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Art in the Netherlands

The Misers©

During the Renaissance, the Netherlands included present-day Belgium, Luxembourg and part of north-eastern France as well as the Dutch Republic. After Maximilian I married Mary of Burgundy in 1477, this area was ruled by the Habsburg family. Maximilian’s grandson Charles V inherited the Netherlands along with the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, thereby becoming the most powerful ruler in Europe.

The Netherlands flourished as a centre of trade at this time. Bruges was particularly wealthy, its success reflected in the presence of many artists’ workshops, including those of Hans Memling and Jan Provoost. Later, Antwerp’s increasing prominence meant it was the base for painters such as Quinten Massys, Jan Gossaert and Joos van Cleve.

Until the Reformation, devotional paintings were an important part of the market, ranging from large altarpieces such as Jan Mertens’ Calling of Matthew to tiny works intended for personal meditation, such as Gerard David’s Pietà. Portraits were also popular as patrons sought to record their likenesses for posterity. In Marinus van Reymerswaele’s The Misers, portraiture was turned to caricature to mock a maligned occupation and to highlight the perils of the very wealth which allowed art to flourish.

This period saw a huge increase in the demand for tapestries and from about 1480 Brussels became the most important centre of production. Tapestries were useful as moveable furnishings and, because of their large scale and rich materials, demonstrated the wealth and power of their owners.

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