Dutch Renaissance

February 3, 2009

written by Naomi Henderson.

st-jerome
My favorite type of art belongs to the Dutch Renaissance. Partly this is due to a really great professor in college, but mostly I love it because of all the original texts of the era that are available to help decipher it. Renaissance art is wonderful because it is easy to understand as long as you have good resources for your research. Unlike contemporary art, analyzing it is less about personal interpretation as it is about understanding the religious, economic, and social atmosphere of the time. With that in mind, I will try to give you a little insight into the mindset of the Dutch Renaissance through a painting by an unknown artist in 1530/40, called Landscape With St. Jerome.
The Renaissance began in Italy with the educated nobility who desired to grow intellectually, by returning to the classical texts of the Greeks and Romans. These teachings brought society out of a Medieval rejection of all worldly matters. Instead of shunning the material world, the Renaissance nobility strove to understand their productive role within it. Thus the nobility began to engage in civic duty, take a more active role in family and politics, as well as embrace the natural world. To escape the hardships of the city, the nobility began to build large villas in the countryside. The fact that they could enjoy the pleasures of nature, unlike peasants who worked the land, reassured the nobility of their place in the social hierarchy. In art, these ideals were expressed through not only classical mythology, but also through the stories of the Christian saints. St. Jerome was a favorite of the time, because he forsook the world of the city to meditate in the tranquil wilderness. Like the nobility, St. Jerome understood the benefits of retreating from the dirt and noise of city life. This subject matter also allowed Renaissance artists to explore their talents in depicting the natural world. This painting is interesting in that St. Jerome appears to be an afterthought to the majestic landscape behind him. The artist was obviously much more interested in portraying a vibrant wilderness than he was of showing St. Jerome. The cities dotting the landscape, are a nod to the artist’s noble patron, who would gently be reminded that although he had left the city for a short time, his civic duties were waiting.
I hope this was at least a little bit interesting. It has been years since I have studied art, but this tid bit is is just a scratch into the surface of the meanings behind Renaissance paintings.

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