That which we now classify as the "Northern Renaissance" has always struck me as a bit less joyful than similar period doings down in Italy. Perhaps it was that the Italians enjoyed relatively more sun and longer hours of daylight, better wines and more abundant seasonal produce. More likely it was that they simply sidestepped the thorny idolatry issues in the visual arts that the Protestant Reformation laid upon their Northern neighbors. For whatever reason, the Italians' Renaissance art seems somehow quite celebratory. Conversely, German and Netherlandish Renaissance art is somewhat dark, almost as if it was afraid to be thought frivolous. A strong Gothic influence still pervaded and this, combined with rather dour, dire, death-is-inevitable religious proscriptions, made for an artistic style which we might now label as "Goth."
Ironically and perhaps surprisingly, the Northern Renaissance drew very heavily from the Italians. German artists, in particular, frequently headed off to Italy and spent months (or even years) moving about visiting with Italian artists and studying their techniques, themes and materials - absorbing everything, it seems, except the "fun" aspects. To learn how that towering genius, Albrecht Dürer, made three major contributions towards bringing the Northern Renaissance about, read the article "The High Northern Renaissance