The Merode Altarpiece, attributed to Early Netherlandish painter Robert Campin and an assistant, is a small triptych designed for private devotional use. The altarpiece is full of symbolic representations and attention to detail, leading viewers into deep reflection on the mysteries of the Incarnation.
Campin was a successful painter based in Tournai, which was part of the Burgundian Netherlands known for its rich culture and luxury goods production during the 15th century. The painting falls within an Early Netherlandish art style characterized by precise realism and luminous effects created through thin layers of paint.
The triptych consists of three connected paintings with each panel portraying different scenes from the Annunciation story. The central panel depicts the Annunciation itself with an angel appearing before Mary. She sits at a prayer desk while on her left stands St. Joseph portrayed as busy working wood suggesting his earthly occupation as described in some apocryphal stories.
In contrast, Mary’s chamber is given great attention to detail reflecting early Flemish bourgeois life showing utensils such as broomsticks and tools lying around in their designated spots. Overall, this piece reflects not only religious beliefs but also daily life during that time period highlighting society’s concerns around faith and materiality in equal measure.