Rogier van der Weyden

Summary

Rogier van der Weyden (originally French: Roger de le Pasture) (Tournai, 13991400 – Brussels, June 18, 1464) was a Flemish painter counted among the school of the Flemish Primitives.

He is said to have trained in the studio of Robert Campin, along with Jacques Daret, among others. Alongside Jan van Eyck, Van der Weyden is considered the most important Flemish painter of the 15th century. In his own time, Van der Weyden was known throughout Europe, and he can probably be considered the most influential painter of his century. He fused the style of his contemporary Jan van Eyck and of his teacher Robert Campin and added the new element of “emotion” to Flemish painting. In the seventeenth century, Rogier”s fame slowly began to wane and he was often associated with Bruges. Since his “rediscovery” in the 19th century, Rogier van der Weyden remained in the public eye in the shadow of painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.

Lifetime

On May 16 and 17, 1940, the archives of Tournai were partially destroyed by German bombing raids, which flattened almost the entire city center. This makes it difficult to find any concrete information about Rogier van der Weyden”s origins and training. Much has been written about this in the professional literature. The discussion is also quite complex and is built from an interplay of archival source material and stylistic analysis. The various facts that have come to light over the past century and a half cannot be linked together without a solid argument. The following is a summary of the facts as they are generally accepted today.

Rogier van der Weyden is said to have been born in Tournai around 1398-1400, the son of Henri de le Pasture and Agnès de Watrelos. His father was a knife maker and lived in the Rue Roc Saint-Nicaise in the middle of Tournai”s goldsmith quarter. His date of birth was inferred from two preserved documents. A first one dated 21 October 1435 about an annual interest he received from the city, in which he was mentioned to be 35 years old: Au xxje jour d”octobre . – A maistre Rogier de le Pasture, pointre, fil de feu Henry, demorant à Brouxielles eagié de XXXV ans, de demoisielle Ysabel Goffart fille Jehan, sa femme, eagié de XXX ans: x livres. A Cornille de le Pasture et Marguerite, sa suer, enffans dudit maistre Rogier, qu”il a de ladite demisielle Ysabiel, sa femme, ledit Cornille eagié de viij ans, et ladite Marguerite de iij ans: c solz. (On 21 October 1435.- To master Rogier de le Pasture, painter, son of Henry, residing in Brussels, aged 35 years, from madame Ysabel Goffart daughter Jehan, his wife, aged 30 years: x books. To Cornille de le Pasture and Marguerite, his sister, children of the said master Rogier, whom he has by the said Mrs. Ysabiel, his wife, said Cornille 7 years old and Marguerite 2 years old: c solz) A second similar document from September 1441 mentions him 43 years old from which a birth year of 1398 or 1399 can be inferred.

Rogier”s father, Henry de le Pasture died between December 1425 and mid-March 1426, perhaps from the plague epidemic that was raging in Tournai at the time. The parental house was sold, according to a document dated March 18, 1426, in which Rogier was not mentioned, to Ernoul Caudiauwe, the future husband of Rogier”s sister Jeanne. Mother and children continued to live in the house; the mother, incidentally, had been granted the usufruct.

Before or in 1427 Rogier was already married to Elisabeth (Ysabiel in the 1435 document) Goffaert, the daughter of a Brussels shoemaker. In the document concerning the payment of an interest, the age of 30 is given for his wife, so she was 5 years younger than Rogier. In the same document two children are named Cornille (Cornelis) eight years old and Marguerite (Margaretha) 3 years old. It is also said that he stayed in ”Brouxielles” (Brussels). It cannot be proved, but some historians believe that Campin”s wife, Ysabiel de Stoquain, and Elisabeth or Ysabiel Goffaert”s mother, Cathelijne van Stockem, were related and since they had the same first name, Campin”s wife may have been the godmother of Rogier”s wife. Between 1437 and 1450 the couple had two more children Pieter and Jan.

So Rogier was already living in Brussels in 1435, where he bought a house on the corner of Magdalena Street and Cantersteen in the years 1443-44. A document dated May 2, 1436, shows that he was appointed city painter in Brussels. In a document from the same year 1436, we also encounter for the first time his Dutchified name ”van der Weyden”, Dutchification of ”de le Pasture” (”to graze” or ”to pasture”).

He lived in Brussels until his death. That he had become a sedentary and moneyed citizen may be seen from his membership of the brotherhood of St. James-on-den-Coudenberg to which the members of the Burgundian court and the urban elite also belonged. His wife Ysabiel was also a member of this brotherhood. Rogier van der Weyden died a very wealthy man; he was buried in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in the chapel of St. Catherine, which was used by the confraternity of St. Elijah, to which the painters also belonged, for their services. A poem of praise was placed on the tombstone, which in 1613 was mentioned by the Leuvener Franciscus Sweertius in his Monumenta Sepulcralia Et Inscriptiones Publicae Privataeque Ducatus as:

M. Rogeri Pictoris celeberimmi

Rogier”s son Pieter followed in his father”s footsteps and took over the studio after his death. His grandson Goswin also became a painter and was twice appointed dean in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. His oldest son Cornelis had entered the Carthusian monastery of Herne in 1449 after studying at the University of Leuven as ”magister artium”. Rogier donated a painting of St. Catherine to the monastery. When the Carthusian monastery of Scheut was subsequently founded in 1456, Van der Weyden donated a Crucifixion, the famous work that is now in the Escorial in San Lorenzo de El Escorial near Madrid (inv. 10014602). His daughter Margaretha died in 1450. His youngest son Jan became a goldsmith.

Training

One knows nothing with certainty about young Rogier”s education. There are no documents that deal with his apprenticeship as a young boy. Apart from the destruction of part of the archives, this is not surprising; it was only in November 1423 that guilds were statutorily obliged to register masters and apprentices in the guild books. So all kinds of hypotheses have been made about the education of the youthful Rogier but without documentary evidence they remain guesses.

Most art historians today agree that Rogier van der Weyden received his initial training in the 1410s in the studio of Robert Campin who had settled in Tournai in 1406 and paid bourghesie (portership) in 1410. The slightly younger Jacques Daret would have been an apprentice with Campin at the same time. Daret became an apprentice at Campin in 1415 and lived with the master from 1418. It is assumed that this was also the case for Rogier. This thesis is supported by the stylistic and iconographic unity of the works of the three masters. It is argued that it is almost impossible that this could be the result of the short period between 1427 and 1432 in which, according to the documents of the Doornik guild, Van der Weyden and Daret worked as apprentices (apprentis) with Campin as the last step towards their appointment as freemasters.

On November 17, 1426, the city of Tournai donated four jugs of wine to a certain “maistre Rogier de le Pasture. However, it is not clear whether this document refers to the painter Rogier. Usually the wine was offered as a “wine of honor” after a student had obtained a master”s degree (Magister) somewhere in a foreign university. Some authors have interpreted this as referring to a namesake of the painter. Most, however, stick to the same Rogier de le Pasture who, before completing his training as a painter in Tournai, would have obtained a master”s title at the university in Cologne or Paris. Dirk De Vos believes that in Tournai the title of ”maistre” was also used for painters who had received a higher education in contrast to the pure craftsmen. He mentions that Robert Campin was mentioned in all documents as ”maistre Campin”, in contrast to other Tournaisian freemasters who were simply mentioned by name. Another explanation than the university magister title, and according to Houtart and De Vos, a more plausible one, would be that Rogier was already awarded the honorary title of ”maistre” in 1426 even though he had not yet established himself as a freemaster. The honorary wine would then perhaps have been donated on the occasion of his marriage to Ysabiel Goffaert.

A document from March 5th of the following year 1427 mentions a certain Rogelet de le Pasture, from Tournai, who was apprenticed to Robert Campin, almost at the same time as Jacquelotte Daret, a Willemet and Haquin de Blandin (in 1426). The term apprentis (apprentice) had a different meaning in Tournai than in other guilds such as in Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. Apprentice was the last stage before one could become freemaster and the term was fixed at four years. Seen in this light 27 years was not an abnormal age to be registered as apprentis. We see the same progression with Daret, but we know that he had also been an apprentice with Campin before. The use of the diminutive forms for the first names, Rogelet, Jacquelotte and Willemet is also quite normal when it comes to apprentices, regardless of their age. So there is no reason to associate the use of the name ”Rogelet” with a second Van der Weyden as some authors did in the past. That assertion seems to be completely out of date in the meantime.

Artistic career

After the troubles with the commune of Tournai and the return of the émigrés, Robert Campin was convicted for the first time under the new ultra-conservative regime in 1429, on March 21, for not wanting to accuse a guild brother, which was considered as “withholding the truth” (pour oultraiges d”avoir célé vérité). He had to make a pilgrimage to Saint-Gilles-du-Gard in Provence, was fined 20 pounds and was also excluded from all public functions for life. The punishment must not have seemed sufficient to Campin”s opponents because two years later there is a new charge against him for years of adultery with one Leurence Polette. He is sentenced to one year of exile on July 29, 1432.

A document dated August 1, 1432, shows that Rogier de le Pasture was recognized as a freemaster on that date, two days after Master Campin”s conviction: Maistre Rogier de le Pasture, natif de Tournay, fut reçue à le francise du mestier des paintres le premier jour d”aoust l”an dessudit. This registration of Rogier as freemaster thus immediately followed the conviction of his master Robert Campin for adultery. It is remarkable that the other apprentices of Campin were also appointed freedmen shortly afterwards, Willemet (no surname known) on August 2 and Jacques Daret on October 18. That the process was rigged can be seen from the fact that Campin”s banishment was lifted on 25 October through the intercession of the ”Duchess” of Hainaut, Margaret of Burgundy.

After his appointment as master in 1432, things remained quiet around Rogier until he apparently settled permanently in Brussels in 1435. His colleague Jacques Daret also left Tournai in 1434 and settled temporarily in Atrecht. Rogier”s move to Brussels may have been related to the period of riots and troubles in Tournai between 1423 and 1435, but the presence of the Burgundian court in Brussels will certainly have played a role in the young master”s decision. Even after his removal, Rogier van der Weyden continued to maintain good contacts with Tournai. In the accounts of the city we find several payments to a ”maistre Rogier le pointre” for works he had executed there and also the famous Braque-triptych of ca; 1452-1453 was a commission from Catherine de Brabant from Tournai. The guild accounts of 1463-1464, by the way, show that he had not been forgotten in Tournai: item payent pour les chandèles qui furent mise devant saint Luc, à cause de service Maistre Rogier de le Pasture, natyf de cheste ville de Tournay lequel demoroit à Brouselles.

What he did between 1432 and 1435 and where he stayed at the time is not documented. But most sources situate the Descent from the Cross painted by Rogier on commission from the Leuven marksmen”s guild for the chapel of Our Lady of Ginderbuiten, now in the Prado in Madrid, around 1435. Some believe he remained in Tournai but others place him in Leuven, Bruges and Ghent. Dirk De Vos definitely places the studio of Rogier van der Weyden in Tournai and bases this on, among other things, the extensive works that Rogier and his assistants carried out in the Margaret Church for which he was mentioned in the accounts as ”Maistre Rogier”. That he did not work alone is evident from an account of the church administration about a treat for the ”compagnons pointres de le maisme Rogier”. Probably at the end of his Tournai period Rogier also painted his first triptych, an Annunciation, possibly commissioned by Oberto de Villa, a banker from Piedmont. The work is now preserved in the Louvre. This is Rogier”s work in which the influence of Jan van Eyck is most apparent, after which he would increasingly go his own way.

The first document mentioning Van der Weyden as a city painter dates from May 2, 1436. The document lists a number of measures that the city of Brussels took because of the precarious financial situation caused by the decline of the cloth weaving industry. Among other things, the document states that the position of city painter would be abolished after Rogier”s death. Normally, a city painter was in charge of the organization of the annual ommegang and the coordination of the works for it. With that alone, the man was busy for six months. He normally received an annual salary, a quantity of wine and ceremonial clothing. But Rogier van der Weyden had a different status and a different mission. He was probably requested and appointed by the magistrates of Brussels for the decoration of the new city hall wing for which he indeed painted four monumental panels for the ”Golden Chamber” or small courtroom, two on the Justice of Trajan and Pope Gregory and the other two on the Justice of Hercules. The works were sadly destroyed during the shelling of the city by French troops in 1695. Rogier enjoyed a special status because his clothing allowance was on the level of the ”geswoerene cnapen”, a higher category than that of the ”wercmeesteren” to which artisans were normally classified. Apparently he had also stipulated that his contract with the city was not exclusive and that he could accept other assignments, which was also an exception, but he did not receive a fixed fee, he was paid per performance.

Since he worked in Brussels, Rogier must also have been registered with the painters” guild of Brussels, but no documents have been found to explain this further. Van der Weyden had two adjoining houses in the Magdalenasteenweg (or Guldenstraat) near the Cantersteen. His studio was probably located there. Rogier must have had a whole series of pupils, but only two references to assistants or pupils have been found in the archives. The first is about a tip for his assistants from the church masters of St. Margaret”s in Tournai and the second about a tip from the abbot of St. Aubert”s Abbey in Cambrai for the ”ouvriers” on the delivery of a triptych.

A notable pupil at the studio was Zanetto Bugato who was apprenticed to Van der Weyden in the winter of 1460-1461 by order of Bianca Maria Visconti, the second wife of Francesco Sforza and Duchess of Milan. Apparently there were regular clashes between this pupil and Rogier in which even the dauphin, later King Louis XI of France, is said to have intervened to calm tempers. The Duchess of Milan wrote a letter to Rogier on May 7, 1463, thanking him for training her court painter.

In all likelihood, Rogier”s second son, Pieter who was born around 1437, also received his training in his father”s studio. It was Pieter who took over the studio after his father”s death and continued to lead it until 1516. There is a good chance that Pieter van der Weyden also continued to work with his father”s assistants.

Also Louis le Duc, a nephew of Rogier, who in 1453 registered as freemaster in the guild of Tournai and in 1460 moved to Bruges, had in all likelihood received his training in Rogier”s studio. In addition, there are three anonymous masters of whom it is assumed, based on their style and technique, that they worked for a long time in the studio of Rogier van der Weyden. These are the Master of the Sforza Triptych, the Master of the Uffizi”s Lamentation, and the Master of the Johannestriptych. Art historians believe that they were able to work quite independently in Rogier”s studio, but that the works were sold under his name. There were undoubtedly many other assistants active in the studio but who, unlike the three mentioned above, could not work completely independently.

Some people think that Hans Memling also worked as an assistant in Rogier”s studio; in any case, he seemed to know Van der Weyden”s work well and it is a fact that Memling settled in Bruges as a freemaster on January 30, 1465, a few months after Rogier”s death. According to an inventory drawn up in 1516, the collection of Margaret of Austria included a triptych with a Man of Sorrows painted by Rogier van der Weyden with angels on the side wings painted by ”maistre” Hans, presumably Hans Memling. Modern research with infrared reflectography of Memling”s and Van der Weyden”s work would also show that the young Memling had a thorough knowledge of Rogier”s techniques. As it usually goes, these theses and Vasari”s obscure reference to a certain ”Ausse”, translated by art historians as Hans, as Rogier”s pupil in his 1550 edition of the Vite are doubted by others.

In 1450 Rogier van der Weyden traveled to Rome on the occasion of the Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Nicholas V. Bartholomaeus Facius describes in his De Viris Illustribus in 1456, so hot off the press, that Rogier had great admiration for Gentile da Fabriano”s (now disappeared) frescoes in the church of St. John of the Lateran. Facius, the Italian humanist was in the service of King Alfons V of Aragon in Naples where he was responsible for the education of his son, the later Ferdinand I of Naples, and was appointed royal historian. In his De Viris Illustribus he described only four painters, namely Gentile da Fabriano, Antonio Pisano (Pisanello), Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. He mentions a number of works that Rogier is said to have painted in Italy, namely a Bathing Lady in Genoa, a Descent from the Cross in Ferrara where Lionello d”Este was margrave until 1450 and two Passion scenes in Naples. None of these works survived. After his journey, he is said to have painted a Sacra Conversazione in Brussels for an Italian patron (the Medicis), now in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt as Virgin with Child and Four Saints, inv. no. 850. In addition, the Lamentation of Christ, now in the Uffizi in Florence, is also said to be by him and also painted on commission from the Medicis. This work reproduces a theme by Fra Angelico, but otherwise little Italian influence can be demonstrated in the works attributed to Rogier van der Weyden.

In addition to the religious works of Rogier van der Weyden and his studio, we also know of a number of portraits by him. Most of these works were created after 1450 with one exception, the portrait of a young woman, perhaps his wife Ysabiel Goffaert, which was painted in his Tournai period between 1432 and 1435. The portraits can be divided into two types, on the one hand the ordinary portrait and on the other hand the devotional portraits. Those devotional portraits were actually diptychs, where on one panel the portrayed patron was represented in prayer before the saint, on the other panel the saint himself. In the portraits known to us, that saint was always a Madonna and Child. Two of those portraits can still be designated as diptychs, of the other the Madonna has been lost. Likewise, there are a number of Madonnas of which the accompanying portrait no longer exists. Of those devotional portraits, only seven male portraits and one female portrait have survived.

In addition to the diptych portraits, Rogier painted a number of state portraits of the Duke of Burgundy Philip the Good, his wife Isabella of Portugal, and members of his family and court, as well as other important people. For example, there are portraits of Philip the Good, Charles the Bold, Anthony of Burgundy and Philip of Croÿ.

It was not abnormal for artists in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to practice both painting on panel and miniature art. Examples are legion, of Simon Marmion, Gerard David, Barthélemy van Eyck, Gerard Horenbout, Jacob van Lathem, Fra Angelico and many others, we know with certainty that they were engaged in both miniature painting in tempera on parchment and painting on panel.

This was apparently also the case for Rogier van der Weyden, in any case it is generally accepted that the frontispiece with the commissioned miniature of the first volume of the Chroniques de Hainaut was painted by Rogier. These Chronicles of Hainaut were ordered by Philip the Good in 1446 to give his rights over Hainaut a historical basis. Philip is presented as the legitimate heir in a long line of rulers, which would go back to the Fall of Troy. The books were translated from Latin to French by Jean Wauquelin and illuminated by a plejade of miniaturists. The original, the Annales historiae illustrium principum Hannoniæ, had been written in Latin at the end of the 14th century by Jacques de Guise. The manuscripts were written by the copyist Jacotin du Bois based on Wauquelin”s translation.

The commissioned miniature in the first section was probably painted around 1448. Again, there is no documentary evidence that Rogier made the miniature, but the style of the work very clearly refers to Van der Weyden, according to most art historians. Several of the characters on the miniature were also portrayed by Rogier van der Weyden, which allows the portraits to be compared to the miniature. This was the case, among others, for Philip the Good himself, for chancellor Nicolas Rolin (the man in blue to the right of Philip) who was also portrayed on The Last Judgment in the Hôtel Dieu in Beaune and for bishop Jean Chevrot (in red next to Rolin) who appears on the triptych of the Seven Sacraments (KMSKA). The first portrait of the duke, of which only copies have been preserved, must have been painted for the miniature. This leaves to suppose that Rogier was commissioned for the miniature because the Duke was satisfied with the earlier portrait. The miniature functions as a group portrait of Philip the Good with his court council.

No other miniatures by Rogier”s hand are known. Miniature art is generally regarded as very different from panel painting, but this work corresponds in size (148 x 197 mm) to the smallest panels painted by Rogier, such as the Throning Madonna in a niche, and was therefore no problem for the Rogier. The technique of painting with tempera on parchment is obviously very different from panel painting but this also apparently posed no problems for the master, on the contrary, the execution proves the great expertise of the master. In the current state of research, one assumes, moreover, that Rogier van der Weyden probably came into contact with the art of miniatures as early as Robert Campin”s studio.

During his lifetime and after his death, Rogier was celebrated as a great painter throughout Europe. He had patrons far beyond our borders. Works by him in the 15th and 16th centuries are documented in Italian, Spanish and German collections and churches. Yet no work has been preserved that can be attributed to Rogier with absolute certainty (through orders or other documents). Art historians today agree that three works are by Rogier, namely the Miraflore Triptych now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the Crucifixion of Scheut in the Escorial and the Descent from the Cross in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.The Miraflore Triptych was donated to the Carthusian monastery of Miraflores near Burgios by Johan of Castile in 1445. The deed of gift mentions the painter as “Magistro Rogel, magno, & famoso Flandresco”. Of the Crucifixion of Scheut, we know that the work was donated to the monastery of Scheut by Rogier, and was described in 1574 as painted by “Masse Rugie” for “la cartuja de brussellas” and for the “Descent from the Cross” there are several sixteenth-century sources that attribute the work to Rogier.

List of attributed works

The following list of works attributed to Rogier van der Weyden is built on the basis of the reasoned oeuvre catalog compiled by Dirk De Vos in his standard work on the painter: Rogier van der Weyden. Het volledige oeuvre, published by the Mercatorfonds, Antwerp, 1999. The works that De Vos included in his ”problematic attributions”, ”wrong attributions” or ”lost works” are not included in this list.

Discussion of some works

Rogier”s “Magnum Opus” was the so-called History of Herkenbald and Trajan, a series of justice scenes intended for the council chamber (now Gothic hall) of Brussels City Hall on the Grand Place and produced between 1440 and 1450. The monumental work depicts eight scenes from the lives of Trajan and Herkenbald spread over four large painted wooden panels, each more than four meters high and wide. The work was lost in 1695 during the bombardment of Brussels by the armies of Louis XIV of France. We only know it from numerous descriptions and praises written about it by visitors in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and from fragmentary copies and variants (some drawings and a large tapestry) that offer an echo of its lost splendor. The tapestry Trajan and Herkenbald referring to this group of works is kept in the Historisches Museum of Bern.

The painted scenes in the Brussels Town Hall were intended to be an “exemplum justitiae,” a frightening example for the aldermen who had to govern well and render justice. It served as an exhortation to the administrators to perform their duties conscientiously. They were hung against the long blind inner wall of the hall and thus directly opposite the benches on which the aldermen and judges sat. The judges thus had these “examples” permanently in view. The panels with larger than life figures were praised for their particularly successful depiction of emotions. At the bottom there were texts that explained the story. On one of the panels a self-portrait of Van der Weyden was depicted.

The tapestry around this performance was also on display at the large retrospective at the Museum M in Leuven in the fall of 2009. Some well-known Flemish actors recorded an audio play for the audio guide when viewing this tapestry.

The most important and influential work that can be attributed to Van der Weyden is the Descent from the Cross, which is today in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. This work is perhaps the most influential painting in all of 15th-century art history. For centuries it remained a benchmark for the depiction of emotions in religious art.

From 1443 the work was on the high altar of the chapel of Our Lady of Ginderbuiten in Leuven, the chapel of the ”Great Guild of the Footbow”. Mary of Hungary buys the painting from the footbow guild around 1548, for the low cost of an organ of 500 guilders and a copy of the painting by her court painter Michiel Coxcie. She has the work transferred to her new palace in Binche, where it had been installed in the chapel in 1549. The painting then came into the possession of Philip II, Mary”s cousin, who had seen it in 1549 when visiting his aunt. Vincente Alvarez who was part of the prince”s party said that it was probably the most beautiful painting in the world, but did not name a painter although he undoubtedly knew who it was about. In 1564 it had been set up in the chapel of El Pardo, the prince”s country residence, and in 1566 it was transferred to the so-called Escorial or in full the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo in El Escorial. It wasn”t until 1939 that the descent of the cross ended up in the ”Museo del Prado”.

The form, composition and use of color in this work are remarkable.

The somewhat oversized figures of this work are, as it were, enclosed in a container with an elevation in the middle to depict the cross. Such retable boxes were quite common in Brabant at the time. The painting style of the figures refers to polychromed images and it is therefore said that it was Rogier”s intention to depict a polychromed retable. But Van der Weyden goes much further than that, the retable case is at most a shoulder width deep (see the figure of Mary Magdalene leaning against the case) and yet Rogier manages to represent five layers of depth: Mary falling into silence, behind her the body of Christ with Joseph of Arimathea behind him, the plane of the cross and behind it the helper in his damask tunic. It is thus much more than the conversion of a relief representation to a two-dimensional painting that was realized here. The carefully studied composition with the rhyme in the arm movement of two figures in the foreground (Mary and her son) and the composition line falling to the bottom left add even more drama to the theme of the descent from the cross (which is already loaded). The almost life-size figures possess a very high degree of detail and realism and stand out for their precise rendering of material. Hairs, beards, fabrics and furs are almost tangibly present, and yet the composition as a whole gives a clenched, purified and synthesized impression. No detail gives the impression of being superfluous. This is not so much a descriptive detail realism as with Jan van Eyck but rather a synthetic detail realism. The work is conceived in such a way that it makes an impression on any contemplative distance. The viewer can, as it were, zoom in on the work almost endlessly. The entire structure of the work is focused on expressing and conveying emotions.

This work, when unfolded, has the Last Judgment as its subject and is exhibited at the Hospices de Beaune in France. It consists of nine panels, some of which are still in their original frames. Originally, the entire work consisted of oil on oak panels; later, portions were transferred to canvas. Rogier van der Weyden painted it most likely between 1445 and 1450. Without the frames, it is 220 cm high and 548 cm wide.

Mary Magdalene reads is the name of a work kept in the National Gallery in London. It is one of three remaining fragments of a large altarpiece. The other fragments are in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. The original panel showed a large company of holy men and women in a spacious room around an enthroned Madonna and Child. The National Gallery”s Seated Magdalene is the largest preserved fragment. The painting was reconstructed from a late fifteenth-century drawing of part of it: Virgin and Child with a Holy Bishop, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist that is preserved in Stockholm. Given that no other fragments of the work have been found, it is thought that the original work was once badly damaged and that the usable portions were recovered. The other preserved fragments, a head of St. Joseph and of St. Catherine(?), are almost exactly the same size and were thus deliberately sawn out to the same size. Behind Magdalene, we see part of an upright figure; the head of Joseph from Lisbon fits in perfectly with this. De Vos dates this work, in contrast to other art historians who place it before 1438, approximately at the time when Rogier began working with his studio on the Polyptych of the Last Judgment commissioned by Chancellor Rolin, i.e. around 1445.

The fact that Rogier van der Weyden already enjoyed great prestige throughout Europe during his lifetime is evidenced by numerous archival documents and literary texts that have survived from his time. But even after his death Rogier was not forgotten, from the seventeenth century there are several testimonies that the work of Rogier van der Weyden was still highly regarded despite the changed taste and fashion, in the time of Peter Paul Rubens.

During his lifetime he first became known outside Flanders in Italy. This may have had something to do with his Rome trip in 1450, but undoubtedly also with the fact that there was a great interest in painters in Italian humanist circles at that time because painters were no longer regarded as artisans but as intellectuals. But even before Roger”s Rome trip, he was well known in Italy. In July 1449, the powerful Lionello d”Este, Marquis of Ferrara, proudly showed a triptych by Van der Weyden from his estate to the scholar Cyriacus of Ancona, who then enthusiastically described it, referring to Rogier”s art as “rather divine than human. From payments dating from the years 1450-1451, it is known that Leonello ordered other works from Van der Weyden. These accounts again show the esteem in which Rogier was held. He was described as excelenti et claro pictori M. Rogerio.

In Spain, too, there was very early interest in his work and, in particular, in the emotions he was able to incorporate into his religious works. In 1445, King Johan II of Castile donated the so-called Miraflores Triptych(Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) to the Carthusian Monastery of Miraflores near Burgos, which he founded and favored. In the annals of this monastery this event was mentioned, and with pride the name of the artist was also mentioned (which was very unusual at the time) as, “Magistro Rogel, magno, & famoso Flandresco” (Master Rogier, great and famous Fleming).

The brilliant German scholar and cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus was full of praise for Rogier”s History of Hercules and Trajan which he had seen in the Brussels Town Hall and which he mentioned in his work De visione Dei. In this context he called Rogier the “greatest of painters”; Rogeri maximi pictoris. Also Albrecht Dürer who was usually very sparing with praises to other painters said about Rogier van der Weyden and Hugo van der Goes: sind beede grossmaister gewest.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, his work was still highly regarded, just think of Philip II who managed to obtain two of Rogier”s main works, the Descent from the Cross and the Crucifixion of Scheut and had them hung in his daily environment. The Antwerp Hieronymus Cock, painter, engraver and publisher of prints from the second half of the sixteenth century, also published a print of the Descent from the Cross in 1565 and expressly referred to its author, Rogier van der Weyden. The print with Rogier”s portrait from the Pictorum Aliquot Celebrium Germaniae Inferioris Effigies, published in Antwerp by Hieronymus Cock in 1572, also features a highly praising text by the humanist Dominicus Lampsonius. In Karel van Mander”s famous Schilderboeck there is some confusion because he talks about a ”Rogier of Brussels” and a ”Rogier of Brugghe”.

Museums

Below is a list of museums that possess works attributed to Rogier van der Weyden according to the reasoned oeuvre catalog compiled by Dirk De Vos.

In the museums listed below, one can also find works that were attributed to Rogier but that are not included in Dirk De Vos”s catalogue raisonné, in other words, works whose attribution is questioned or where it is known that the work is a copy after the master. The latter is the case, among others, for the Portrait of Philip the Good in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges and for that of Isabella of Portugal in the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Clients

The (non-exhaustive) list below of patrons who commissioned works or copies of them illustrates that Rogier van der Weyden was a celebrated artist.

Impact

We find in the work attributed to Rogier van der Weyden and his studio a particularly large number of copies. It should be noted that copying works of art in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance did not have the negative connotation that we give it today. Copying was a fairly normal thing to do at that time and all the great masters participated in it. Rogier”s work was already being copied during his lifetime and this continued until more than a century after his death, deep into the sixteenth century. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that Rogier was already a celebrity during his lifetime and that over the course of his long career he formed a crowd of apprentices and also had a significant number of collaborators in his studio. He was praised for the way in which he depicted emotions in his works, and the pre-eminent example of this, the Descent from the Cross, was already copied in 1443 for St. Peter”s Church in Leuven, the so-called Edelheer Triptych. A total of 50 copies of this work are known, but there are also 30 copies of the Bladelin retable as well as the Crucifixion Triptych from Vienna. But also The St. Luke”s Drawing of the Madonna, a number of Madonnas and the portraits of princes were frequently copied.

A number of copies can be related to the studio practice. A study of the surviving work shows that the studio employees had a whole series of models at their disposal, ranging from drawings to cartoons or a calque with punch holes in it in order to apply the design in dotted line to the prepared panel. Rogier”s studio, which was continued after 1464 by his widow and son, made grateful use of these models to produce new paintings. Images of the various types of Mary with Child derived from Van der Weyden”s work were serially produced for sale on the open market. Hélène Mund says that they must have been made by the hundreds if one considers how many have survived.

But these models were also copied outside the studio or made on the basis of existing paintings. There are therefore a whole series of works known that were made “after Rogier van der Weyden” by masters who had nothing to do with his studio. The artists who copied Rogier”s work include the ”Master of the Lucian Legend”, Adriaen Isenbrant and Ambrosius Benson, all three of whom worked in Bruges. But also the Master of the Ursula Legend from Bruges and the Master of the Magdalene Legend painted a Madonna that is derived from the Madonna in Saint Luke”s Drawing of the Madonna.

There are also the copies that are commissioned. The well-known example is the copy, now lost, by Michiel Coxie of the Descent from the Cross for Mary of Hungary, but also Isabella of Castile commissioned copies of the Miraflore Triptych and of the St. John Triptych at the end of the 15th century.

In Spain, after Rogier”s death, a number of copies of the Durán Madonna arose, a painting, now in the Prado, depicting Mary dressed in red, with Jesus on her lap engaged in crumpling sheets in a manuscript that Mary was reading. The theme was copied by the Spanish Master of Alvaro de Luna and by the Brussels Master of Embroidered foliage in his Virgin with Child and Musician Angels now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lille.

After the closure of Pieter van der Weyden”s studio, Rogier”s art continued to exert influence in the Southern Netherlands but also far beyond. In Belgium, we can cite the names of Hans Memling in Bruges and Dirk Bouts in Leuven, among many others. In Brussels, Colijn de Coter and Vrancke van der Stockt can be mentioned, who continued to paint in the style of the master and adopted compositions and motifs from his work, along with a whole series of small masters from the Brussels school. But also painters outside Flanders, such as the anonymous Master of the St. Bartholomew”s Altar, working in the Rhineland, Friedrich Herlin in Swabia and Martin Schongauer in Alsace were very strongly influenced by the art of Van der Weyden. As a matter of fact, Rogier”s work was copied not only by painters but also by tapestry weavers, sculptors, miniaturists and fire glass painters. A good example is a depiction of the Madonna with the nursing Child, derived from the Virgin Mary in St. Luke”s Signs of the Madonna, but now depicted half-heartedly, in the Book of Hours of St. Anne of Castile and Joos van Cleve, the famous Antwerp master, painted another copy of Rogier van der Weyden”s Descent from the Cross around 1520. Rogier”s compositions would serve as models for numerous works throughout the sixteenth century. Van der Weyden”s creativity and unparalleled way of depicting emotions had set the tone for generations of painters.

Sources

  1. Rogier van der Weyden
  2. Rogier van der Weyden