Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Holbein the Younger and the Northern Renaissance

February is over, and another school term is upon us. I suppose that I ought to look forward to meeting a new artist, but I must admit the truth: I'm still grieving over having to say goodbye to Jacques Louis David. I find his paintings so compelling; they are a curious combination of thought-provoking and deeply emotional. We hang our prints in the dining room for the whole term, and I cannot keep my eye off David's paintings. I think my favorites of the ones we studies were Brutus and The Oath of the Horatii. I still can't decide whether I think they are passionate calls to patriotism, or skilled propaganda. Perhaps it's a little of both.

All that being said, time marches on and new art will be studied. This term, our artist is Hans Holbein the Younger. He was a German painter during the Renaissance. If you grew up thinking that the Renaissance happened only in Italy... well, so did I. Nope. We were wrong.

Germany was initially isolated from the changes that were stirring in Italy by the high Alps, which slowed the movement of people and ideas. The Northern Renaissance lagged nearly a century behind the familiar Italian changes, but it still brought forth a few important developments. A German named Johannes Gutenberg created a handy machine called the printing press. Martin Luther made waves in religious circles. The beautiful St. Michael's Church was constructed. Hans Holbein the Elder, Holbein's father, was pioneer in moving German art from the Gothic style into the new Renaissance style. In addition to a great many altar paintings, he also worked in woodcuts, illustrated books, and designed church windows. Other artists from the Northern Renaissance who might be familiar to you are Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald.

Interestingly enough, the German Renaissance was relatively short-lived, at least in terms of art. From the reading I'm doing, it looks like this was primarily because German had no Classical past to look back to. Italy was deeply tied to Roman culture—it's authors, artists, architects, and all it's contributions to Western civilization. Germany, on the other hand, didn't come into contact with Rome all that much. Lacking a personal connection, German artists simply didn't have the motivation that Mediterranean artists did.

Holbein the Younger is German, but he spent a lot of time outside of his native land. He traveled in Italy and France, and eventually settled in England. He is best known for his portraits. Humanist ideas combined with Protestant objections to religious art changed the content of paintings. When churches stopped commissioning art, portraits commissioned by well-heeled patrons became a necessity for artists who still needed to eat and buy paint. A study of human beings as fascinating individuals also fit into the philosophy of the time. Holbein's portraits focused on powerful, confident, well-educated men and women. His subjects included English royalty, ambassadors, merchants, churchman, author, and philosopher Sir Thomas More, as well as the famous scholar and philosopher Erasmus.

As always, my family uses the AmblesideOnline picture study rotation.  One of the things I love best about this rotation is that it exposes my kids (and me!) to many different styles and schools of art. While Durer's work didn't immediately appeal to me, I enjoyed reading and researching and placing him in his historical context. If you want to read further about the Northern Renaissance, check out this website. They also have a Timeline of Art that is helpful. It's not all that visually appealing (which is ironic, given that it's an art website), but there is a lot of fascinating information.

For our study of Holbein the Younger, I have created 8x10" prints that you can download here. If your kids keep a Book of Masterpieces, you can download 4x6" art cards here. I print all of our artwork on glossy cardstock. Both sets print on a standard-sized computer page, and will need to be trimmed to the desired size.

Several people have had problems with the old file hosting site I was using. This time, I am trying Dropbox. Please let me know what you think, so I know whether it is worth the trouble to switch my old files over to the new site. Thank you muchly.

1 comment:

  1. Dropbox is much preferred! :) I am having trouble downloading your lovely Cole cards from 4Shared -- and I would love to be able to include a link to your Cole blog post in a resource I'm creating -- a US History reading list for early elementary grades. Any chance those cards could be moved to Dropbox? :)