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Sir Henry Guildford (1489-1532)©

Northern Europe experienced profound changes between 1450 and 1600. This period is often described as the Northern Renaissance, analogous to the revolution in art and scholarship which took place in Italy from the fourteenth century.

The Renaissance in Northern Europe, however, was different from that in Italy. At its heart was the challenge to the teachings of the Catholic Church initiated by Martin Luther. The debate over the basic tenets of the Christian faith had a lasting effect on the art of Northern Europe, which turned in many places from emotive devotional scenes to non-religious subjects such as portraiture and mythology. As demand for paintings shifted in response to these changes, artists moved from city to city seeking work.

The printing press, invented in Germany around 1450, allowed texts – and thus ideas – to be circulated in large numbers. Many scholars adopted the approach of the Italian humanists, who turned to classical sources to explore man’s identity.

The artists of the Northern Renaissance responded to these changes with works of ingenuity, beauty and superb technical skill, creating some of the most compelling works of art of their time.


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