RA Magazine Winter 2012
Issue Number: 117
Preview: Northern Renaissance at the Queen's Gallery
An exhibition of Northern Renaissance Art reveals the breadth of vision of its master painters, writes Christopher Baker
Hans Holbein the Younger, 'Derich Born', 1533. Royal Collection Trust /© Her Majest y Queen Elizabeth II 2012. The challenging of old beliefs, and seismic technological developments defined the Northern Renaissance. The rise of Protestantism and the invention of printing formed the backdrop to the extraordinary artistic achievements of Dürer and Holbein, Clouet and Cranach, some of the stars of an exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace.
Sacred and secular images spread across Europe as engravings, artists travelled to find fresh sources of patronage, and portraiture took on a new potent role, increasingly depicting people who were self-made. Meanwhile, the vying Tudor, Valois and Hapsburg dynasties employed artists to generate propaganda.
Painters and scholars began to look at the natural world in startling detail, resulting, for example, in the microscopic studies of plants in Dürer prints and the objective, candid features found in Holbein portraits. Combining such precision with an unerring sense of poise, Holbein created works such as his portrait of the German merchant Derich Born (1533), which is memorably inscribed: ‘If you added a voice this would be Derich…’ As Holbein spent two extensive periods in London, his drawings and paintings form a high point of the show. What is remarkable, however, is that the Royal Collection can provide such a balanced and instructive survey, in a wide range of media, encompassing Britain, France and Germany. It will amply repay repeated and detailed study.
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