Lines and Colors art blog

Rogier ven der Wyden’s Miraflores Altarpiece

Rogier ven der Wyden's Miraflores Altarpiece
It’s interesting that in the great body of art throughout history that has been inspired by Christianity, or commissioned directly by the various expressions of the Christian church, the resurrection of Christ, the event that is the basis of the important observance of Easter, doesn’t seem to be one of the more common subjects for paintings.

While it understandably doesn’t embody the drama or emotional impact of the crucifixion, it seems less frequently depicted than many less important or dramatic events from the Bible that are often the subject of paintings, statuary or altarpieces.

I’m not certain why; there are some depictions of the resurrection that have plenty of visual impact, like Albrecht Altdorfer’s stormy scene and Matthias Grünewald’s stunningly intense vision in his Isenheim Alterpiece.

Perhaps it’s just my perception. I haven’t attempted an actual count, and there is a pretty long list of resurrection artwork on this site. It may just be that those paintings are not the ones most noticed or remembered.

Here is one to add to the list, though, a fascinating painting by an early master of technique of oil painting, Rogier van der Weyden. It is the right panel of his Miraflores Altarpiece (image above with detail, right and bottom).

This is an extraordinarily elaborate and detailed work, in which Van der Weyden is taking advantage of the ability of oil painting to execute intricate details and carry color in layers of translucent glazes.

This is actually a double scene, depicting two separate events in one image. Our eye moves from the decorative elements on the trompe l’oeil arches into the interior scene, painstakingly constructed in linear perspective, with Christ having arisen and gone immediately to his mother.

From there we move into the background of the painting, and also travel into the immediate past, to the scene of the resurrection, rendered with carefully painted atmospheric perspective. (It’s interesting to note that in work by the early masters of oil painting, there is an understanding of the color shifts and value changes in atmospheric perspective, but distant background elements are often rendered with the same fanatical detail as foreground elements.) The two scenes, and two events in time, are connected by a winding path in the middle ground.

Like Antonello da Messina’s remarkable St. Jerome in his Study, we are invited to journey into and through the painting, and in this case, through time as well.


3 responses to “Rogier ven der Wyden’s Miraflores Altarpiece”

  1. Thanks for sharing this wonderful Easter post! Van der Wyden is one of my absolute favorites and I had the good fortune to have an art history teacher who really emphasized his importance. I don’t have a good theory on why this part of the passion isn’t often portrayed. Perhaps it was too mystical for the Renaissance?

  2. It’s interesting how the lack of focus on this event in painting, or on the paintings that there are of it, parallels the VERY LITTLE that I remember of the story – I have a vague recollection that there was a whole thing where people couldn’t even see Jesus for a while, refused to see him, because it was so impossible that he was there, but Mary could et cetera.

  3. The paintings are very beautiful. I agree with you, we rarely find paintings based on the resurrection of Christ. Rogier van der Weyden is very creative, it was inspiring to read about this great artist.