Queen’s Gallery showcases northern renaissance

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Queen’s Gallery showcases northern renaissance

LONDON - Religious rivals of the Protestant Reformation, murderous royal patrons and other 15th- and 16th-century power brokers are brought to life in a new London art show telling the tale of northern Europe’s renaissance.

Some of the characters in drawings and paintings put together for “The Northern Renaissance: Duerer to Holbein” at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, come straight from the pages of Booker Prize-winning novelist Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” with Martin Luther, Thomas More and Henry VIII playing key roles.

Works by Albrecht Duerer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Francois Clouet, Leonardo da Vinci, Hans Holbein the Younger and others capture images of people and convey some of the drama from an intense period of religious, political, artistic and philosophical upheaval which convulsed northern Europe.

Co-curator Kate Heard, standing in front of a drawing of Thomas More’s family, said widespread knowledge among exhibition visitors of the grisly end that awaited More and his family added a certain frisson to the show.

“When you look at a portrait of More, you can’t take out of it what happened to him,” Heard said. “It’s wonderful to feel almost as if you’re meeting people you know well.”

More, who rose to become Henry VIII’s chancellor, was executed in 1535 for refusing to recognize Henry’s divorce and the English church’s break with Rome.

As well as the period drama’s British actors, the show tracks artistic changes across Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, including innovations in technique as well as technological advances, such as the improvement in oil paints in northern Europe.

The show capitalizes on a royal collection astounding in its breadth and treasure with more than 120 paintings, drawings and other items.

A small room off one of the galleries contains books edited by thinker and humanist Desiderius Erasmus, More’s “Utopia” and a signed copy of Henry’s attack on Luther: “Defence of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther.”

“There is enough to make a major contribution to the story of this time,” co-curator Lucy Whitaker said of the collection, which is owned by the British monarchy.

The show explores other places besides Henry’s court, where Hans Holbein arrived in search of work and patronage from a Germany riven with a religious division that would disenfranchise artists normally commissioned for altar pieces and other religious themes.

The “Northern Renaissance: Duerer to Holbein” is at the Queen’s Gallery from Nov. 2 to April 14.

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