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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin (MET)

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) MET DP273206

Annunciation Triptych by Robert Campin

Annunciation Triptych by Robert Campin which is also known as the Mérode Altarpiece is oil on oak in three panels format. This masterpiece represents from left to right, the donors kneeling in prayer in a garden, the Annunciation to Mary, which is set in a contemporary, domestic setting, and Saint Joseph as a carpenter.

The painting contains many religious symbols, including the lily symbolizing the purity of Mary. The Holy Spirit is represented by the rays of light and a small white figure with a cross, coming from the left-hand window in the central panel.

The Annunciation is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking his Incarnation. The Annunciation has been a central theme in Christian art in the Catholic Church, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Interestingly, Annunciation is also described in the Quran. Mary, the mother of Jesus, holds a singularly exalted place in Islam as the only woman named in the Quran.

The central panel was completed by Campin. The outer panels were added later by Campin’s workshop assistants on request by the donors who wanted to be placed in the Triptych to demonstrate their faith. The side panels contain views of the city of Liège, in today’s Belgium.

This triptych by Robert Campin is a significant milestone in the emerging late Gothic and the Early Netherlandish style. It derives from the medieval tradition; however, more importantly, it establishes the foundation for the development of modern painting.

Robert Campin

Robert Campin was the first great master of Flemish and Early Netherlandish painting. He was highly successful during his lifetime, and his activities are relatively well documented, but he did not sign or date his works.

Campin was active by 1406 as a master painter in Tournai, in today’s Belgium. Early Campin panels show the influence of the leading Gothic artists but display more realistic observations which he achieved through innovations in the use of oil paints.

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece)

  • Title:                   Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece)
  • Artist:                 Workshop of Robert Campin
  • Year:                   1432
  • Culture:              South Netherlandish
  • Medium:            Oil on oak
  • Dimensions:       H: 64.5 cm (25.3 in); W: 117.8 cm (46.3 in)
  • Museum:            The MET Cloisters

Robert Campin

  • Name:           Robert Campin
  • Birth:             1375
  • Died:              1444 – Tournai, Western Belgium
  • Nationality:  Flemish
  • Movement:  Flemish and Early Netherlandish painting

A Tour of the Cloisters

Reflections

  • What symbolism can you find in this painting?
  • Joseph, who is betrothed to Mary, is shown in the right panel, working in his carpenter’s shop. What stands out about Joseph?
  • What do the mousetraps on the bench and in the shop window represent?
  • Is the room setting of the central panel symbolic of the donor’s aspirations?

World History during the time this painting was created in 1432

  • 1407 – The first public bank is founded in Genoa
  • 1418 – Portugal starts sponsoring the exploration of Africa’s coast.
  • 1428 – Joan of Arc leads French against English.
  • 1450 – Florence becomes a center of Renaissance arts and learning.
  • 1453 – Turks conquer Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine empire.
  • 1455 – Gutenberg completes the first Bible.
  • 1462 – Ivan the Great rules Russia as the first Czar.

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“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone,
but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

– Martin Luther

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Photo Credit: [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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