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Early Netherlandish painting refers to the work of artists, sometimes known as the Flemish Primitives, active in the Burgundian and Habsburg Netherlands during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance; especially in the flourishing cities of Tournai, Bruges, Ghent and Brussels in modern-day Belgium. Their work followed the International Gothic style and began approximately with Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck in the early 1420s. It lasted at least until the death of Gerard David in 1523, although many scholars extend it to the start of the Dutch Revolt in 1566 or 1568. Early Netherlandish painting coincides with the Early and High Italian Renaissance but is seen as an independent artistic culture, separate from the Renaissance humanism that characterised developments in Italy. Because the works of these painters represent the culmination of the northern European medieval artistic heritage and the incorporation of Renaissance ideals, the painters are sometimes categorised as belonging to both the Early Renaissance and Late Gothic.

The major Netherlandish painters include Campin, van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Dieric Bouts, Petrus Christus, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes and Hieronymus Bosch. These artists made significant advances in natural representation and illusionism, and their work typically features complex iconography. Their subjects are usually religious scenes or small portraits, with narrative painting or mythological subjects being relatively rare. Landscape is often richly described but relegated as a background detail before the early 16th century. The painted works are generally oil on panel, either as single works or more complex portable or fixed altarpieces in the form of diptychs, triptychs or polyptychs. The period is also noted for its sculpture, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass and carved retables.

The period occurred during the height of Burgundian influence in Europe, when the Low Countries became the political and economic centre of Northern Europe, noted for its crafts and luxury goods. In conjunction with production by the workshop system, panels and a variety of crafts were sold on commissions from foreign princes or to merchants through market stalls. The majority of the works were destroyed during waves of iconoclasm in the 16th and 17th centuries and today only a few thousand examples survive. Early northern art in general was not well regarded from the early 17th to the mid-19th century and the painters and their works were not well documented until the mid-19th century with the reinvigoration of interest in Early Netherlandish art. Art historians spent almost another century determining attributions, studying iconography, and establishing bare outlines of even the major artists' lives. Attribution of some of the most significant works is still debated.


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