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Unit information: Art of the Northern Renaissance (Level H Lecture Response Unit) in 2020/21

Unit name Art of the Northern Renaissance (Level H Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HART30043
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Williamson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The focus of this unit will be on painting in the Netherlands, looking in particular at the greatest painters of the Northern Renaissance: Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes and Petrus Christus. We adopt a method of close looking, focussing in detail on one or more important paintings each week, and placing those in context together with other works, and exploring a number of key themes. The glories of the Italian Renaissance have sometimes been allowed to overshadow the equally fascinating and extraordinary art that was produced in the north of Europe during the same period. Equally, assumptions about what the Renaissance was, and what the term means, have largely proceeded from considerations of Italian art. We will consider the ways in which the term might have differing meanings and differing implications when used in a northern European context. Key issues to be considered may include: the ways in which the term 'Renaissance' is used, both now and in the past, and what it means (and has meant) in historical and art-historical scholarship focussing on northern Europe; the patronage, function, and reception of the art of northern Europe, including themes such as ‘vision and visuality’, ‘art and the eucharist’, ‘pilgrimage’, ‘the role of images’, ‘the role of the artist’, ‘portraiture’.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

(1) articulate an understanding of the development of art during the Northern Renaissance;

(2) analyse and generalise about how and why the art of the Northern Renaissance differed to that produced in Italy;

(3) select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general issues and arguments;

(4) identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and form an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

One 3000-word essay (50%) One timed assessment (50%) [both elements will assess ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

  • Susie Nash, Northern Renaissance Art, 2008; James Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art, 1985
  • Jeffrey Chipps Smith, Art of the Northern Renaissance, 2004
  • Bernhard Ridderbos, Anne van Buren, Henk Th. van Venn (eds), Early Netherlandish paintings: rediscovery, reception and research, 2005
  • Jill Dunkerton, et al, Giotto to Dürer: Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery, 1991
  • Lorne Campbell, The fifteenth-century Netherlandish schools, 1998
  • Maryan W. Ainsworth, From Van Eyck to Bruegel: early Netherlandish painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.