Prayers, Paradox, and Peasants: Art of the Northern Renaissance
In 1566, the great iconoclasm in the Netherlands signaled the revolt of a modern, middle-class, trade-based polity against its distant Catholic monarch, the King of Spain. In the previous 150 years, the Netherlands had undergone remarkably rapid social, religious, and economic changes, as had the aesthetics and artistic practices that registered and reflected this society. This course will first trace the development of a complexly “realistic” aesthetic allied with symbolic content in the service of spirituality and devotional practices, developing alongside art that valued magnificence and grandiose display. We will then consider the long trajectory of these pictorial practices as the Netherlands entered the Early Modern era–the rise of merchant capitalism, the encounter with new worlds, the spiritual crisis of the Reformation. Issues to be dealt with will include: traditions of workshop production and new methods of marketing art; visual products for the elite and their relation to popular culture; the spread of art to the rising middle class; ideas of satire and paradox; artistic responses to cultural constructs of class and gender; the rise of genres (landscape, portraiture, still life) and their aesthetic and social functions.