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Workshop of Campin, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece)

Robert Campin, Merode Altarpiece, tempera and oil on panel, 1425-28 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker . Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Video transcript
in the cloisters which is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in upper manhattan looking at one of their treasures this is a painting it for a long time was known as Burma Road altarpiece but is now known as the Annunciation triptych and for a long time too he thought that the painter was Robert campaign but now the current thinking is that this is from the workshop of Robert camp at No campaign was a very successful painter in Tournai in Northern Europe he had assistance and apprentices and obviously large workshop when I was part of the Burgundian Netherlands is tremendously wealthy place where luxury goods were being produced with it was a level of mercantile activity that had been rare during the medieval Europe so we have all of this newfound prosperity here in Northern Europe and there's an increasing interest in commissioning paintings as aids and prayer for people to use in their homes will look at the scale of this painting this is not a grand altarpiece his paintings only about 280 talk because it's a triptych it can be folded up and almost put under one's arm and carried to another room and what's fascinating is that the central scene of the Annunciation looks like it's taking place in the living room of someone who lived in this area of northern Europe in the 1400 so hold on or seeing the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary and is seen that would have taken place fifteen hundred years before this painting was made and we're seeing them in a modern context we first see this it sounds like it's meant to secularized this scene to bring it into the real world but actually the opposite is true this biblical scene of the Annunciation is taking place in Flemish household precisely to make these figures of marrying Gabriel closer to us to make our prayer more profound to bring us closer to God we do something about the order in which this was painted the Annunciation it was painted first and possibly on spec that is it was painted in the hope that somebody would come along and want to buy it and we know that the door was added in then he was married and the woman was added and the gatekeeper behind her is also added at that time and it's interesting to think about this being painted on spec you normally paintings are commissioned but here in an increasingly trade oriented culture it makes sense that artists with start painting things in the hope that they would get patrons might start on the left let's start with the donors when we say donors referring to the patrons the man and his wife commission to this painting and their show nearly which is a typical position and makes it easy to recognize them as donors are sent within a walled garden which has important symbolism in late medieval and Renaissance art which offer first made his virginity in Latin this is known as the Hortus conclusive closed garden but we know more in the Northern Renaissance because we've got an incredible amount of detail we think about the Italian Renaissance reading about our it is paying attention to rational construction of speeds and interest in the anatomy of the body but here in the North just pay attention to every whether it's the nails are the ultimate doors plants in the foreground or the birds that are on the ledge of the crime deleted wall in the background I particularly love the rose bush and the foliage in the very foreground but you mentioned the nails that hold those planks of wood together that make up the door and if you look at those now each one is defined by a shine in a bit of a shadow and we can see traces of rust that is staining wood bulow so we understand that this war is old and has rested if the level of detail is astonishing and an interest in light which will see throughout this triptych this is one of the things of the artists of the Northern Renaissance can do because they have oil paint you can paint texture and light reflecting on services like metal in a way that artists of the Italian Renaissance who didn't yet have oil paint couldn't do and we can see that beautiful if we look at the key in that door we can see that the key has a shine and it is casting a shadow but this is the large door in the foreground we can see that level of detail even in the door in the background and beyond that we see a Flemish city and figures on horseback and figures in a doorway another woman sitting on a bench that artists is paying attention to everything equal when you would think that something would be more important than others so let's move on to the Annunciation Senior Center Archangel Gabriel has just appeared to marry and is announcing to her that she will bear Christ that she will be our God is a beautiful example of early Northern Renaissance painting easily identified by the way in which the drapery that's being worn by Gabriel the Archangel on the left and the Virgin Mary on the right is portrayed look at this sharp falls this complexity of the way in which that thick fabric falls on the floor but it's not actually the way drapery authors thicken it largely obscures those bodies when you look at the screening your struck immediately by how much stuff how many things there are in this small room table candle and Teller show in the background in a basis candles and higher screen and a fireplace with his old why here member this paper would not have been looked at as we now look at it we go into a museum may spend a few minutes looking at it this was thinking it would have been seen over and over again and so there is i think a real effort to maintain interest to develop one's focus exactly answer we can say that everything in this painting on most things in the spinning would have led the viewer from this physical objects to spiritual ideas everything in this painting has a purpose has a meaning and of course much of that is las piñas hundreds of years old and art historians speculate about the original meaning of these things but we can recognize some things with certainty so for example that shiny part in the background that reflects the light from those two windows that is a symbol of the Virgin Mary of her purity of her soon listener perhaps the most obvious symbol is the representation of small figure holding across it seems to be gliding down golden rays that come through the round window that is closest to us it is heading right for Mary and this is the holy spirit but it's unusual because normally we would expect to see a doctor a symbol of the Holy Spirit is a moment when God is made flesh when one world ends and another road begins the world where it's possible for human beings to be saved because of Christ's death on the cross and so a lot of the symbols that we see here have to do with this idea of the incarnation of God and of Mary's virginity so what's astounding here is the level of realism the candlestick and a candle and exactly what happened to the smoke with a candle is just laughed at it goes straight up and then it curls back and forth on itself is so carefully mainly observed their places for example in that be seen in the niche on the wall where we see a double shadow because there are two slightly different sources of light to have incredibly carefully observed items but this piece of the room doesn't make that doesn't make sense to us since we live after Brunelleschi development in your perspective in Italy actually an idea that's just developing as this painting is being made but his ideas have not been transmitted up to the north yet so the result is that the floor is too steep the space is not mathematically accurate according to the rules of with your perspective looking at the top of the table on the side of the table the same time that benches rather thin elongated but none of this is anything negative but we have in the renaissance is this interest in naturalism whether you're Northern Europe in the Burgundian guns are whether in Italy but a realism that express very differently in each place for me the distortions of space actually work very well here they create a kind of telescoping that brings me and it creates a kind of closeness to the forms and makes this sumptuous interior even more available and that makes sense given the purpose of this painting which was 28 in private devotion that it would draw you in that you would need to spend time focusing on these things which appeared to be everyday objects which are also symbols of theological spiritual idea imagine what it must have been like to make this painting brush with a single hair on it in order to render the virginmarys golden hair and I think that emphasis on making is probably most evident in the panel on the right where we see Joseph Mary's husband a carpenter who is in the act of making and he's surrounded by his torso like the scene of the Annunciation the center so much to look at here spent a lot of time trying to decipher what objects relatively confident that the objects out the window and the object is to Joseph's alright are mousetraps sinar Christine said that the cross of the Lord was the Devils mousetrap the beat by which he was caught aids death even as we're seeing a painting that is celebrating the coming of Christ we see references to Christ's death and we also have other references to Christ's death likely in the objects that surround Joseph we've got more next in an axe and perhaps a reference to across that Christ was crucified on a given the fact to me that Joseph is boring holes in wood reminds me of the whole from the now price received in his hands and feet without workshop reminds me is that this is an object was made by hand that this is not an artist who went to the art supply store and bought his pains and bhatapara stretched canvas is actually painted with oil on panel and so it is made of wood it was crafted I think there is a kind of pride here in the reference to Joseph as a carpenter and the artist here as a maker as well when we look closely at the Joseph Panel PC and open doorway and the shadow on the wall is the sort of odd she was all of these wonderful observed moments if you look at the shutters that are open against the ceiling and he nails and you can see actually the stain marks from the rest of those nails because of course naturally they would be down and outside and so you can imagine someone in the 15th century looking at these details looking at the axe would the tour's even that object that looks like a cross the work table and being led from these objects to ideas about Joseph and Christ's sacrifice on the cross and humanities redemption we look through the window and we can see this prosperous city with merchants and people strolling in goods for sale the mousetrap is out of Joseph's window because it's for sale so they're naturalism of serving that Mercantile culture and their interest in things but also used here to eat devotion