This collection features artworks produced in Northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Religion was one of the most important features of life at this time and religious commissions accounted for much of the artistic output. The purpose of religious art was to function as an aid to worship, connecting the viewer with the story of Jesus’s life and suffering. The works in our collection encompass a range of formats: from small, intimate paintings that would have been displayed in private homes and chapels to large, dramatic altarpieces and emotive sculptures. Religious art was a source of both inspiration and conflict at this time – ‘iconoclasm’ refers to the deliberate destruction of religious images that took place. By the sixteenth century, mythological scenes and portraits became increasingly popular subjects, represented in our collection by works by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), Ambrosius Benson (c.1495-1550), Hans Besser (active 1537-58) and Barthel Bruyn (1493-1555). Sitters used portraits to convey their status and wealth, and to mark important occasions, such as marriage.
The display and research into this collection has been undertaken in association with the National Gallery and the National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship Programme, supported by Art Fund with the assistance of the Vivmar Foundation.