Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, and Research

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While some scholars study paintings with infrared reflectography and other technical procedures, and archivists repeat the work of their nineteenth- century precursors more completely or pounce upon documents previously ignored, the iconologists stand somewhat indecisively on the sidelines. But it is precisely from this side that a breakthrough could open the way, if not to new syntheses, at least to more collaboration between the subdisciplines.

To this end iconology must study symbolic meanings in ways that consider not only the religious or intellectual content of a picture, but also its artistic and material form, and its historical function.

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Even though these subdisciplines have not yet worked together in a new synthesis, collaboration has not been utterly lacking; they have been combined in the study of individual works of art, an interconnectedness manifest in the pre- sent chapter. The search for answers to the questions raised by the confrontation with the works of art inevitable crosses the boundaries of the subdisciplines, as the results of the various kinds of research are weighed against one another. In this muse imaginaire the reader is guided from one picture to the next, so that at the end of that route he will have gained an idea of both the character of early Netherlandish paintings and the manner in which they have been studied.

Such questions are dis- cussed as the reconstruction of an original ensemble, attribution, dating, the place of a work within certain artistic developments, its subject and the symbolic motifs it may contain, the role of the patrons, its function for those patrons or contempo- rary viewers, the artists goal, the possibilities at his disposal, the choices he had to make and the sort of reality the picture may evoke.

The objects, which raise the issues more or less automatically, have all come to us as fragments from the past, sometimes in a literal sense, because they formed part of a larger whole, such as an altarpiece, of which the other parts are lost. But above all because they have been separated from their original artistic, social, reli- gious or political context. The knowledge lost may vary. The creator of a work may not be known, while for another painting it may be difficult to interpret the con- tent.

Of course, many panels raise several of these questions, which are not always explored to the same extent but with a view to both diversity and intrinsic interest. As a researcher in this field I could not deny myself the pleasure of express- ing my own opinions. The discussion of the Arnolfini Portrait even includes an ex- tensive reaction to a recent interpretation of that complex image, and the sections on Hugo van der Goes are primarily filled with my own ideas.

I have made a con- sistent effort to base the discussions on the most characteristic visual aspects of the paintings, and, as far as possible, the problems of interpretation are placed un- der an iconological approach that seeks the interrelation of content, form, and function. The title of this chapter indicates that the questions are more important than the opinions, not only because there are few unequivocal answers, but also because, whenever I have formulated an answer, it is in the first place intended to stimulate the reader to pose questions of his own.

The panels depict the Virgin with the Christ Child at her breast [fig. Their robes fall in deep folds onto a meadow that displays the smallest details: flowers, grasses, and herbs. All sorts of other details, such as the jeweled hem of Veronicas garment or the crimped edge of the Virgins veil, attest to the artists skill at rendering a variety of materials. Veronicas sudarium, of the thinnest gauze, shows the creases along which it has been folded.

Equally transparent is the veil tied over her bulging headdress. The Virgin and Child have haloes which appear to be of gold, decorated with gems. The Child presses his mouth to the Virgins breast, but at the same time turns toward the viewer. Marys head and breast and the Childs head have the smoothness of youth; softly nuanced colors model Veronicas aged face. Other contrasts lie in the grayish white of the Virgins mantle against the warm red of Veronicas, while the colors of the rich brocades are the other way around: red against white.

Nevertheless, the panels are united by a common inten- sity of color and variety of textures. A different impression is made by the mono- chrome image of God the Father with the dead Christ, for which the artist created the illusion of a sculptured group in a niche.

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The refined alternation of light and shade to the extent of double shadows in the arch combined with sharp contours and deep folds in the Fathers robe and with a clear articulation of Christs limbs make an effective simulation of carved stone. The illusion of depth is further enhanced by the fact that the group projects from the niche.

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Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research Research into the artistic production of the early Netherlands takes place nowadays. Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research. Front Cover. Bernhard Ridderbos, Henk Th. van Veen, Anne van Buren. Amsterdam.

The Frankfurt Trinity is thus an eloquent expression of the artists con- cern for solid volumes, but clear drawing and insistent masses also characterize the figures of both the Virgin and Child and Saint Veronica. Johann David Passavant, inspector of the Stdel museum, purchased the panels in from the manufacturer and art collector Ignaz van Houtem in Aachen. He had seen them there a number of years earlier, and mentioned them in his journal as by Rogier van der Weyden, from an abbey in Flmalle, which has never existed, however. Like the Trinity, she is painted en grisaille, but was executed only around Now, however, technical analysis has demonstrated that the wood of the Trinity did not come from the same tree as the Saint Veronica [see chapter 5, p.

But to what sort of ensemble did the Virgin and Child, Saint Veronica, and the Trinity belong when they were made around ? Stephan Kemperdick has found an ingenious solution, based on the presence of a number of wooden pins in the planks of the Virgin and Child, which, he argues, were used to attach wood sculpture to the back of the panel. Opening the first pair of wings revealed four panels, of which the Virgin and Child and the Saint Veronica survive.

The presence of pins in the first panel and the lack of pins in the second suggests that the Virgin and Child was one of the pair of central panels and the Saint Veronica one of the two outer ones. When the central panels were opened the wood sculptures were revealed. Altarpieces comprising both painting and sculpture were very common, and Melchior Broederlams panels with the Presentation and the Flight into Egypt Muse des Beaux-Arts, Dijon still form the exterior of a triptych with carved fig- ures. Exterior paintings en grisaille occur on many Netherlandish altarpieces; the monochrome grisailles contrasted with the wealth of color revealed when the altarpiece was opened on a Sunday.

In the Flmalle altarpiece the splendor was doubled when it was fully opened on a high feast-day such as Christmas and Easter.

Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research

To modern eyes, the expressiveness of the painted panels is insurpassable, but their contemporaries would have regarded the polychrome and gilt figures they covered as the height of illusionistic display. For reasons that will be discussed in Chapter 3 [pp.

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After the misunderstanding concern- ing these two Rogiers had been resolved, in the late nineteenth century the panels were attributed to an anonymous follower of Rogier, called on the grounds of their alleged provenance the Master of Flmalle. The name was also linked to a number of other anonymous and undocumented works, including a fragment showing the Bad Thief from a Descent from the Cross [fig.

Seeing the clear influence of the Master of Flmalle in Darets panels [figs.

Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research

Thus, the Master of Flmalle was then promoted from the status of Rogiers follower to that of his master, that is, if Rogier van der Weyden is the Rogelet de le Pasture mentioned in the Campin documents. Inasmuch as Tournai was French-speaking and Brussels Flemish-speaking, there is nothing surprising about the change of name, and the data merge all the better for the fact that Rogier van der Weydens father is known to have been Henry de le Pasture of Tournai.

However, the date of Rogiers birth, around , causes a problem, since if he became apprenticed in he did so at a very late age. And yet, there is no reason to reject the identification. The docu- ments also report that Jacques Daret, whose apprenticeship to Campin is uncon- tested, lived under Campins roof from for nine years before he became his apprentice in Some authors have challenged the dates of Rogelet de le Pastures and Jacques Darets enrolment as apprentices and masters because the register is a, perhaps inaccurate, copy made in It is quite possible that the registration as apprentices was a formality to which the two sub- mitted, while already working as journeyman, in order to become independent masters in the future.

Qualifying for this rank was expensive, and many apprentices did not opt to take this final step, since they could continue to work for another painter. This might explain why Rogelet de le Pasture and Jacques Daret took steps to ensure that they depended on him no longer. Campin was exiled for a year, because of the filthy and dissolute life which he, a married man, has for a long time led in this city with Leurence Polette.

The municipal accounts of Tournai report that the city offered wine to a maistre Rogier de le Pasture in But, since the occupation of the recipient is not stated, this person could have been someone else. It is also possible that the painter was called a master on this occasion because, although still unauthorized to establish his own workshop, he was functioning as a qualified painter.

As to the reason for the gift, when the house of van der Weydens late father was sold, earlier that year, he was not in Tournai. Perhaps the wine celebrated his return after an extended absence. Whoever received the wine, there is no reason why van der Weyden could not have been trained under Campin. Nowadays scholars agree that the paintings respectively attributed to Campin and van der Weyden contain the sort of parallels and differences one would expect from a master and a pupil. In the past, however, this issue was hotly debated. The identification of the Master of Flmalle with Campin did not banish this view, which was still fiercely defended in the s.

fiwegalewdros.ml As will be explained in Chapter 5 [pp. Not that this solves all the prob- lems: the underdrawing is not always visible to the camera, and the character of what there is varies within the oeuvres ascribed to these masters. On the Flmalle panels, reflectography yielded a clear result only for the Virgin and Child, allowing divergent conclusions as to whether the three panels are by Campin alone or by both Campin and van der Weyden.

This attributional problem is still greater for a painting that also occupies a cen- tral place in the oeuvre assigned to the Master of Flmalle: the Mrode Triptych. It became public property in , when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired the triptych for the Cloisters collection.

The center panel represents the Annunciation. On the left the angel, clad in a white alb a liturgical vestment worn in the mass enters the Virgins chamber, which is filled with furniture and smaller objects. Mary, wearing a red gown and mantle, is seated on the footrest of a bench, whose foreshortened shape enhances the pictures illusion of depth.

Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, and Research

The robes of both the angel and the Virgin are rich- ly articulated by folds, the former further enlivened by shadows, and the latter by accents of light. The somewhat angular folds and the contrasts of light and shade make the figures robust and voluminous. Indeed, light and shade play an impor- tant role throughout the scene, give relief to the faces and a tangible quality to the sharply drawn objects.

This energetic draftsmanship and the divergent perspec- tive in the depiction of the figures and the interior create a dynamic, even restless, effect. On the right wing Joseph is represented in a workshop, whose window opens to a market square. On the left wing the donors kneel in a walled courtyard at the open door to Marys chamber. A man stands by a gate in the far wall that frames a glimpse of the city beyond. The furniture of Josephs workshop, the town outside his window, the flowers and plants in the donors courtyard, the nails in the door, all attest to the same interest in details created by a strong linearity and a precise handling of light as in the Annunciation.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Mrode Triptych was grouped with a number of other works under the name Master of the Mrode Altarpiece.

Early Netherlandish Paintings Rediscovery, Reception, and Research

However, technical examinations have challenged this attribution, shed- ding new light on the relation between the central panel and an Annunciation in the Muses royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels [fig. Long before the underdrawing on any panel by the Master of Flmalle was investigated, Campbell argued that the Brussels Annunciation, though not from 16 early netherlandish paintings Early Netherl Paint pp i Pagina 16 the hand of the master himself but rather a product of his workshop, is more rep- resentative of his style than the Mrode Triptych, which in his eyes displays many weaknesses.

In both design and color it lacks coherence; compared with other works in the Master of Flmalle group, the palette is slightly dull and uninteresting. Moreover, the facial types of Mary and the angel are heavy and coarse, and both figures and Joseph lack the eloquent expressions and gestures that characterize the Master of Fl- malle.

Campbell sees this work as a pastiche by a pupil, and, while he assumes that the Master of Flmalle is indeed Robert Campin, calls this pupil the Master of Mrode. These observations attest to a fresh, albeit rather critical, look at a work considered as one of the highpoints of early Netherlandish art.

Since then, in- frared reflectography conducted by J. Obviously, the artist followed a drawing that recorded the Brussels compo- sition. This is confirmed by the underdrawn Mrode angel: it differs from the painted figure, but corresponds to the angel as painted in the Brussels Annuncia- tion. A comparison between the underdrawing and the painted surface of that work reveals a creative process, possibly indicative of Campins own hand.

Yet, the reflectography does not necessarily rule out the masters participa- tion in the Mrode Triptych.