Overall, differences in climate led to stark differences between Italian Renaissance art and Northern Renaissance art. For example, the Northern climate did not support fresco painting the way Italy’s climate did, and the North did not have access to marble quarries. Northern Renaissance artists primarily produced oil painting, stained glass windows, and wooden sculptures, in line with their environment. However, there are some similarities between Northern Renaissance art and Italian Renaissance art, and not just in religious subject matter. Northern artists were definitely influenced by Italian artists’ use of foreshortening and perspective.
Artists in the Italian Renaissance focused a great deal on drawing three-dimensional figures and creating depth in their work. “Foreshortening” refers to the compression of certain parts of a figure to create depth. For example, shortening a figure’s torso or drawing a figure’s head a different size than its feet can make it seem like the figure is closer or further than it really is. This technique can be seen in Michelangelo’s figures in the Sistine Chapel frescoes and in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
New approaches to perspective flourished in the Italian Renaissance, and they inspired Northern Renaissance artists to experiment as well. Flemish painter Jan van Eyck was one of the first painters outside of Italy to adopt and spread Italian artists’ use of perspective. For example, his 1434 Arnolfini Portrait was revolutionary because of the placement of a mirror right in the middle. In the mirror, the viewer sees not only the backs of the two main figures but also unidentified figures coming in the doorway. Van Eyck used the mirror to create an incredible sense of depth and inspired a new wave of non-Italian artists to do the same.
Quentin Massys, another Flemish painter, also demonstrated advanced understanding of Italian art techniques in his 1514 painting The Moneylender and His Wife. In this painting, the mirror on the table creates a new level of depth, revealing a figure outside of the space of the scene. The way Massys experimented with angle and perspective here is an idea that was only possible because of the way Italian Renaissance artists began spreading ideas about perspective.