During the Middle Ages, Netherlandish art was subject to the leveling influence of the Romanesque and Gothic styles that prevailed throughout Europe. In the 15th and 16th cent. the southern, or Flemish, provinces in general led in quantity and refinement of production and set the artistic pace for the entire region (see Flemish art and architecture). Consequently, it is difficult to distinguish a development of national traits in the art of the Dutch provinces before the aesthetic florescence of the 17th cent. Moreover, the iconoclasm that attended religious and political upheavals in the mid-16th cent. destroyed much existing work.
The earliest known Dutch paintings, by such artists as Geertgen tot Sint Jans and Albert van Ouwater, date from the second half of the 15th cent. and are clearly related to the Flemish tradition of the Van Eycks. In the 16th cent. a profusion of Italian Renaissance motifs appeared especially in decorative sculpture, and centers of sculptural production grew up at Dordrecht, Utrecht, and Breda. In painting, enthusiasm for Italian art, combined with a kind of late revival of Gothicism, resulted in a mixture of mannerist and classicist elements in works by such painters as Cornelis Englebrechtsz (1468–1533), Jacob Corneliszoon van Oostsanen (c.1470–1533), Jan Gossart, Jan van Scorel, Maerten van Heemskerck, Hendrik Goltzius, and Cornelis Corneliszoon (1562–1638). At the same time, a continuing native tendency toward sober realism asserted itself in the works of Jan Mostaert, Antonio Moro, and Lucas van Leyden.
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