Robert Campin c. 1425-30, Oil on Oak, ~26 x ~25 inches; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Robert Campin was an early pioneer of the naturalistic influences in northern Europe which has been applied in detail later in its renaissance. The naturalistic style of northern Europe during the 15th century emphasize on how god sees the world, so northern european artists at the time would create more depth preservative painting, detailed facial expression (much influenced by Gothic naturalism), and use of symbolism; unlike the Italian Renaissance, at the time, saw a naturalistic style of flow in figures and simplicity to portray events. The Mérode Altarpiece was noted in the detailed facial feature of the Angel Gabriel and Mary, and the use of symbolism to portray this important event of the angel giving news to Mary that she will be bearing the son of God. He uses of symbolism to at every area of the triptych(3 panel altarpiece). For example, the lilies in a vase symbolizes Mary’s innocences and virginity, the sixteen sided table show tribute to the sixteen main Hebrew prophets. Other observation showing the humbleness of Mary is her chamber is very common; she holding the bible with a cloth show respect to the testament, and Mary sitting on the chamber floor shows her humanity. These are many indication of how Campin picture Mary to be humble or humane, and to show her nobleness to bear Christ. Unlike previous centuries that depicts Mary to be a holy figure for worship.
The discovery of oil paint drastically changed how artist can depict their work. This is because oil paint has a longer duration to dry, hence artist have a longer time to paint on their work surface and leads to the ability to create layers. This is why the ropes of the figures are painted neatly in effect of fabric folds due to layers. In northern European naturalistic style, they emphasize oil paint to create faces and figures in highly shaded shadows and bright highlights.
The panel on the left are the donors, a family of wealthy merchants in Tournai, kneeling outside the Virgin’s chamber to show worship. The panel on the right depicts Joseph at work, debatably creating, mousetraps; according to Christian theologian is a metaphor to explain God’s plan for salvation, “The Cross of the Lord was the Devil’s mousetrap.”

Campin’s details on symbolism made him well known to use complex figures, gestures, objects to depict a more in depth story to his works. This leads to other artist during the Northern renaissance to learn and adapt from.


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