10.2 The Renaissance in Northern Europe

In the mid-1300s, the Black Death had reduced the population of Europe by one-third and brought the economy to a standstill. Italy recovered fairly quickly and was soon the center of the Renaissance and its creative upsurge. Only after 1450 did northern Europe enjoy the economic growth that had earlier supported the Renaissance in Italy.

Illustration of a wheat field near a village during a harvest. People are engaged in various activities such as cutting and gathering wheat, transporting water, stopping to eat and rest under a tree.

Analyze Information

Pieter Bruegel painted this scene of Flemish working life called The Harvesters in 1565. What are some Renaissance characteristics of this painting?


  • Describe the themes that northern European artists, humanists, and writers explored.
  • Explain how the printing revolution shaped European society.

Key Terms

  • Johannes Gutenberg
  • Flanders
  • Albrecht Dürer
  • engraving
  • Erasmus
  • Sir Thomas More
  • utopian
  • Shakespeare

Artists of the Northern Renaissance

The northern Renaissance began in the prosperous cities of Flanders, a region that included parts of what is today northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Flanders was a thriving center of trade for northern Europe. From Flanders, the Renaissance spread to Spain, France, Germany, and England, which enjoyed cultural rebirths during the 1500s.

Flemish Painters

Among the many talented artists of Flanders in the 1400s, Jan van Eyck stands out. His portrayals of townspeople as well as religious scenes abound in rich details that add to the realism of his art. Van Eyck developed new techniques for using oil paint. He and other Flemish artists used these new methods to produce strong colors and a hard-surfaced paint that could survive for centuries.

A leading Flemish painter of the 1500s was Pieter Bruegel (BROY gul). He used vibrant colors to portray lively scenes of peasant life, earning him the nickname “Peasant Bruegel.” Although Bruegel produced works on religious and classical themes, his secular art influenced later Flemish artists, who painted scenes of ordinary people in their daily lives.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments