The Arts of the Northern Renaissance

653 TUTOR: Wayne Bennett (MA)

The Renaissance is usually regarded as synonymous with the development of painting, sculpture and architecture in Italy. In northern Europe, during this period, change was also occurring but for entirely different reasons. In this course, you will examine the differences and the connections across the many cultural and political geographies. You will explore the visual world of the Burgundian court, the extraordinary development of the arts in the low countries and elsewhere, culminating in extraordinary achievements of Bosch, Brueghel, Dürer and Holbein. Music excerpts from the period will enrich your inquiry. No prior knowledge will be assumed.

Course Notes


The Ideas and Politics of the Renaissance North and South of the Alps

We will begin with a brief discussion regard our concept of a 'renaissance' and try to establish as to whether the term is helpful or not. As elsewhere in history, the nomenclature matters! We will then set out to explore the broad historic and geographic context for the development of art both in Italy but most importantly elsewhere in Europe.


Riches from the Burgundian Court

The Burgundian court was eventually subsumed into the Habsburg empire and its Iberian manifestation.This had enormous cultural consequences at a time when Europe was being rocked by the ambitions and plotting of competing monarchs. However, before these events the state of Burgundy used its wealth to propagate a great flourishing of the arts. We will see many fine examples of this patronage and consider how Burgundy contributed to laying the foundations of what we call the Northern Renaissance.


The Achievement of Early Netherlandish Art

For many, the Northern Renaissance is the art of the Early Netherlandish School. In this session we will spend time looking at several painted masterpieces and consider the impact of these works. We will critically assess the works and achievements of Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Robert Campin, Petrus Christus and Hugo van der Goes, amongst many. We will also consider some of the technical developments of the age and how these differed from went before and what followed.


Sculptural and Architectural Treasures

The qualities of sculpture and architecture are notoriously difficult to illustrate and to describe in words. This, however, will not stop us in trying to access the impact and achievement of northern craftsmen and builders. Some of the pieces we will look at will astonish and we will see how several key works have parallels in the realism found in two dimensional work. Indeed, the distinction between sculpture and painting is somewhat blurred in the making of altarpieces and other funerary masterpieces. We will spend time considering how the wealth brought by trade also enabled great buildings to erected in many northern cities, some of which survive to this day.


Humanism, Reformation, Durer and Holbein

The period under examination was one of great tumult. The authority of the church was severely challenged not just by Lutheranism but also the widespread interest in humanism. In this final session we will consider the implications.We will consider the art of Bosch, Brueghel, Grünewald, Dürer and Holbein. At this summation we will be able to assess the art of northern Europe in comparison with art produced in Italy and ask ourselves the question as to why Italian art has dominated our sense of art history for so long

Course Tutor

Wayne Bennett


About Wayne


After an initial training and career in the theatre (including working in London's West End and for over four years at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) Wayne studied fine art and art history at Camberwell School of Art and Goldsmiths' College, University of London, where he obtained a first class honours degree. He studied archaeology at Exeter University and has a Master's degree in Art History from the Open University.For two years he worked for the Contemporary Art Society based at the Tate Gallery and for 23 years was General Manager and Director of Dillington House - Somerset's Residential College of Adult Education until his retirement in 2015. He now divides his time between his research interests - archaeology, cartography, cultural history, music and art.He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.


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Summer School Dates for 2022

All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 11 Jul - 15 Jul

WK 2 18 Jul - 22 Jul

WK 3 25 Jul - 29 Jul

WK 4 1 Aug - 5 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM