Eye Candy for Today: The Merode Altarpiece

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin
Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin

Here we find the early 15th century artist(s) diving headlong into the capabilities of the newly adopted medium of oil painting, exploring its capacity for layers of richly colored glazes and almost infinite ability to accommodate the desire for minute detail.

The entire triptych, open, is only 26×47 inches (64x118cm)!

In the left panel we see the donors who commissioned the work, in a courtyard under rooftops alight with birds, simultaneously displaying their piety and wealth (only the wealthy could commission such a work).

In the center a tiny figure of Jesus rides a beam of holy light in through one of the circular windows, signifying the Incarnation.

In the right hand panel, in an unusual appearance for a painting of the Annunciation, we find Joseph making mouse traps, symbols of the Incarnation as a trap set by God for the devil. The entire work, like many of its kind, is loaded with symbolism; almost everything has meaning.

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though the fullscreen version of the single image isn’t as high resolution as some images on the Met’s website, the accompanying detail crops are. Scroll through and click on the thumbnails in the slider below the main image and then click on “Fullscreen” for those images and use the zoom or download arrows.

I’m astonished how far you can go into the painting, into the details in the windows of the shops and houses across the street out the window of the workshop when Joseph is working in the right panel. Makes you want to exclaim: “My God!”, but then — that’s the point, isn’t it?


8 Replies to “Eye Candy for Today: The Merode Altarpiece”

  1. You are in my wheelhouse again Charley. Campin, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Patinir. These guys rock my world. When you see them in person it is astonishing the amount of work put in. My work ethic is jealous.

  2. Bill – I know what you mean. I’ve never been one for detail for its own sake, but in these works by many of the artists you mention, there is an intensity, a sense of the application of enormous mental and emotional effort, that delivers enormous impact.

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