Italian Renaissance Vs Northern Renaissance Essays

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that significantly influenced the intellectual life in Europe from the 14th to the 17th century. It started in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and then spread to the rest of Europe. The Renaissance affected philosophy, religion, literature, art, politics, science and other aspects of intellectual life. Historians consider the “Renaissance not only an era of grand cultural achievements; it was also a period that witnessed an intensified sense of identity and individuality, at least among European elites” (Martin, 2003, p. ).

The Italian Renaissance, which was the opening phase of the Renaissance, started at the end of the 13th century and extended to about 1600. It was well known for its cultural achievements especially in literature and art. The Northern Renaissance is the Renaissance in northern Europe outside Italy. One common feature between the Italian and Northern Renaissances was the unifying presence of the Roman Catholic Church. The Guild system was another common element between the Italian and Northern Renaissances.

The guild helped shaped the craft of artists through training and support. Another similarity between Italy and the north was the presence of an artistic center during the 15 century, with Florence as the artistic hub in Italy and Flanders as the art center in the north. There were many differences between the Italian and Northern Renaissances. First, the north emphasized more on the Gothic art and architecture as compared to Italy. Northern architecture remained Gothic until the 16th century.

Another difference is that the north Europe had lesser centers of free commerce as compared to Italy which has many wealthy merchants who spend money and time on art. Renaissance artists in the north also took a different approach to composition. While Italian artists were open to scientific principles behind composition, northern artists were more concerned and focused on what their art looked like. Northern artists emphasized individualism and did not merely base their ideas on Italian artists.

They “drew on a rich native past and were able to incorporate exciting new ideas from Italy into their own vision of the world” (Cunningham and Reich, 2005, p. 337). Northern Renaissance was also different from the Italian Renaissance in terms of the centralization of political power. While independent city-states dominated Italy and Germany, several parts of central and Western Europe emerged as nation-states. The north was more nationalistic in character due to the increasing power of the national monarchies.

The north was also more religious in nature as reflected in their art. Northern humanists focused on the Bible and early Christian themes. They also emphasized an ethical way of life and believed that classical and Christian cultures should be combined. Another major difference between the Italian and Northern Renaissances is that the north was more closely associated with the Protestant Reformation and more involved in the conflicts between various Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church.

This is the main reason why the Protestant Reformation would take root in the north instead in Italy. The Protestant Reformation was a Christian reform movement that attempted to reform the Catholic Church. Many members of the movement were western Catholics who were dissatisfied with the doctrines and malpractices within the Catholic Church, especially the teaching and sale of indulgences and the practice of buying and selling church positions.

Northern humanists were the first to call for the reform of the Catholic Church. Desiderius Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, two major figures in the Northern Renaissance, openly criticized the Church. Erasmus developed a simple theology of Christian love, while More’s criticism of the papacy and the abuses of the Church became the foundations of English Protestantism. Their advocacy fueled the ideals of Martin Luther who initiated the Protestant Reformation.


The Italian Renaissance, on the other hand, focused more on the wealthy class (aristocracy). Paintings were elaborate, detailed, and showed how wealthy and powerful people were. This was  because alot of trade was going on during the time of the Itailian Renaissance, especially in the Mediterranean. Therefore, individuals were becoming very wealthy, and thus gaining poltical influence. Also, the Itailain Renaissance focused on religion--Roman Catholicism. Popes were wealthy, king-like figures in society and they were often painted in elaborate settings. Greek-Roman revival was very important. Often, paintings reflected themes of the Classical times, and some artists nearly copied the forms of ancient Greek statues and artwork.

Painting like the “Last Judgement”

 showed a lot of Italian Renaissance themes- Humanism (the focus of the individual, emphasis on anatomy), Greek-Roman revival, and religion. The main differences between the Italian and Northern Renaissance can be tabled as follows- ITALIAN RENAISSANCE NORTHERN RENAISSANCE Subject Matter: Classical mythology, religious scenes Domestic interiors, portraits, religious scenes Style Symmetrical, balanced, good sense of mass, linear  perspective Attention to surface detail, naturalism Known for: Figures with mass and volume, knowledge of underlying anatomy Minute surface detail Media: Fresco, tempera, oil Oil on panel Example Michelangelo,

Creation of  Adam

 from the Sistine Chapel ceiling Jan van Eyck,

 Arnolfini Wedding 

Apart from the differences in the above table and the obvious geographical difference, there were some other significant differences between the Italian Renaissance and the  Northern Renaissance. For one thing, the north held on to Gothic (or "Middle Ages") art and architecture with a tighter, longer grip than did Italy. (Architecture, in particular, remained Gothic until well into the 16th century.) This isn't to say that art wasn't changing in the north - in many instances it kept pace with Italian doings. The Northern Renaissance artists, however, were scattered about and few in number initially (very unlike their Italian counterparts). The north had fewer centers of free commerce than did Italy. Italy, had numerous Duchies and Republics which gave rise to a wealthy merchant class that often spent considerable funds on art. This wasn't the case in the north. In fact, the only notable similarity between northern Europe and, say, a place like Florence, lay in the Duchy of Burgundy.

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