innovative, as apparent in his —45 Miraflores Altarpiece and c. In these paintings members of the Holy Family appear on the wings instead of just the central panels, while the latter is notable for the continuous landscape connecting the three inner panels. Bosch's work continued the move towards secularism and emphasised landscape. Bosch also unified the scenes of the inner panels.

Triptychs were commissioned by German patrons from the s, with large-scale export beginning around Till-Holger Borchert describes how they bestowed a "prestige which, in the first half of the 15th century, only the workshops of the Burgundian Netherlands were capable of achieving". The popularity of Brussels' altarpieces lasted until about , when the output of the Antwerp workshops grew in favour.

This was in part because they produced at a lower cost by allocating different portions of the panels among specialised workshop members, a practice Borchert describes as an early form of division of labour.

Multi-panel Netherlandish paintings fell out of favour and were considered old-fashioned as Antwerp Mannerism came to the fore in the midth century. Later the iconoclasm of the Reformation deemed them offensive, [] and many works in the Low Countries were destroyed. Extant examples are found mostly in German churches and monasteries. A panel would sometimes be cut down to only the figure, with the background over-painted so that "it looked sufficiently like a genre piece to hang in a well-known collection of Dutch 17th-century paintings".

Diptychs were widely popular in northern Europe from the midth to the early 16th century. They consisted of two equally sized panels joined by hinges or, less often, a fixed frame ; [] the panels were usually linked thematically. Hinged panels could be opened and closed like a book, allowing both an interior and exterior view, while the ability to close the wings allowed protection of the inner images.

The tracery seen in works such as van der Weyden's Virgin and Child reflects ivory carving of the period.

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Netherlandish diptychs tend to illustrate only a small range of religious scenes. There are numerous depictions of the Virgin and Child, [] reflecting the Virgin's contemporary popularity as a subject of devotion. Their development and commercial worth has been linked to a change in religious attitude during the 14th century, when a more meditative and solitary devotion — exemplified by the Devotio Moderna movement — grew in popularity.

Private reflection and prayer was encouraged and the small-scale diptych fitted this purpose. It became popular among the newly emerging middle class and the more affluent monasteries across the Low Countries and northern Germany.

File:Dieric Bouts - Paradise - WGAjpg - Wikimedia Commons

The small size was meant to entice the viewer into a meditative state for personal devotion and perhaps the "experience of miraculous visions". Late 20th-century technical examination has shown significant differences in technique and style between the panels of individual diptychs. The technical inconsistencies may be the result of the workshop system, in which the more prosaic passages were often completed by assistants. A change in style between panels can be seen, according to historian John Hand, because the divine panel was usually based on general designs sold on the open market, with the donor panel added after a patron was found.

Few intact diptychs survive. As with altarpieces, the majority were later separated and sold as single "genre" pictures. Later many diptychs were broken apart, thus creating two saleable works from one. During the Reformation, religious scenes were often removed. Secular portraiture was a rarity in European art before The format did not exist as a separate genre and was only found infrequently at the highest end of the market in betrothal portraits or royal family commissions. Van der Weyden developed the conventions of northern portraiture and was hugely influential on the following generations of painters.

Rather than merely follow van Eyck's meticulous attention to detail, van der Weyden created more abstract and sensual representations. He was highly sought after as a portraitist, yet there are noticeable similarities in his portraits, likely because he used and reused the same underdrawings, which met common ideals of rank and piety. These were then adapted to show the facial characteristics and expressions of the particular sitter.

Petrus Christus placed his sitter in a naturalistic setting rather than a flat and featureless background.

Hieronymus Bosch

This approach was in part a reaction against van der Weyden, who, in his emphasis on sculptural figures, utilised very shallow pictorial spaces. The latter format was practically unseen in earlier northern art, although it had a tradition in Italy going back centuries, most usually in fresco and illuminated manuscripts. He was highly influential on later painters and is credited with inspiring Leonardo 's positioning of the Mona Lisa in front of a landscape view.

The Netherlandish artists moved away from the profile view — popularised during the Italian Quattrocento — towards the less formal but more engaging three-quarter view. At this angle, more than one side of the face is visible as the sitter's body is rotated towards the viewer. This pose gives a better view of the shape and features of the head and allows the sitter to look out towards the viewer.

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There are exceptions, typically in bridal portraits or in the case of potential betrothals , when the object of the work is to make the sitter as attractive as possible. In these cases the sitter was often shown smiling, with an engaging and radiant expression designed to appeal to her intended. Most portraits tended to show royalty, the upper nobility or princes of the church. The new affluence in the Burgundian Netherlands brought a wider variety of clientele, as members of the upper middle class could now afford to commission a portrait.

Portraits did not generally require lengthy sittings; typically a series of preparatory drawings were used to flesh out the final panel. Landscape was a secondary concern to Netherlandish painters before the mid s. Geographical settings were rare and when they did appear usually consisted of glimpses through open windows or arcades.

They were rarely based on actual locations; [J] the settings tended to be largely imagined, designed to suit the thematic thrust of the panel. Because most of the works were donor portraits, very often the landscapes were tame, controlled and served merely to provide a harmonious setting for the idealised interior space. In this, the northern artists lagged behind their Italian counterparts who were already placing their sitters within geographically identifiable and closely described landscapes. The influence can be seen in the illuminations painted in the Turin-Milan Hours , which show rich landscapes in the tiny bas de page scenes.

Simon Bening "explored new territory in the genre of landscape", seen in several of the leaves he painted for the c. From the late 15th century, a number of painters emphasised landscape in their works, a development led in part by the shift in preference from religious iconography to secular subjects. This was born of the rising affluence of the region's middle class, many of whom had now travelled south and seen countryside noticeably different from their flat homeland. At the same time, the later part of the century saw the emergence of specialisation and a number of masters focused on detailing landscape, most notably Konrad Witz in the midth century, and later Joachim Patinir.

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The significant artists from these areas did not slavishly reproduce the scenery before them, but in subtle ways adapted and modified their landscapes to reinforce the emphasis and meaning of the panel they were working on. Patinir developed what is now called the world landscape genre, which is typified by biblical or historical figures within an imagined panoramic landscape, usually mountains and lowlands, water and buildings. Paintings of this type are characterised by an elevated viewpoint, with the figures dwarfed by their surroundings.

Patinir's works are relatively small and use a horizontal format; this was to become so standard for landscapes in art that it is now called "landscape" format in ordinary contexts, but at the time it was a considerable novelty, as the vast majority of panel paintings before were vertical in format.

The human presence remained central rather than serving as mere staffage. Hieronymus Bosch adapted elements of the world landscape style, with the influence especially notable in his single-panel paintings. The most popular subjects of this type include the Flight into Egypt and the plight of hermits such as Saints Jerome and Anthony. As well as connecting the style to the later Age of Discovery , the role of Antwerp as a booming centre both of world trade and cartography , and the wealthy town-dweller's view of the countryside, art historians have explored the paintings as religious metaphors for the pilgrimage of life.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Joachim Patinir , Landscape with the Flight into Egypt , late 15th century. Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. The progressions in northern art developed almost simultaneously with the early Italian Renaissance. The philosophical and artistic traditions of the Mediterranean were not however part of the northern heritage, to the extent that many elements of Latin culture were actively disparaged in the north.

Local religious trends had a strong influence on early northern art, as can be seen in the subject matter, composition and form of many late 13th- and early 14th-century artworks. While devotional paintings — especially altarpieces — remained dominant in Early Netherlandish art, [] secular portraiture became increasingly common in both northern and southern Europe as artists freed themselves from the prevailing idea that portraiture should be restricted to saints and other religious figures.

In Italy this development was tied to the ideals of humanism. Italian influences on Netherlandish art are first apparent in the late 15th century, when some of the painters began to travel south.

This also explains why a number of later Netherlandish artists became associated with, in the words of art historian Rolf Toman, "picturesque gables, bloated, barrel-shaped columns, droll cartouches, 'twisted' figures, and stunningly unrealistic colours — actually employ[ing] the visual language of Mannerism". As a result, painters became increasingly aware of their status in society: they signed their works more often, painted portraits of themselves, and became well-known figures because of their artistic activities. The northern masters were greatly admired in Italy.

Memling successfully merged the two styles, exemplified in his Virgin and Child with Two Angels.