The Pilotta holds in its collection a conspicuous nucleus of XVI century paintings by Flemish artists coming mostly from the gallery of the Sanvitale Counts. Such taste for the painting from the North made headway in the Farnese court in Flanders, where Count Roberto Sanvitale was “Maggiordomo” at the court of the regent Margherita of Austria, wife of Duke Ottavio Farnese. Once in Parma, in a way that underlined the cosmopolitan role of the Duchy within the Empire, these works spread a new taste in interior decoration where such refined almost embossed works were displayed on the walls almost to fill them. Easily transportable and saleable these paintings were one of the principal products for export and were sought after for the magico-realistic representation of the visible, the fine illusionistic calibre of the light and the colour quality of the painting.
In a mysticism typical of the north, the power of nature is pre-eminent, while scenes of genre, landscapes, battles, mythological and religious subjects are sometimes backgrounds of the picture in a potential plethora of new genres already bourgeois and destined for great success. In all the themes can be seen a particular pictorial sensitivity, a way of observing reality from the standpoint of a culture totally different from that of Italy which emerged forcefully thanks to the reformist climate of the period, which accelerated the advent of mannerism.
Amongst the many works in this section a place of honour is held by the portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, masterpiece by Hans Holbein according to a physionomy and clothing which constituted the status symbol of the humanist magister. From the collection of the Dalla Rosa-Prati come the six paintings with scenes from Genesis by Jan Soens, in which the description of a lush and luxuriant nature conceived according to the characteristics of the Flemish approach to landscape painting.