Saint Barbara, Robert Campin, 1438, Oil on canvas

Europe in the second half of the 15th century underwent a period of demographic growth and social change. Humanist ideas spread throughout Europe and classical Antiquity was once again held up as a model and ideal.

In Italy, art began to be seen as a liberal profession, and the first artists’ biographies and self-portraits began to appear. German art of the 15th century was highly influenced by Flemish painting. German artists adapted their own Gothic tradition to that of the Flemish painters such as Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin and above all, Rogier van der Weyden.

It was, however, more of a challenge for the northern artists to fuse the northern Medieval approach (love of detail and rich, luminous colours) with the Italian artists’ devotion to classical antiquity and the use of proportion in the depiction of figures. Dürer set out to provide northern artists with a model that could function to reconcile Flemish empiricism with the theoretical nature of Italian art.

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