Art & design in late Renaissance Europe 1500–1600
During this period the taste for ornament inspired by ancient Roman art, characteristic of the Renaissance, continued to co-exist with exuberant designs and compositions that recalled more recent 'Gothic' fashions and eastern influences. The ideals of harmony and balance fundamental to Classical art gave way to a more contorted and exaggerated style later labelled 'Mannerism'.
The new technology of the printing press was crucial to the ever-wider circulation of new fashions and designs. Printing technology also spread new controversial ideas about the role of statues, images and painting in Christian worship which fuelled debate between Catholics and Protestant reformers. Printed pictures and accounts introduced Europeans to the previously unknown peoples and landscapes of the Americas, as well as disseminating information about more familiar neighbours, such as the Turks.
By 1600 buildings and objects made in the styles now known as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Mannerism could be found throughout Europe. In many cathedrals and churches that survive today objects and phases of architecture reflecting these styles can still be found, frequently side-by-side.
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Albrecht Dürer, 'The Flight into Egypt'
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
'The Flight into Egypt'
Woodcut, ink on paper
Width 20.9 cm x height 29 cm
Museum no. E.1134-1900
Joseph is shown leading a donkey which carries Mary, she is cradling the baby Jesus. Jesus's swaddled head is visible in the centre of the print, between Mary and the horn of the ox. According to the Bible (Matthew 2:13-15) the Holy Family fled to Egypt after Joseph received a warning that King Herod was searching for the infant Jesus in order to kill him.
The combination of Albrecht Dürer's (1471-1528) draughtsmanship, with the skill of the artists who cut his drawings into the wooden blocks used to print them, established woodcutting as a major artistic medium and shows why Dürer's prints were so highly regarded in his own lifetime.
The Brixen Altarpiece, about 1500-1510. Museum No. 192-1866
Bressanone/Brixen, Italy (Tyrolese)
Museum No. 192-1866
In the late 1400s and early 1500s the making of altarpieces like this was a flourishing industry in the Tyrol, an area that is divided today between Italy and Austria. It has been estimated that there were once over 2000 examples of altarpiece in the churches and chapels of the region. The central panel of this example features painted sculptures of the Virgin and Child, flanked by St Florian (left) and St John the Baptist (right).
The two reliefs on the left wing depict the Annunciation (above) and the Presentation in the Temple (below). The two reliefs on the right illustrate the Nativity (above) and the Adoration of the Magi (below). These scenes all relate to Christ's infancy and are described in the Gospels. On certain special days the wings would be closed, revealing paintings on the back of the wings.
The prominence given to saints like those shown here and the Virgin Mary was heavily criticised in the 1500s by those people who sought to reform the Catholic Church. In some parts of Europe were these ideas took hold many such images were destroyed.
Ewer, about 1500-1525. Museum No. 5577-1859
Museum no. 5575-1859
The glass used in this ewer is known as 'Calcedoni' and imitates chalcedony, a naturally occurring hardstone. The ancient Romans were specialists at using glass to imitate semi-precious stones. The Venetians developed 'Calcedoni' glass on the island of Murano around 1450. Details concerning its manufacture were kept secret for many decades to prevent imitation and competition. The process involves mixing different colours of glass in layers as a special heat treatment during blowing.
'The Aldobrandini Tazza', standing dish
'The Aldobrandini Tazza'
Museum no. M.247-1956
This Tazza (or standing dish) depicts scenes from the life of the Roman Emperor, Domitian, who stands on a fluted column in the centre of the bowl. It is one of a set of 12, each of which represented one of the first 12 Caesars (or Emperors) of Imperial Rome. All twelve dishes survive but they are in different collections across the world. The dishes were owned in the late 1500s by a member of the Italian Aldobrandini family. The owner may have been Ippolito Aldobrandini the Elder, who later became Pope Clement VIII.
A River God, sculpture
A River God
Giovanni Bologna or 'Giambologna' (1529-1608)
Width 30.3 cm x length 39.4 cm x height 24.8cm
Museum no. 250-1876
In the late 1500s Giambologna was the most influential sculptor in Europe. He won admiration for the range of his works, from monumental public statues to intimate bronzes. This terracotta is a model rather than a finished work. It probably relates to a plan for a colossal sculpture symbolising the River Nile that became the Appenine at the Medici villa at Pratolino, Tuscany (Italy). This sculpture shows Giambologna's mastery of clay modelling. The Florentine Medici familiy's patronage of Giambologna led to a style that was closely associated with the Medici court, and which spread to northern Europe.
House façade, about 1600. Museum No. 846-1890
Museum no. 846-1890
This façade was once part of a large and impressive mansion built on the edge of the city of London, in Bishopsgate Without. This location meant that the house survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. The house was built for Sir Paul Pindar, a wealthy merchant who spent time in Italy and made his fortune there. He also spent nine years as ambassador to the Sultan of Turkey. In 1890 the little that remained of the house and its former magnificence was demolished to make way for an extension to Liverpool Street Railway Station and Museum acquired the façade.