Giotto to Deurer : Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery, Paperback

Giotto to Deurer : Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery Paperback

Part of the National Gallery London Publications series

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


The collection of Early Renaissance painting in the National Gallery in London is one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world.

This book provides a survey of European painting between 1260 and 1510, in both northern and southern Europe, based largely on the National Gallery collection, and is at the same time a guide to the paintings in the Gallery.

It is published to coincide with the opening of the Sainsbury Wing in which the Early Renaissance collection will be exhibited.

The authors explain the background of relious belief and devotional practice for which many of the paintings were created, and the secular requirements and ambitions which influenced them.

They discuss the social context in which art was created and then displayed in the street, the palace or the church; and consider the role of the patron and the dealer.

They describe the artist's workshop, consider the role of apprentices and assistance, discuss the influence of guilds and courts and explore the reasons for the introduction of new subjects and techniques and also the survival of traditions.

The book goes on to supply an account of the materials and techniques of the early Renaissance artist. The preparation of panels, the application of gold leaf, the use of tempera and oil paint are all explained on the basis of research.

After this introduction, some 70 of the finest and best known paintings in the gallery are examined in detail, including masterpieces by Duccio, Van Eyck, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, Bouts, Bellini, Memling, Raphael and Leonardo.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 408 pages, 227 b&w illustrations, 283 colour illustrations
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Byzantine & Medieval art c 500 CE to c 1400
  • ISBN: 9780300050820



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Published in association with the National gallery in London this book will walk you through most of the exhibits in the Early Renaissance Painting Section. It is not however a book to walk around with, because at over 400 pages of Coffee Table format it is likely to result in a hernia and it will have fallen apart well before the end of your tour. It is a book to buy to take home and look back on, at all those wonderful pictures you glided passed or were too tired to take in with so much else to see.There are full page beautiful reproductions of the pictures with at least a page of commentary on each one and if this is not enough the first half of the book serves as a primer for early renaissance art: going into some detail about the imagery, techniques, usage and the workshops conditions under which the pictures were made. It is this first half of the book that should be read before you look closely at any of the paintings, because without that knowledge, then so much will be missed. This first part of the book is titled “The Uses of Painting” and Chapter 1 leads out with Christian Worship and Imagery, essential information here that also discusses how and where the pictures were displayed and the construction of the massive altar pieces that many of them were part of. Chapter 2: “Civic Dynastic and Domestic Art” describes the art to be found in public buildings and in private residences and also the thriving market in portraiture. Part 2 of the book is “The Making of Paintings” and Chapter 3 is titled “Craft and Profession” and describes the emergence of the painter/artist from a craftsman to something more like a profession that we would recognise today. Chapter 4 is about the Workshops and how they were organised and the type of work they produced. Chapter 5: “Techniques” is the longest section and the one I found the most fascinating as it gets down to the nitty gritty of how the artist worked; the materials that were used, the pigments that were available and how they were prepared, the techniques of putting the paint onto the surface, the limitations that were the result of the available methods and the regional differences. These first 5 chapters are accompanied by some excellent reproductions of paintings: many of them from the collection in the National Gallery.Through these pictures the development of renaissance can be traced, and much knowledge can be gained, however it is not the whole story as it is limited by the pictures in the gallery. There are of course none of the great early renaissance frescoes; (for those you will have to go Florence, Venice, Rome or one of the other regional towns in Italy to see them in situ) and there are hardly any paintings from the Iberian peninsula and few from the important German late medieval cities. There is an excellent selection of paintings by masters of the Italian and Netherlands renaissance but even here of course there are gaps; for example nothing by Vittore Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini or Domenico Ghirlandaio, but there are no complaints when you consider what is available; important works by Piero Della Francesca, Boticelli, Jan Van Eyck and Leonardo Da Vinci.In the magnificent part 3 of the book 69 paintings are reproduced in chronological order with a mini essay about each one mostly on facing pages. The information includes where the painting came from (many are fragments of church altar pieces), who they were painted for, imagery and significance, development of artistic style, techniques and curiosities. Number 1 in the series is The Virgin and Child enthroned by Margarito of Arezzo. This was painted in the 1260’s in egg tempera, probably as a frontal to an altar and features some typical Byzantine icon like images with some smaller scenes with an elementary regard to perspective. The penultimate reproduction No. 68 is of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, painted in oils, from 1508 and marks a high point of early renaissance art, with its total command of perspective, its delicacy of feeling and naturalism in the portraiture and it’s use of tone to create an atmosphere all of it’s own. Art had come a long way in those 250 years and much of it can be seen in the National Gallery and in this lovely book.There is also an excellent index, a bibliography, maps and a time line chart. There is a feeling of being in good hands as Jill Dunkerton and her colleagues guide you through the mysteries of Early Renaissance art. It is a superb achievement and a book that is worthy of the great art on show at the National, at least it would be, if only it was better manufactured. My paperback copy is literally falling to pieces and I fear that soon I will be left with a number of loose leaf pages. These books are not cheap to buy and the superb content within deserves better. For that reason it loses a star and so a 4 star book.

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