The Reformation ran in parallel with the Renaissance in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, each exerting a profound effect on the visual arts. Often caricaturing the Protestant Reformation as purely destructive, art history has usually downplayed or overlooked the ways in which it shaped and re-directed the arts. Cranach collaborated with Luther to reinvent religious art so that it avoided medieval ‘superstition’, and other German artists, including Dürer and Holbein, took different approaches in adapting to the changing climate. Bruegel and others developed new, less controversial subjects such as landscapes, still-life, and genre scenes. We can also detect a new ‘Protestant sensibility’ in the art of Rembrandt whose down-to-earth realism contrasts so dramatically with the grandiose works of Rubens, a representative of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Moreover, the Reformation forced a re-evaluation of the purpose of the visual image, shifting from a religious icon to a ‘work of art’, admired for its beauty. This course looks at the art of Northern Europe from the destruction of a rich tradition of medieval art to the flourishing of new and often very moving works. Visits will include the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings.
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