Renaissance for Kids
What was the Northern Renaissance?
The center of the European Renaissance movement was in Italy. Over time, however, the ideas and influence of the Italian Renaissance spread to other areas of Europe. The "Northern" Renaissance refers to Renaissance art, architecture, and philosophy that took place outside of Italy.
Painting by Dutch artist Jan Van Eyck
One of the first places that the Renaissance spread to was France. This was because France invaded Italy in the late 1400s and came into contact with Italian paintings and artistic philosophies. The King of France, Francis I, invited many Italian artists to move to France including Leonardo da Vinci.
French architecture changed during this time as well. Kings and nobles began to build bright pleasure palaces called chateaus instead of the dark fortress castles of the Middle Ages. Many chateaus had large landscaped gardens filled with statues and fountains.
During the Dutch Renaissance, Dutch painters developed their own style. Dutch painters brought a new approach to detail, realism, and naturalism. They also came up with innovations on how to handle oil paint, allowing them to make very detailed and accurate paintings. Some of the early important Dutch painters included Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin, and Gerard David.
The Dutch also had an impact on the philosophy of humanism. Catholic priest Erasmus was called the "Prince of Humanists". He wrote many important works including Praise of Folly and Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style.
Germany had a significant influence on the European Renaissance starting with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. The printing press allowed for the new ideas of the Renaissance to spread throughout Europe.
Another German that played a major role in the Renaissance was a priest named Martin Luther. He started the Protestant Reformation when he published his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His ideas attacked the Catholic Church and caused many people to rethink Christianity.
Finally, many German artists traveled to Italy and learned from the artists of the Italian Renaissance. The most famous German painter of the time was Albrecht Durer. His talented work was much admired throughout Europe.
One of the last areas of Europe to experience the Renaissance was England. The peak of the English Renaissance occurred during the Elizabethan Era. During this time England experience peace and prosperity. Many foreign artists were imported to the Tudor court and their ideas began take root in England.
The most important aspect of the English Renaissance was the theatre. Popular playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe wrote some of the most memorable plays in world history. Permanent theatres were established throughout London where a variety of plays were staged including tragedies, comedies, and history plays.
Age of Exploration
At the same time as the Northern Renaissance, many of these same countries were also entering the Age of Exploration. Spain and Portugal were funding expeditions that discovered trade routes to the Far East, the Americas, and circumnavigated the globe.
Interesting Facts about the Northern Renaissance
- Nuremberg in southern Germany was the central city of the German Renaissance.
- Dutch artists were some of the first western artists to specialize in landscapes.
- The Portuguese invented the caravel during the Renaissance. This maneuverable sailing ship helped improve trade, exploration, and travel.
- French-Dutch composer Josquin des Prez is often considered the world's first musical genius.
- The word "renaissance" is a French word that means "rebirth".
Take a ten question quiz at the Northern Renaissance questions page.
Learn more about the Renaissance:
Renaissance for Kids