|1. Avignon||2. Paris|
|3. Burgundy||4. Low Countries|
|5. The influence of Dijon||6. Visconti Book of Hours|
|7. Maréchal Boucicault's Book of Hours||8. Limbourg brothers|
|9. Master of the Rohan Prayer-book||10. Bohemia|
|11. Influence of Bohamian style||12. Austria|
|13. Hungary||14. Cologne|
|15. Northern Germany||16. England|
|17. Italy||18. Iberian Peninsula|
It is not an easy task to summarize the history of the process whereby the amalgamation of local influences and disparate styles became unified around the year 1400. On the one hand, similar experiments were being carried out independently in various parts of Europe, and at the same time, it is difficult to be certain where innovations originated because of the complex network of international connections. Pächt understood and defined the nature of this phenomenon very clearly: "The unprecedented unification of the European artistic idiom which took place at the turn of the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries was not the triumph of a superior artistic system that would have ensured hegemony for a single country. The homogeneity was the fruit of a manifold exchange of artistic ideas of most various origins; the surprisingly homogeneous result of a dialogue that had lasted for several decades, a dialogue in which first one partner and then another one put forward ideas."
That is why it is so difficult to point out the place, the time and the circumstances under which the style came into being. Nevertheless, if art historians want to determine the time when the exchange of artistic ideas reached a new level of intensity, they usually concentrate upon the court of the Popes in exile at Avignon (1309-1377) or else upon Paris in the fourteenth century.
It is beyond dispute that French and Italian (pre-eminently Sienese) artists worked together at Avignon, under the patronage of the papal court; this period began with the active career in Avignon of Simone Martini. (It is also true to say that Sienese painting (guided tour opening in new tab), softer and more linear than Florentine art, and therefore more easy to assimilate into the Northern Gothic style, helped to convey the innovations of the Italian trecento to territories beyond the Alps.)
In Avignon it was not only the amalgamation of the two artistic cultures that pointed towards the International Gothic style, but so did the aristocratic and secular themes - unusual in the ecclesiastical world - of the frescoes of the palace. These included hunting and fishing scenes shown in front of a background of a decorative pattern of vegetation which covered the surface of the wall like a tapestry. The fact that the papal court in Avignon was one of the intellectual centres of Europe even during its exile helped to spread the characteristics of Sienese art beyond the Alps, especially to Dijon, Paris and Prague.
But in the fourteenth century the influence of Tuscan art found its way to the north in a variety of ways, principally through the influence of the North Italian city-states. While the part played by Avignon in this movement was important, it was not decisive. Though in the art of the papal court we find some features characteristic of the International Gothic style, they are not sufficient to be regarded as the beginnings of the style, especially in view of the fact that after the Popes had left Avignon toward the end of the century, the city reverted to a level of comparative insignificance.
On the other hand Paris, the residence of the French kings, had always been one of the centres of Western culture. In the second half of the fourteenth century, due to the rich artistic heritage and to the generous commissions of Charles V (1364-1380) and his entourage, an art centre of unsurpassed brilliance, especially in the field of miniature painting, came into being. This flowering had the effect of a magnet in attracting talented artists to Paris from remote places, particularly great numbers of painters from the southern and western parts of the Netherlands. These artists were accustomed to urban life and to a realistic way of representation, and they worked in the workshops of the miniature painters. They gave and received fresh impulses and enriched the mature French Gothic style at its point of highest refinement with a more naturalistic vision, while they enjoyed the security of a strong tradition and, with the intermediary of Avignon, became acquainted with the novelties of the Italian trecento.
It was from the 1370s and 1380s onwards that the International Style appeared in the courts of Charles V and his brothers, Louis d'Orléans, Philip the Bold and the Duc de Berry, who, like the king himself, created conditions favourable to the collaboration of French and foreign masters. It should be borne in mind, however, that the art of the Lombard miniaturists and of the Bohemian Master of Trebon were developing at the same time. Accordingly, the International Style was born concurrently in several places. Needless to say, in the great international exchange of artistic ideas there were silent and passive partners as well as trend-setters. The workshop of Burgundy, which in the 1380s developed into a school, grew into a factor which exercised a decisive influence on the image of the period, and so did the activity of Lombard miniaturists, appearing at the same period, the illuminators working for the Duc de Berry and, in the eastern part of Europe, the art of the Master of Trebon.
Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, raised his court at Dijon to the rank of one of the most important art centres of the period in Europe. The construction of the Carthusian monastery in Champmol near the city, a work he supported, ensured favourable working conditions for the French, Flemish and Dutch masters working there. The great sculptor of the period, Claus Sluter, a native of Haarlem, worked there, but the names and works of several other painters have also come down to us. Jean de Beaumetz, Jean Malouel and Henri Bellechose were also born in the west or south of the Netherlands and were trained there. But, before entering the service of Philip the Bold, they had also visited Paris.
The most eminent among them, Melchior Broederlam, lived in Ypres and received a commission from Dijon to paint two large volets. The most important element in the style of these artists is the Sienese aspect of nature, which is so rich in emotions, together with the realism they brought from their homeland and the sophisticated elegance they learned in the workshops of the Parisian miniaturists.
In his small picture representing Christ on the cross, the three Maries and a praying Carthusian monk, Jean de Beaumetz borrowed concrete motifs from Simone Martini's Crucifixion, which at that time was in Dijon and is now in Antwerp; these motifs include the touchingly emaciated figure of Christ, with angular knees and his head bowed to one side; the fainting figure of the Virgin, with closed eyes, her lips half opened, and the double stripes of gold which decorate the border of the characters' garments. The motif of the halo in which the rays and the disc of the Sun are combined, also originates from Simone Martini. The pathetic accents of the picture: the stream of blood on Christ's body and the ecstatic posture of the monk, all evoke the mood of Netherlandish mysticism, while the calligraphic rhythm of the composition, the decorative gold background and the elegant movement of St John's hand follow the traditions current in the Parisian miniaturists' workshops.
Jean Malouel, uncle of the three Limbourg brothers, became the court painter of Philip the Bold after Beaumetz's death. In its type, the picture of the Madonna and Child originating from his workshop reflects a direct Sienese influence. A similar representation of the half length figure of the Virgin gently embracing her Child with her right hand, with the two faces touching softly, was especially popular in the Lorenzetti's' circle. The softness and the fine modelling of the faces and the Child's body is rich in nuances and reveals a Flemish heritage, whereas the gold of the hair and the brilliant blue of Mary's mantle is reminiscent of the colours of Paris manuscript illustrations and of the work of goldsmiths of the period.
Melchior Broederlam, the most talented among the painters working for Philip the Bold, borrowed not only external features from Italian trecento painting but he made use of and further developed the possibilities of representing space. He was interested, first of all, in the problem of how to place his figures among buildings or landscapes. While preserving their rank of primary importance the biblical figures become organic parts of their surroundings in the relatively deep space of his pictures. By means of the soft shaping which is so characteristic of the International Gothic style, for example by virtually obliterating the difference between the rocks with their rounded edges and the smoothly hanging, unbroken draperies, he achieved a pictorial unity. The rich tints of colours and the diffused light spreading softly over the whole scene give the painting a homogeneity.
To be able to assess the greatness of Broederlam's art one should know that easel painting had had a relatively short history in the North. In its dimensions as well as in its technique it generally followed miniatures, and hardly dared to cope with difficult pictorial problems. But Broederlam met the challenge, though the altar wing was over a metre and a half in height. He tried to paint a picture true to life, all the same. He had to adhere, for example, to the traditional gold background. The most he could do was to include a flying hawk, a natural inhabitant of the sky, in the composition in addition to God the Father and the angels.
4. Low Countries
We can gain an idea of the average level of panel painting in the Low Countries on the basis of a small polyptych in four parts, which may have also been produced in Ypres. The decorative arrangement of the composition which represents St Christopher, and the soft folds of the garments, are evidence that Flemish masters of minor talents or less innovatory spirits were also influenced by the International Style. These painters stayed at home and did not enter the service of the princely courts of France. Indeed, the provincialism of the painter is evident: his construction of space is rather primitive and the colours gaudy; moreover, he adhered tenaciously to local traditions, as can be seen from the naturalness of the figures and the humdrum character of the surroundings.
5. The influence of Dijon
The traditions that took shape in the Dijon workshop soon made their influence felt all over Europe but, first of all, in Paris, along the Rhine, and in Austria and Bohemia. Due to their reciprocal relationship with Dijon and with one another the idiom of the International Gothic style emerged in the 1380s in the workshops of the French and Lombard miniaturists. The chief patrons everywhere belonged to the highest spheres of the aristocracy: in the territory of France the royal and princely courts of the Valois dynasty, whilst in Milan the ambitious Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti sponsored the new trend. The mainspring of their patronage was their love of pomp and prestige, but it resulted in the encouragement of bold artistic solutions. Books adorned with superb illuminations were the best way of meeting their demands. Marriages between the two dynasties as well as their common political aims led to very close cultural connections. For example, documents prove that several painters who arrived from French courts participated in the large-scale works of the Cathedral of Milan. A mutual and symmetrical influence - one of the principal features of the International Style - was created through collaboration between the French and Lombard painters' workshops.
6. The Visconti Book of Hours
Giovannino de' Grassi, who, like many other fellow-painters of the period, also worked as a sculptor and architect, was outstanding among the number of artists who assembled to participate in the creation of the Cathedral of Milan. In the prayer-book he began to make for Gian Galeazzo Visconti he utilized and further developed the Lombard traditions of representing natural phenomena and the events of everyday life based on direct observation. As if a preliminary exercise he made good use of the lifelike studies of animals he had recorded in his sketchbook. At the same time he exploited all the possibilities given by Gothic decorativeness and conveyed to him by the Parisian miniaturists as well as by the atmospheric effects he had learned from Master Broederlam. By using luminous colours in his paintings, and including scintillating gold and silver at the same time, he came near the brilliance of the goldsmiths' works which were so highly estimated in the circle of dukes and princes. Indeed, in a certain sense, he even came close to their enamelling technique. The miniatures of Belbello da Pavia, who completed the manuscript, are characterized by radiant, enamel-like colours and a combination of a close observation of nature with stylized work showing an abundant fantasy. This art found a receptive response all over Europe and in particular with the Italians Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello, but in the frescoes of Trento and in Bohemian and English miniatures as well.
7. Maréchal Boucicault's Book of Hours
Meanwhile in Paris the miniaturists' workshops - both those pursuing the local traditions of sophisticated, decorative elegance and those courageously assimilating new and foreign effects - were flourishing. The latter would gladly admit artists who arrived primarily from the Netherlands, but from Italy and the Rhineland too. (Painters serving at French courts who had come from the Netherlands are termed in art literature as "Franco-Flemish" even if they were not Flemings.) A painter, known by the name of Master of the Hours of Maréchal de Boucicaut, stands out from this many-coloured, overall picture. In all likelihood, he can be identified with Jacques Coene, a native of Bruges, who was active in 1399 at the construction of Milan Cathedral and was often mentioned in Parisian documents between 1398 and 1404. This architect and painter of panel paintings and miniatures brought together the Flemish, Parisian and Italian traditions with exceptional talent and at a very high level. He was interested in the most difficult and latest problems posed by these three sources: in representing interior and exterior space, conveying various light effects and the aerial perspective; that is to say, problems which became of crucial importance only in the next period of painting. A more unified image of reality than ever before was displayed in the miniatures of the Master of Maréchal Boucicault; all the same, in the spirit of the International Style he often tamed his highly developed solutions. In the picture showing the conversation between Charles VI and Pierre Salmon, for example, he superimposed the golden stars as a decorative pattern on to the naturalistic representation of the sky, so that the variety of hues makes them appear as an echo of the fleur-de-lis design of the royal draperies.
8. The Limbourg brothers
In France it was in the art of the three Limbourg brothers, Jan, Pol and Herman, that the International Style reached its highest perfection which, however, was not only the summit, but also the end of the style. They were not only extraordinarily talented artists, but pursued a career - typical of the period - which was both varied and lucky. Born in the north of the Netherlands they were trained as gold and silversmiths in Paris; the eldest, Pol, certainly visited Italy too. At first they worked in the court of Burgundy, then they entered the service of the Duc de Berry, an open-minded connoisseur, whose standards in matters of art were very high indeed. The tendency of the International Gothic style to favour stylization and idealization reaches its zenith in their painting, yet, at the same time, they have made the biggest progress in conquering and representing the vision of nature.
Let us compare, for example, two miniatures of the Duc de Berry's Book of Hours, the Très Riches Heures: The Expulsion from Paradise with the picture for the Month of March. In the former the figures are virtually interwoven with the decorative pattern in a manner which resembles a Gothic initial, while in the latter they move freely in real space, on cultivated land stretching into the distance. One is suffused with unreal, other-worldly light, the other by March sunshine. In one fantastic, fairy-tale buildings appear to be rising, in the other the horizon is closed by an exact likeness of the Lusignan castle of the Duc de Berry. In one the figures are beautifully idealized (Eve's rounded belly also reflects the period's ideal of beauty!), whereas in the other they are ugly and their clothes too are torn and worn. However, the extremely idealizing artistic idiom does not exclude the most modern solutions either within the whole work or even in a single detail: in the Garden of Eden, for example, Adam's intricate counterpoised figure may have been inspired by a long-forgotten antique model.
At any time the brothers could see sculptures and medals from classical antiquity, or those which were believed to have originated in that era; drawings and paintings from Lombardy or Tuscany; tapestries from Flanders; or the works of Parisian goldsmiths in the rich collection of the Duc de Berry. Pol de Limbourg's journey to Italy may also have played a decisive role in his use of motifs of antiquity and his ingenious solutions to the problem of representing space. When he had crossed the Alps the painter could first admire the realistic studies of plants and animals by Lombard miniaturists as well as their luminous and glittering colours. Then, as he travelled further, he probably went to see the calendar landscapes made before 1407 and representing agricultural labours and the pastimes of the nobility, in the Eagle's Tower at Trento in South Tyrol. However, he was more interested in the works of the great innovators of the Tuscan trecento than in contemporary art. He was fascinated not only by different motifs in, say, Taddeo Gaddi's or Ambrogio Lorenzetti's monumental frescoes, but - and in this respect he was unique in his own period - he adopted the essential greatness of their art: their method of representing three-dimensional space by the use of perspective and the rounded appearance of the figures. Though we previously declared that the International Style gained its ascendancy as a reaction to the "modernistic rebellion" of trecento painting, we should add that the Limbourg brothers' pictures of the months, which are Italian in their inspiration, and whose representations of three-dimensional space virtually step out of the vellum sheets, were the direct forerunners of Flemish and Dutch easel painting.
9. Master of the Rohan Prayer-book
In the French art of the period the Master of the Rohan Prayer-book, named after the family coat of arms which can be seen on the Book of Hours, held a singular place. After his years of apprenticeship spent in the workshops of illuminators in Paris, the artist entered the service of the Anjou family and worked chiefly in Angers and Bourges. His activity unfolded in the late 1410s, when the anarchy and restlessness brought about by the Hundred Years' War was at its worst. It was with an unparalleled sensitivity that the Master of the Rohan Prayer-book used the idiom of the International Gothic style to express the increasingly prevalent sombre mood. His compositions are imbued with passionate expressiveness, their buoyant lines are permeated with vigorous rhythms, and their colours are vivid. He always aimed, above all else, at asserting the emotional impact of the representation, especially in the countenances and gestures of the figures. For example, he intensified to the utmost the internal tension, the helpless sorrow and pain, the coarse aggressiveness or exultant joy of the figures. On account of his expressiveness, which is not characteristic of his French environment, the Master of the Rohan Prayer-book is considered by some scholars to have been of German origin, while others think he was of Flemish, Dutch or Catalan descent.
From the mid-fourteenth century onwards Prague, the residence of Charles IV, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the royal castles and religious houses of Southern Bohemia, as well as the court of the margraves at Brno came to be included in the political and cultural court circuit of Europe as a partner of equal rank. In accordance with Charles's political interests it was, in the first place, French and Italian influence that predominated in the art found there, but the monarch zealously encouraged the fostering of existing national traditions too. Having assimilated the latest innovations of the Italian trecento, Bohemian painting soon rose to the vanguard of European art. In Bohemia too, the style of the 1360s was characterized by softly modelled, three-dimensional forms, by stocky, bulky figures and a natural manner of presentation (Master Theoderic and his circle), similar to the style of the French illuminators' workshops of the period, or to the art of Master Bertram of Hamburg.
It was the Master of Trebon, who with his fragile, slender and exalted figures wrapped in a mystical semi-darkness began to move away from that trend and by doing so launched the movement called by Czech scholars "the beautiful style" - which is, in fact, the same as the International Gothic style. During the rule of Wenceslas IV (1378-1419), the successor of Charles, the style that emerged in Bohemian and Moravian territories in fact deviated in some points from the art of the other centres. This, however, does not in any way justify a different classification, since within the uniform tendency, local variations could be found everywhere.
In Bohemia, as in other countries, the new style sought for connections with a former phase of development. But, for want of the classic Gothic style of the thirteenth century it turned to the art of the first half and middle of the fourteenth century. Indeed, at the beginning it even retained quite a few characteristics of the naturalism and pliability of the period directly preceding it. At the same time it found ideals in a much earlier past by looking back to Byzantine icons. In Bohemia, Italian effects were always coupled with Byzantine ones and Bohemian artists frequently borrowed the archaically idealizing features of Byzantine pictures in their panel paintings of the years about 1400, the time of the ever-strengthening cult of the Virgin (the Madonna of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague). This penchant for extremely transfigured and idealized figures led to the denomination of "the beautiful style".
Another peculiarity of the Bohemian and Moravian art of the period, in which it differed from that of other areas, was that the style was first formulated in sculpture, and painters gained constant encouragement from the sculptural art of the time. Whereas in the art of the Master of Trebon the gradually blending colours as well as light and shade made outlines appear to vanish and filled the whole space with mystic twilight; in the so-called Jeren Epitaph the shapes became firmer and the bright colours were clearly separated from one another so that the figures appear to be moving in space. The way the mother's fingers are pressed into the Child's soft flesh, the shiny enamel-like surfaces and the sculptural forms of the Madonna of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague all reflect the direct effect of the Beautiful Madonnas of the period.
Strongly influenced by the style of illuminations, a form of art enthusiastically supported by the Emperor Wenceslas and by the religious houses, and following the traditions of Charles's period, the style received powerful encouragement from French and Italian miniatures and from Bohemian panel painting and sculpture of the period. The fluid and free marginal decoration of the 1380s and 1390s, which was mostly composed from varied forms based upon nature, was ousted by more rigid and stylized ornaments constrained by rules of rhythm at the beginning of the new century (Missal of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague). In spite of all its peculiar features, the Bohemian art of the International Gothic style fitted organically into the overall European picture from which it received and to which it contributed new ideas. Wenceslas inherited his father's liking for France and Northern Italy, and also he was connected by dynastic links with the English and Bavarian courts. Inevitably these connections led to an exchange of ideas about art too. The most eminent Bohemian painters pursued local traditions while establishing direct links with the progressive movements of the period: the art of the Master of Trebon sprang from the same root as that of Melchior Broederlam, the Madonna of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague reveals features akin to the panels of Malouel, who worked in Burgundy. The Master of Maréchal Boucicaut's Book of Hours encouraged the Master of the Martyrologium of Gerona, almost the former's contemporary, particularly in the way he interpreted the scenery.
11. Influence of Bohamian style
In the early fifteenth century the influence of the Bohemian International Gothic style determined the artistic appearance of all the territories of Central Europe. Indeed, its influence made itself felt in more distant parts, such as in England. The deposition of Wenceslas and the Hussite wars put a sudden end to the flourishing court culture of Prague. When they lost their jobs the artists emigrated to neighbouring countries and everywhere exerted beneficial effect on local art.
It is interesting that the Bohemian influence which emerged in the South and East German regions in the 1410s and 1420s was rooted in the art of the Master of Trebon, created 20-30 years before. Owing to the spread of the Habsburg dynasty, Vienna gradually became the political and cultural centre of the Empire. In all probability the painters' school of the city was founded by the painter known as the Master of the Vienna Adoration. The soft and fluid outlines of his pictures, their deep and warm colours and the exquisite gradations of light and shade evoke the art of the Master of Trebon. Similar tendencies can be observed in the early works of his pupil, the Master of the Votive Picture of Sankt Lambrecht, in which, however, influences from Burgundy and North Italy played a role equal to that of the Bohemian examples. The panel created around 1400 in Salzburg and representing the Nativity points to the fact that in that city Bohemian and Italian influences asserted themselves with equal intensity. The soft shaping of the folds of the garments and the fiery colours can be traced back to Bohemian models, while the almost sculptural monumentality and solidity of the figures and the geometrical construction of the whole composition evoke the spirit of Tuscan trecento.
The modelbook of the anonymous Bohemian master preserved in Vienna, the drawing representing St Margaret and the Pähl Altarpiece, all point to artists with a Bohemian training, but just because Bohemian influences had permeated the whole south-eastern region of Germany and due to the frequent journeys made by the painters, it is impossible to establish the exact place where these works were created. This localization is made even more difficult as Bohemian art itself was the result of the synthesis of several European trends.
Considering these difficulties, it is all the more remarkable that we know the name of the painter of one work, as well as the date at which it was made: it is a polyptych which was produced in or near the province of Bohemia, and unites several artistic trends at a high level. It was presumably at Buda, at the royal court of Sigismund (1387-1437), the brother of Wenceslas IV, that in 1427 Thomas de Coloswar painted this altar, which is an outstanding example of the International Gothic style in Hungary. Though the work is a blend of traditions from Bohemia, France, Burgundy, the Rhineland, Italy and Hungary, nevertheless, its style is homogeneous and thus it represents a typical example of the internationality of this style of art.
The art of the eastern and southern provinces of Germany, though economically, politically and culturally disparate, was basically dominated by Bohemia. In the same way the art of the western and northern German territories was influenced, above all, by their Burgundian, French, Flemish and Dutch neighbours. As was the case in Italy, the painters of the Hanseatic towns and of the Rhineland had mostly organized themselves into guilds and enjoyed the patronage of the wealthy burghers and not of aristocratic or royal courts. They were chiefly commissioned to paint panel paintings. Cologne, in the point of intersection of several vitally important trade routes, provided a fertile ground for the International Gothic style. However, this fact was not rooted in a readiness to adopt foreign influences but, on the contrary, in the adherence to the traditions of the Cologne guilds, which remained faithful to the conservative essence of the style. Cologne painters, who gave expression to deep and devout religious feelings, were fond of graceful and elegant figures, which they represented in cheerful, light colours and thus they quite naturally established a contact with the international movement. They found the greatest number of links with the art of France and Burgundy (the Master of St Veronica).
15. Northern Germany
In contrast to the masters of the Cologne school, who worked anonymously, we do know the names of some of the greatest painters from certain provinces of North Germany. Konrad von Soest worked in Dortmund and Master Francke in Hamburg early in the fifteenth century. In their youth they may have been on long tours in Western Europe: the influence of French, Franco-Flemish and Burgundian workshops makes itself strongly felt in their paintings. They must have got to know motifs of Italian origin, which are fairly frequently found in their works, chiefly through the intermediary of their western neighbours.
Konrad von Soest followed the high standard of his exemplars, especially in his delicate figures and the soft linearity of his pictures, whereas Master Francke proceeded further: he was also interested in the experiments of his contemporaries in representing space and mass. The influence of the master painters of Burgundy makes itself felt in the way in which the space in his pictures, which became increasingly free from ornamental constraints, came to be filled with fairly large figures whose mass is interpreted in a three-dimensional manner. The gestures of his figures are expressed by their whole bodies, and are reminiscent of the drawings of Jaques Daliwe who worked in the entourage of the Duc de Berry. Their expressive gestures, the natural and terse narrative and a number of iconographical details evoke the art of the Low Countries too.
Master Francke had come to Hamburg from Gueldern, the northern part of the Netherlands, the region that had produced Malouel and the Limbourg brothers for the French courts. It was from the same area that the two brothers van Eyck started to reach the heights of world-class painting. Apart from the art of the ducal court of Gueldern, which followed French examples (The Prayer-book of Maria of Gueldern), we have no clear picture of the activity of the painters who remained there. The expressiveness of the miniatures of the Paris Apocalypse may give some idea of the mystical climate and substance of art in which Master Francke had grown up. On the other hand, we know for certain that he always maintained his connections with the Netherlands and thus, towards the end of his life, he could witness the art of the Master of Flémalle and of the van Eyck brothers opening up a new era. In his painting representing the Adoration of the Magi, he pursued a compositional scheme originating from the circle of the van Eycks.
Herman Scheere, who originated in the Low Countries, probably in Flanders, was one of the miniaturists who introduced the idiom of the International Gothic style into England in the early fifteenth century. His Annunciation continues the decorative style, rich in the elegant traditions of English manuscript painting, but is, at the same time, a veritable treasure-house of motifs of continental art: the posture of the Virgin can be traced back to Sienese pictures, while the figure of the Archangel Gabriel and the figures of the prophets in the architecture recall the Dijon altarpiece of Broederlam. The gossamer fine decoration of the draperies reveals that the artist was well versed in French tastes; the rhomboid foliage was a favourite shape with Flemish illuminators and God the Father painted in a similar way can be seen in the Dutch Prayer-book of Maria of Gueldern. It may also have been in the Low Countries that the painter saw an Annunciation in which the Virgin's answer ("Ecce ancilla domini") can be seen in the open book she is reading. And yet, the great number of influences - as in so many other outstanding examples of the International Gothic style - does not lead to eclecticism: his "style attained a smooth, cool, brilliant perfection under the velvet-gloved discipline of the English court" (Panofsky). The same refers to the painter of the Wilton Diptych, which is such a refined synthesis of French and English characteristics that up to this very day it has not been possible to establish for certain where the work was produced.
Quoting Panofsky's words again, Italy, from the second half of the fourteenth century onwards, renounced its classical heritage to the same extent as it gave way to the lure of another style which its own influence had created on the other side of the Alps. The princely courts and aristocratic palaces of Savoy, of Piedmont and South Tyrol were not only links between the art of France, Burgundy, the Rhineland and Bohemia and that of Italy, but also important centres of a particular form of the International Style. Giacomo Jacquerio was the most original painter of the French-speaking area of Piedmont, which flourished under the patronage of Margrave Amadeo VIII. The idiom of elegant French tapestries and of popular Burgundian woodcuts came to be blended in his buoyant and singularly expressive style.
It was under conditions similar to those of the north that the International Gothic style developed in the cities of the plain of the Po. Transalpine effects reaching Italy found a fertile soil in the courts of dukes and princes who followed French and Burgundian examples. It may have been there that the lucidity of Gothic linearity asserted itself better than anywhere else in Europe, and there that the painting of the period around 1400 found its most enthusiastic and worthy support in the eulogies of humanists and poets.
Even in the early fifteenth century Lombardy was one of the most important centres, where Michelino da Besozzo, whose skill had been enriched by experience gained in France and Burgundy, imbued new life into a style of art which had been brought to perfection by such artists as Giovannino de' Grassi and Luchino Belbello da Pavia, but was nearing exhaustion by reason of its own flawless excellence. His smiling figures "whose outlines are supple but not boneless" (Longhi) added human warmth to the mastery of his predecessors. Besozzo's journey to Venice in 1410 left deep effects on the art of Gentile da Fabriano, who was active in Verona and Venice. The paintings executed at Verona, which is situated in the point of intersection of north-south and east-west roads and was open to the corresponding cultural influences, were enriched not only by the art of Lombardy and Venice, but also by stylistic nuances originating in France, Burgundy, the Rhineland, Bohemia and the Tyrol.
In the International Gothic style it was Stefano da Verona, who brought about a major synthesis of the different trends. He was the first master of Pisanello, an artist of exceptional dimension, who then adopted the achievements of the artists who had made nature studies in Lombardy, of the court artists of France and Burgundy, of Michelino and Gentile da Fabriano too, and he deservedly became one of the most celebrated and sought-after painters, both of frescoes and of panel paintings, at various courts. Due to his particularly skilful draughtsmanship and his sensitivity to nature, his handling was decorative and analytically objective at the same time. Because of his exceptional gifts he became a pioneering master not only in the art of drawing but also of an independent portraiture, which was able to convey the human qualities of the models. His medallions are inseparably connected with his portrait paintings. In fact it was he who revived the former medium at the outset of the Renaissance.
Gentile da Fabriano, somewhat older than Pisanello, was also highly regarded in his own period. He travelled over a great part of Italy and, although he was of Umbrian origin, he too received from Lombardy the experiences which decisively influenced his art. Both Pisanello and Gentile worked in Venice for a fairly long time and Gentile was particularly impressed by the brilliance and solemnity of Byzantine icons and by the magic of oriental luxury. His painting of The Adoration of the Magi evinces by its pomp and ceremonial, and by the luminous colours which are full of subtle gradations, that he retained these impressions for a long time. Gentile was commissioned in 1423 by a patrician to paint this mythical story, and the painting is one of the outstanding masterpieces of the International Gothic style. The patron was a lover of antiquity and a sponsor of Greek scholarship in a democratic and bourgeois Florence, where, in those years, the classical forms of the Renaissance were beginning to gain ground. Nevertheless, in early fifteenth-century Florence it was Gentile da Fabriano's Late Gothic style that elicited a stronger response than Masaccio's revolutionary innovations. For a long time to come cultured humanist circles preferred meticulous and detailed naturalistic linearity and variety that provide a feast to the eye, to the puritanical and pure world of the new style of painting. Leading bourgeois circles pursued the customs of the nobility and lived under the spell of the Franco-Burgundian chivalric culture, enthusiastic about the elegant and "aristocratic" International Gothic art.
Nevertheless, the most eminent painters tried to bring into harmony the traditions of the Late Gothic style with the achievements of the Early Renaissance. First of all Masolino, who having worked for a time with Masaccio, succeeded in bringing about a singular artistic compromise by means of his delicately modelled forms and his luminous, vivid colours. But, like most of his contemporaries, he too, having freed himself from Masaccio's direct influence, used the elaborate and fashionable idiom of the International Gothic style, although, in representing space, he used bold perspectivic solutions throughout his life. Incidentally, the International Style came to Florence relatively late; only at the beginning of the fifteenth century, when it appeared first in Ghiberti's sculptures, but its period of dominance there lasted a very long time. Even as late as in the 1430s and 1440s rich Florentine merchants surrounded themselves with such colourful pictures and pieces of painted furniture, which abounded in details and were narrative in their style. When they had adopted the pomp of the courts of France and Burgundy they amused themselves by acting the roles of heroes of classic mythology in the dream-world they had created.
The art of Siena (guided tour appearing in a new tab), which had cherished its Gothic traditions up to the mid-fifteenth century, was not even touched by the new Florentine ideas, even though the two cities are near to each other. On the other hand, one of the most eminent masters of the first half of the century, Sassetta, who had inherited the fine use of lines and delicate colour effects from Simone Martini, displayed them in such ample and clear spaces and in such strictly geometrical forms which lead us to assume that he may have known the Limbourgs' miniatures.
18. Iberian Peninsula
Neither did the International Style arrive on the Iberian Peninsula as an alien; it had been prepared by the ancient, Arab traditions of linear decorativeness and by Sienese influences during the fourteenth century, particularly strong in Valencia, Aragon and Catalonia. Owing to its political connections with Naples and the French court in the early fifteenth century, Spain became a participant in the exchange of artistic ideas both in the smaller circle of the Mediterranean, and of the more extended one of Europe. The vivid colours and vigorous rhythm of lines were introduced to Florence by Maestro del Bambino Vispo (The Master of the Lively Child), whilst Marcal de Sax brought to Valencia the vigorous German power of expression. The Barcelona master Bernat Martorell) was the greatest representative of the style at the Spanish court. His luminous and translucent colours point to the fact that he may have known not only the miniatures of the Limbourgs but perhaps also the early ones of the two van Eyck brothers. Through his work he, like the Master of Maréchal Boucicault's Book of Hours, the Limbourgs, the Master of the Martyrologium of Gerona, the Master of the Votive Picture of Sankt Lambrecht, Master Francke, Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello and Masolino reached the threshold of a new era.
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