Northern Renaissance

Northern artists value the truth. They paid attention to each object and each detail in their paintings. Some times certain objects have certain meanings, for example, candles are the symbol of fleeting time, and lilies are the symbol of purity. And Northerners are naturalistic, the grasses and trees they painted can be found in real world. Most of their paintings are oil paintings or temperas. Oils paintings are fantastic: they carry pigments with vivid colors; they are modifiable during months; they can be kept for centuries.

The Last Supper, central panel altarpiece of the holy sacrament St Peter Church, Belgium. By Dieric Bouts, in 1464.



It’s almost a square painting, the length is slightly longer than the width. Figures are in the lower part and on the upper part are the interior environment. Figures have different poses and clothes, but the whole picture is symmetrical. For example, there are 3 figures wearing red in the left, but there’re only 2 big block of red in the right, so the painter let 2 figures wear small red caps. What’s more, the left wall is quite dark. To balance that heavy block the painter made the column also dark in the right, and he added doors which show more components in the back wall than in the left.The balance of the composition shows the Jesus being calm.


Overall the background (the table, the back wall, the ground) is lighter and the figures’ clothes are darker. The central area is the most eye-catching, in which the white table cloth meets the black robes. And even in those black ropes there are subtle different changes, they are not the same black. The subtle changes also happen on the walls. The right wall is slightly lighter than the back wall which makes it vertical to the frame of the picture.


It’s a warm tone picture. Red plays the protagonist. There are lots of unsaturated yellows, and there are lots of oranges and warm browns. Cold colors are really restricted, they appear in floor tiles and the sky through windows.


The wrinkles in clothes show a good control of lines. And all the lines toward the center definitely show one-point-perspective.

Texture & Pattern

The largest pattern is the floor tiles. It kills the banality of the grey yellow which appears a lot in the walls. And there are Corinthian Column and Gothic arches, which were popular in that period. Every little thing in the picture is meticulously depicted, even the windows of the houses outside. The painter really stayed true to reality.




Self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer, 1500



This is a self-portrait. The whole picture is in a dark tone, only the face and the hand are bright. The face is right in the middle, solemn while moderate. The anatomy is precise, the wrinkles are believable, even every filament of the furs and hair is carefully painted. At the same time, the background is pretty simple, just a signature and descriptions on a dark black.


It’s dark. The face and the hands pop out of that dark picture. And the highlights on hairs and furs show the shiny texture.


There is not much contrast between cold and warm in this painting. At that time, painters use brown to show the shadows. Only after impressionism appeared did people distinguish light and shadow with cold and warm colors.


Dürer is a master of lines. The wrinkles in his sleeves are curly and soft, the terminators on his nose and hand are hard and precisely show the anatomy.


There are several different textures in the painting, and they are painted very well. It’s such a pleasure to watch the subtle changes in different textures. The hair is flexible and shiny, while the mustache is hard and dried. The leather coat is matte. while the fur collar is shiny.




 Northern craftsman self- portrait.

late north

All the props in this picture are modern stuff. Sorry about that.

The figure is wearing the same costume with  Dürer’s.


self-portrait, Dürer’s, 1498

Then I take Eva’s face as reference, trying to mimic her facial features and hairs.


part of Adam and Eva, Dürer, 1507

But I don’t have a double folded eyelid, so I took a look at this painting:


Portrait of a Young Woman, Petrus Christus, 1465-70

Then I took a look at Dürer’s watercolor painting of weeds. My weeds at the bottom-right can be found in the nature, but I’m not sure if they exist in the north Europe in Renaissance.


part of Great Piece of Turf, Dürer, 1503




Northern Environment


There’re lots of trees in the picture so I take the  Ghent Altarpiece from  Jan Van Eyck as main reference.


JAN VAN EYCK, Ghent Altarpiece (open), Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, completed 1432. Oil on wood

Unlike modern artists, the way Van Eyck’s painting doesn’t have any independent terminators. The way he paint object is to use shadows to let the light parts pop out. That means he doesn’t have reflections.

early northern environment

And I take the shapes of trees from Van Eyck.


For the bridge and the sere tree, I take the Return of the Hunters from Pieter Bruegel the Elder as reference.

the return of the hunters pieter bruegel the elder

the Return of the Hunters, Pieter Bruegel the elder. 1565.

early north environment 3 c early north environment 3 e


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