The primary differences between Northern Renaissance art and Italian Renaissance art were the emphasis placed on religion and anatomical extent to which the human body was portrayed. Northern Renaissance artists were more religious in their approach, while Italian artists were more secular. Too, science was an area in which many Italian Renaissance painters had great interest, and that interest tended to find its way into their art.
The term "Northern Renaissance" paintings is somewhat misleading because it actually refers to the Renaissance anywhere outside of Italy. The Renaissance for Italy was a period of enlightenment in which there were considerable developments in science as well as art. Observations of nature and natural science were of particular interest to Renaissance artists.
Depictions of the human body as anatomically and proportionally correct are evident in countless Italian Renaissance pieces. Such ideals were embraced and backed by wealthy Italian patrons who were eager to support the causes. In contrast, the rest of Europe was still more firmly rooted in Medieval religious ideals, and there were fewer wealthy patrons willing to support artists. As a result, Northern Renaissance art depicts religious subjects and messages, partly in rebellion to what, at the time, appeared to be increasingly secular messages appearing in Italian art of the time.