Van Eyck to Memling: Northern Renaissance Art c.1430-1480 (Online)


The work of Northern Renaissance artists is often incredibly beautiful, with marvellous colours and textures conjured up from their hallmark technique of oil painting. Yet there is much more to the work of Jan van Eyck, his contemporaries and their followers, than simple aesthetics, for it evolved from, and reflected, an intriguing range of religious and cultural beliefs. This online course will explore some of the fascination of these images and their meanings.

Fifteenth-century artists working in Flanders and the Netherlands seem to have suddenly developed a new way of seeing along with new techniques of representation. Their art can be breathtakingly realistic, with glowing colours and tangible textures conjured up magically from oil paint, and credible interiors and landscapes which strongly evoke Northern Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. Yet the apparent realism of artists such as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and their followers is more than mere imitation of the world they saw around them: it embodied a whole wealth of religious and cultural symbolism, and pushed back the boundaries of what it meant to be an artist, a patron or a viewer. Although it is generally counted among the lesser known branches of art history, the work of these artists was hugely influential on their Italian contemporaries, and in turn helped to shape the history of art in Western Europe and beyond up to the present day. This online course will explore some of the fascination of these images and their meanings.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Introduction and a starting point: Introductory comments will lead into a consideration of the emerging role of the artist in comparison with the medieval craftworker, including thinking about the meanings of self-portraiture.

Realism and the Depiction of Space: These sessions will consider how 3-D space is depicted on a 2-D surface and will consider the 'realism' of depictions of what seem to be contemporary interiors, cityscapes etc., including an investigation of the concept of 'disguised' symbolism. There will also be a discussion of the influence of manuscript illumination and sculpture on panel painting, with particular emphasis on the depiction of fictive sculpture, and the influence of drama on some specific images.

Production and Location: These sessions will look at how and why these images were created, thinking about the workshop method and the role of guilds. The repetition of motifs by different artists will be investigated, and the depiction of patrons and other identifiable people will be evaluated. The impact of the intended location of works will be considered, in both religious and secular contexts. There will also be a discussion of an example of inauthentic restoration which changes the apparent meaning of the work.

Religious Ideals and Behaviour: This session will look at affective piety, the search for a personal relationship with God, and preparations for death, and will investigate how these concepts influenced artistic production.

Artistic Specialisms: These sessions will look at portraiture and the emergence of landscape and genre painting. It will also consider the blending of religious and secular imagery.

Italy and the North: This session will consider the evidence for Italian patronage of Northern artists and the extent to which Italian artists were influenced by their Northern contemporaries.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £350.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Manya Pagiavla

Manya holds a PhD in history of art/architecture, she teaches at the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford and at the Victoria & Albert Museum, while in the past, she taught at the University of Cambridge. Her latest publication is on the library of Leonardo da Vinci, co-authored with Martin Kemp, University of Oxford.

Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to the major issues in the development of panel painting in Northern Europe during the period c.1430-1480, by:

  • Giving students the opportunity to see and discuss the work of the major artists of this period.
  • Providing critiques of these images which will enable students to engage with the context in which they were created.

Course objectives

  • To introduce students to the major artists active in Flanders and the Netherlands in the period c.1430-1480, with some reference also to France and Germany.
  • To guide students' reading about these artists, the relationships between them and the methods they employed.
  • To provide students with important background knowledge on medieval religious beliefs and practices which will help to contextualise the images.
  • To familiarise students with the key concept of disguised symbolism, and allow participants to amass a fund of knowledge about medieval iconography.
  • To enable students to decode many of the meanings of late medieval images with confidence, and to have an appreciation of the contexts of patronage and production techniques.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of online notes and recommended texts.
  • Group discussion of particular issues, based around questions posed in the online notes.
  • Interactive activity based on the iconography of a specific image.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you will be able to understand:

  • The artistic, religious and social context in which the artists of the Northern Renaissance worked.
  • The types of meanings which these images seem to embody.
  • The role of patrons and audience in the formulation of these works.

You will have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to recognise common motifs used by Northern Renaissance artists and to identify their points of origin.
  • The ability to describe and debate important concepts in late medieval religious belief which influenced artistic production and reception.
  • The ability to recognise and interpret common types of symbolism in Northern Renaissance art.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.