Art History:   Grade 4 Lesson 1

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  ART AS IT CHANGES - Art & Exploration



  1. The Moneychanger & his wife, c.1500, Quentin Massys, Flemish (-1530), oil on board , Louvre, Paris. Reproduction photograph.
    Europe’s merchant class grew rapidly in the 15th and 16th centuries, as new trade routes to the East were opened, and the Spaniards brought back enormous wealth from their new territories in Central America. The major cities of Europe became money markets. Foremost among them was Antwerp, where Quentin Massys, in about 1500, painted this picture of The Money Changer and His Wife. The wife has been distracted from her study of a religious book by the gleam of gold and silver coins. Banking houses arose to deal in money and bills of exchange. In time these banks became so wealthy that they could lend money to governments and to monarchs. Henry VIII borrowed about one million from bankers of Antwerp. With the new prosperity came inflation, and the situation was worsened by a population explosion. Production could not keep pace with the rising population, and prices rose by as much as 400% in 90 years.

    Note the illuminated manuscript, hand printed and painted, and also the mirror which adds another dimension to the room.

    Quentin Massys was a Flemish artist who worked in Antwerp from 1491 until his death in 1530. In many respects Massys harks back to an earlier age, but his portraits and genre
    pictures reflect the new Northern Renaissance. There is a satirical quality in his pictures of bankers, tax collectors and merchants.
  2. Woman in Blue, c.1662, Johannes Vermeer, Dutch (1632-1675), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Reproduction print.
    This domestic interior scene does not immediately bring the age of exploration to mind, but further examination shows several suggestions of the period. The hairstyle, clothing and furnishings suggest wealth, the map on the wall suggests an interest in other lands; the subject is reading a letter and a necklace of pearls is on the table. The fact that the woman is pregnant may be a signal to us that the Dutch at this time were a hopeful, prosperous people looking forward to a strong future.
  3. Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula,  Guillermo Blaeum, Dutch (1571-1638) Reproduction print.

    This map was published by the Dutch cartographer and printer Willem Janszoon Blaeum toward the end of his life. It is highly decorated with an elaborate group of scenes showing (from top clockwise) moon and planets, seasons, wonders of the ancient world, the four elements, in classical personifications. At the time this map was drawn, the Spanish were established in the West Indies, Mexico and Peru; the French in Canada; and the English in Virginia and Massachusetts. The Portuguese were firmly in Africa and the Dutch in Indonesia. The title of the map translates; New Whole Earth Global Land and Sea Tablet from Willem Blaeum. While the world as it really is was beginning to appear on maps of this period, there are some obvious exceptions: the Island of New Guinea is not articulated from the Australian
    continent; the Gulf of Alaska is not present; many proportional relationships are distorted.

    Latin was the official, universal language. The seven planets pictured at the top of the map include the Sun and Moon. What planets were not yet discovered? (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) Although this map is drawn with North at the top, this was not a standard rule and maps always included a decorative arrow based on the traditional compass rose.

    bulletLinks :The Seven Ancient Wonders of the World
  4. Engraving, 1628, J Van Vedle after P Saenredam, St Bride Printing Library, Reproduction print.
    Pressmen at work for a book by S Ampzing, Haarlem

  5. Engraving, 1678, Abraham von Werdt, Nuremburg, St Bride Printing Library, Reproduction print.
    The interior of a printing office engraved by Abraham von Werdt shows compositors at work, a warehouseman packing sheets of paper in a tub and two pressmen, one inking a form and the other lifting off a printed sheet. Unlike earlier presses, there appears to be no bracing from the ceiling.
    Possibly the gryphon on the top of the press was of cast iron and acted as a counter-balance.

    Printing began in Mainz, Germany on the west bank of the Rhine River, one of the great trade routes of Europe. In 1450 Guttenburg had solved the problem of casting movable types and he established his press. As the merchant classes were sending their sons to grammar schools and universities, there was a growing demand for books. New presses opened in centers of learning and commercial towns. The printing industry followed the medieval scheme of Master, Journeyman, Apprentice. These tradesmen belonged to the same guild as the artists, the Guild of Saint Luke. The dominant characters in public life in the free cities were no longer great landowners, but urban businessmen, bankers and printers. Art was still very much a part of daily life serving a definite purpose. The object of art was to elucidate, illustrate and decorate the pattern of daily life. Maps, pamphlets, calendars and papal indulgences kept the printers busy when they were not printing books.

  6. Woodcut Engraving, 1493, Reproduction photograph.

     This woodcut engraving is from the 1493 publication of the letter in which Columbus announced his discovery. Columbus' ship is in the foreground and the naked people of the Indies are shown on the shore.

    In August 1492, Columbus set sail for the Canary Isles with three vessels, the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina. In October, thirty-three days after leaving the Canaries, Columbus landed at San Salvador in the Bahamas. He sailed on for Cuba and Haiti, mistaking them for Japan.

    In three more voyages, Columbus visited Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Jamaican he landed on the South American mainland in Venezuela, and in Central America on the Isthmus of Panama. But the discoverer- of the Americas never knew that the great continent existed. While searching for a sea passage west of Panama, Columbus thought he was approaching China, and when he heard that another great sea lay only nine days march from the Atlantic, he assumed it was the Indian Ocean. It was because of this mistaken belief that the Caribbean Islands came to be called the West Indies, and the natives of the New World to be called Indians.

    Dropped from favor and cheated of his agreed rewards, Columbus died a poor and unhappy man in 1506. The continent he had discovered did not even bear his name, but that of
    another Italian sailor, Amerigo Vespucci.

    Vespucci equipped the ships for Columbus’ third expedition, was appointed Chief Pilot of Spain, and claimed to have made four voyages to the New World. He certainly crossed the Atlantic in 1499 and again in 1501, striking the coast of South America and exploring southwards in search of a passage through the land-mass.

    In none of his voyages was Vespucci the commander. But he was a lively writer and his letters describing the new land prompted a German scholar to name the continent Amerigo after him in 1507.

    Vespucui did make at least one minor contribution to exploration: he readily accepted South America as a new continent while others still thought it was part of the East Indies.

  7. Map of Tenochitlan, 1524, Nuremburg, Reproduction photograph.

    This map from a Latin edition of Cortez’ account, published in Nuremburg in 1524 shortly after the Spanish Conquest, shows the Conquistador’s version of the busy island capital, complete with its main square, the Aztec temples he had destroyed, and the causeways on which he had fought his way across Lake Texcoco from the mainland.

    When Cortez and his 500 followers landed in Mexico in 1519, they were at first peacefully received. This may have been partly because Montezuma and his priests believed Cortez was
    the reincarnation of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, whose reappearance had been predicted for the year in which Cortez landed.
    In time, there was conflict between the Spanish and the Aztecs, and Cortez took Montezuma prisoner. His aim was to establish the Aztec leader as a puppet emperor through whom the Spanish could control Mexico. However, the demands from Cortez for gold and for the abandonment of human sacrifice, an essential part of Aztec religion, sparked off an Aztec uprising. Montezuma desperately tried to preserve peace, but he was stoned to death by his own people. Cortez withdrew from the Aztec capital, but later returned with reinforcements and, after a seventy-five day siege, totally destroyed the city.


  8. Astrolabe, 15th century, Arab, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY Photograph.

     Improved navigational aids made 15th and 16th century explorers’ tasks easier; but sightings of sun and stars were the only means of calculating positions until the 20th century. An astrolabe helped to determine time and latitude. This example shows the calibrations in Arabic. The most important navigational aid was the compass. Although the instrument had been known in China by 600, it was not commonly used in the West until the 14th century. The astrolabe was replaced by first the quadrant and later by the sextant.

  9. Studie van Negerkoppen, 17th century, Peter Paul Ruebens, Flemish Baroque(1577-1640) Fine Arts Museum of Belgium, Brussels, Reproduction print.

     This forceful and dignified study of an African by Rubens is in the Fine Arts Museum of Belgium at Brussels. The age of exploration brought new and exotic subjects for painting to Europe. This single model shown in four different views suggests the artist’s fascination with the form, color and expressiveness of the model's face. The clothing shown may hint of a certain status.

    Peter Paul Rubens’ work reflects the royalist and Catholic environment of Flanders. He was the son of a minor official at the court of William of Orange. He was brought up in Antwerp in the relatively calm atmosphere following the Treaty of Utrecht which divided the Netherlands into
    Catholic Flanders and Protestant Holland. He studied under local, artists with strong Italian styles and later visited Italy himself. Rubens returned to Antwerp to become court painter to the Spanish viceroy, Archduke Ferdinand. His studio became the artistic center of apprentices in the
    immense picture “factory.” The master furnished the basic design and united all the elements by his own finished touches. He painted sketches as models for clients or to convey his style to assistants or to be reproduced in engravings, sculpture or tapestry.

    Links : Ruebens - Pictures

  10. Interior of an art gallery, 17th century, Flemish school, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London, Reproduction photograph.

    During the Renaissance the frontiers of the known world were extended by adventurous explorers at a faster rate than ever before or since. The obsession of the age with discovery
    is shown by this detail from the work of a Flemish artist depicting maps, illustrated travel books, a globe, a compass and an astrolabe.
    Craftsmen took pride in the design of aids to navigation, and by the time this picture was painted, in the early l600s such objects were already being treasured as works of art and had found places in galleries.

  11. Portrait of Francis, c. 1524, Jean Clouet, French (1485?-1540) oil on wood, Louvre, Paris, Reproduction print.



Art is often a powerful response to the experiences of life. Seeing new places and new people is a powerful experience. Thus, it is no surprise that the Age of Exploration, when Europe became aware of other people in other lands, should produce significant art.

Some of this art is in useful forms, such as maps and journal illustrations, which aided the explorer and recorded exotic scenes of Indian villages. Many attitudes and emotions are found
in art of this period: curiosity, fear and pride.

Explorers from outside Europe, particularly Arab traders, were making contact with Black Africa, India and Indonesia. The Astrolabe with Arabic calligraphy testifies to Islamic seafaring.

The Dutch quickly became leaders in the new worldwide trade. By 1650, Amsterdam had grown to a city of 150,000. Dutch ships went to New Amsterdam (New York), the West Indies, Africa and Indonesia. The wealth accumulated by Dutch merchants affected
daily life and stimulated art which showed off that affluence.


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