British Renaissance Artists And Art

When most people think of the Renaissance, they think about Italy. This is because the main movement of the Renaissance was in Italy, but the Renaissance also happened in other parts of Europe, such as Britain.

The Renaissance in Britain, known as the English Renaissance, took place from the early 16th century to the early 17th century. The British Renaissance took place later than the Italian Renaissance. During the British Renaissance, paintings were not emphasized as much as music and literature. One of the famous types of artwork that came out of this era was portrait miniatures.

When you think about the British art of this era, most people think about portrayed miniatures. The portrait miniatures became an influential art form during the period and beyond.

British Renaissance Art

The British Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England from the early 16 century to the early 17th century. The British Renaissance took place much later. As was the case for most Northern Europe, England saw very little Renaissance developments until more than a century later, when the Renaissance movement came to Britain.

As was the case for most of England, the Elizabeth era, which happened in the second half of the 16th century, is usually regarded as the height of the English Renaissance. Some scholars see the beginning of the Renaissance taking place in the early 16th century or during the reign of Henry the VIII. 

The Renaissance style was slow to penetrate the British cities and life, so the English Renaissance was not the same as the Italian Renaissance. One of the significant differences was literature and music; this was the dominant art form for the British Renaissance. Visual arts were much less significant than during the Italian renaissance era.

Britain was very slow to produce any arts in the renaissance style. The artists located in the Tudor Court of Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth the first were mainly created by foreigners.

British Renaissance Artists

During the British Renaissance era, the English reformation was also taking place. The reformation took place when the church of England broke away from the authority of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

Hans Holbein

One of the critical foreign artists was the Swiss-German painter Hans Holbein, the younger. He was one of the more prominent painters to work in what was known as the English or Northern Renaissance style.

Portrait of Henry VIII, (1536) by Hans Holbein, the Younger

The breakaway from the Roman Catholic church also affected the art of this period and slowed down the production of the English Renaissance arts. Under the reformation, iconoclasm also came, the social belief and importance of destroying icons, images, and monuments. 

The iconoclasm belief destroyed almost all medieval religions because of the shift in the religion of England; this in turn also destroyed most medieval religious art and idols. So as not to look like they were practicing iconoclasm, the English art then became dominated by portrait painting and landscapes. 

British Artists And Potrait Miniatures Painting

During this era, we can credit the British with the invention of portrait miniatures. The artist essentially took the techniques of the dying art of the illuminated manuscript and transferred this to a miniature portrait that people could wear in lockets.

The illuminated manuscript was a formally prepared document where the text was often supplemented with flourishes of art and borders and miniature illustrations. The Roman Catholic Church often used these prayers, services, and psalms.

Because of the shift in the religion of England and the destruction of all medieval religious art and idols, English art then became dominated by portrait painting and landscape painting. These two subject matters would dominate English art for centuries to come.

Lucas Horenbout was Flemish and first invented the technique of portrait miniatures, but the British Artist refined it.

Notable British Artists such as Nicolas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver became influential artists for portrait miniatures.

Nicholas Hilliard – English Royal Miniature Portraits

Self-portrait of Nicholas Hilliard (1577)

Nicholas Hilliard was born in 1547 and died in 1619. He was an English goldsmith who is best known for his portrait miniatures during this era.

Hilliard painted for the English Court, including Elizabeth I and James I of England. He mostly painted small oval miniatures but was also known to paint some larger cabinet miniatures up to about 10 inches or 25 centimeters tall. He did paint some panel paintings for Queen Elizabeth.

Hilliard’s paintings were all excellently executed and had a freshness and charm that could not be found in other types of art in Europe. His art shows us some glimpses into this time in Britain, including the Shakespearean age in England.

Issac and Peter Oliver – Father and Son Painters

Issac Oliver was born in 1565 and died in 1617. He was born in France but moved with his parents to London.

He studied painting under Nicholas Hilliard and developed a slightly different style than Hilliard. Oliver was influenced by Italian and Flemish art.

Oliver is most known for his miniature paintings. After Elizabeth I died, he became the painter for James I’s court. Today, many of his paintings are still at Windsor Castle.

Peter Oliver, his son also became a crucial miniature artist painter. Peter Oliver was considered one of the greatest miniature painting artists.

Like his father, Peter also worked with the court of England, and many of his paintings today remain at Windsor castle.

As we can see, compared to their Italian or their southern European neighbors, the Renaissance in England was very different from the Renaissance in Italy. Today when we think of renaissance artists, we think mainly of those like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo.

We learn from the British Renaissance how religion and even a change in religion as the reformation had a lasting effect upon art and the artist for centuries to come.

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Greek And Rome Influence On Renaissance Art

The Renaissance, as a period of rebirth, was greatly influenced by the classical ancient art of Greek and Rome. During this period, many of these works of art were also rediscovered, which led to the discovery of realism, symmetry, and harmony in the arts. Greek and Roman art also influenced the subject matter of many of the Renaissance artists.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Greek And Rome Influence On Renaissance Art.

Why Was The Human Figure So Important To Renaissance Art?

The human figure was significant to the Renaissance artists; they showed the realistic human form. They understood that to show the human form adequately, they needed to study it and understand it better. The classical statues of Greek and Rome greatly influenced these Renaissance artists and their desire to depict the perfect human form. It can be said the Renaissance artist started on their study of the human figure where the Greek and Roman artists left off.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Why Was The Human Figure So Important To Renaissance Art?.