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During the 15th century, various schools of art have evolved independently from one another, due to distances, religious separation, political reasons, and historical circumstances. While numerous subjects and themes in the art of different European regions and countries were found, the purpose behind them was often different. This tendency is highlighted when comparing Italian and Netherlands’ paintings, as the regions have had very little influence and contact with one another during the early and High Renaissance period. If we compare the art and techniques of Masaccio – an early Renaissance artist famous for his fresco, The Holy Trinity, with the work of Jan van Eyck and his most famous work – a triptych titled The Dresden Triptych, it is possible to note that Italian Renaissance-period art is aimed to revive antiquity, whereas Netherlands’ art is a direct evolution from medieval paintings.
Masaccio was an Early Renaissance artist famous for pioneering the one-point linear perspective, which is a technique that uses vertical and diagonal lines in order to converge on the viewer and give an impression of depth and dimension to a flat painting (Raynaud 2016). This technique was later implemented in many other Italian masterpieces, the most famous one being The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (Raynaud 2016). Masaccio’s frescos were drawn on stone and had an emphasis on realism in accordance with the traditions of Renaissance, which sought the rebirth of art as it were in antiquity, particularly during the times of the Roman Empire. The purpose of using the one-point linear perspective was to create an illusion that the fresco was actually an installation at the Chapel, in order to increase the viewer’s immersion. The effect is very realistic, especially when the viewer is standing at the point of convergence of all the lines, which is at the base of the Cross, on which Jesus is crucified (Raynaud 2016).
Jan van Eyck’s art, on the other hand, has much in common with medieval paintings (Harbison 2012). It is shown in the positioning of the characters on the triptych, usually turned sideways or in full front, which obscures the pose and makes it look different when compared to the works of Italian artists. Nevertheless, the bodies in his works are drawn with a great amount of detail in order to make them look realistic. The purpose behind realism in Jan van Eyck’s triptych, the Dresden Triptych, is different, compared to that of Masaccio – the artist viewed the world as a work of God, which made it his solemn duty as an artist to try and replicate God’s masterpieces with as much detail as possible (Harbison 2012). Following the tenets of medieval artists, his works were aimed not only on realism but also on religious symbolism. The use of the one-point linear technique is present, though not to the same degree as in Masaccio’s work, with diagonal lines of the carpet and the arcs that line the ceiling all converge on the woman and the child in the center. It must be noted that while Italian Churches preferred stone-painted frescos, Jan van Eyck pioneered the use of oil paint on wood in his art, which later spread to Germany, Denmark, and other neighboring countries (Harbison 2012).
Therefore, while the works of Masaccio and Jan van Eyck share some similarities in regards to realism and the use of depth perception and one-point linear perspective, they are representatives of their own respective ways of art evolution in the Renaissance period, differing one from another in paint, materials, motives, and general philosophy.
Harbison, Craig. 2012. Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism. London: Reaktion Books.
Raynaud, Dominique. 2016. Studies on Binocular Vision: Optics, Vision, and Perspective from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries. New York: Springer.