Northern Renaissance Armatures
Like Giotto and Duccio in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, artists in northern Europe in the fifteenth century were striving for greater realism with no knowledge of linear perspective. Presumably, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and their successors are identified with the Renaissance because they were contemporaries of the Quattrocento Italian Renaissance artists, and because, like those artists, they had broken with the International Gothic style. However, in my opinion, Northern Renaissance art is unique, a thing unto itself. It was not an expression of the classical ideas that underpin Italian Renaissance art, and the armatures are different. This remained the case until Dürer introduced linear perspective to northern artists early in the sixteenth century.
Italian Renaissance artists and Northern Renaissance artists did have this is common: They both saw geometry as divine. Italian Renaissance artists believed in divine proportion, an idea they acquired from reading rediscovered classical books, particularly Vitruvius’ De architectura.1 Northern Renaissance artists treated sacred geometry as an expression of the divine – as will be seen, the armatures of their sacred art featured geometric figures that were considered divine, either because of their shape or because they exhibit the golden ratio. (Sacred geometry is a topic in Constructions.)
Robert Campin (c. 1378 – 1444)
Campin (formerly known as the Master of Flémalle) is considered a Proto Renaissance artist because, like Giotto and Duccio, he broke with the International Gothic style in pursuit of greater realism. He is a bridge between that earlier art and the art of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. [CITE AND ELABORATE.]
Jan van Eyck (1390 - 1441)
Rogier van der Weyden (1399 - 1464)
“Cesariano . . . reported that the rule of German architects was to use the vesica piscis for planning churches, which necessitated the use of equilateral triangles.” Hiscock, The Symbol at Your Door, p. 373.
Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493
Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)
"In contrast to his earlier pictures, Dürer’s works showed good perspective after about 1500. According to Panofsky, Dürer was indebted to the Italians for this. He had taken a special trip to Bologna in 1506 to learn the secret theoretical foundation for a process he already knew how to do mechanically. In a letter he wrote in 1506, he said, ‘I shall ride to Bologna where someone is willing to teach me the secrets of perspective. . .’ The name of Dürer’s teacher in Bologna is not known, but Panofsky speculates that it might have been Pacioli or Bramante. An excerpt (p. 386) from Piero’s book on perspective appears in Dürer’s notebooks, and his development is similar to Piero’s, suggesting that his instructor was close to Piero." Calter, Squaring the Circle, pp. 385-386.
"Because Dürer had been trained in a late Gothic tradition, the concept of perspective came to him as a revelation, and he seems to have regarded it as a kind of visual magic. Saint Jerome in His Study . . . is one of his works that displays a strong use of perspective. Calter, Squaring the Circle, p. 386.
1 Roger Burrows, 3D Thinking in Design and Architecture from Antiquity to the Future, (New York, Thames & Hudson, 2018), 210.