Merode Altarpiece (c. 1425) by Robert Campin

Merode Altarpiece - Robert Campin - 1425 - 1428

Artwork Information

TitleMerode Altarpiece
ArtistRobert Campin
Date1425 - 1428
MediumOil on Panel
Dimensions119.8 x 148.5 cm
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationMetropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, US

About Merode Altarpiece

The Merode Altarpiece, a triptych oil painting on panel measuring 119.8 x 148.5 cm, is the work of Robert Campin, an esteemed artist of the Northern Renaissance. Created between 1425 and 1428, this religious painting exemplifies the period’s characteristic attention to detail and interest in domestic interiors. Currently, the artwork resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in New York City, NY, USA.

The Merode Altarpiece is composed of three panels. The left panel depicts a man and woman who may represent the donors of the artwork, recognized by their devout appearance as they cautiously enter through a doorway, likely symbolizing their piety and entrance into a holy space. The background reveals a cityscape and a walled garden, which are typically symbolic of the Virgin Mary’s purity.

The central panel draws the viewer into an intimate domestic setting where the Annunciation is taking placeā€”the moment where the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and become the mother of Jesus Christ. Mary is seated at a reading desk, absorbed in a book, typically interpreted as the Bible, signifying her devotion and learning, whilst Gabriel, clothed in sumptuous ecclesiastical robes befitting his holy message, kneels before her in a graceful gesture. Mary’s humble quarters are rendered with extraordinary detail, from the furnishings to household objects, each imbued with symbolic meaning.

On the right panel, a figure is seen in a woodworking shop, often identified as Saint Joseph, the earthly spouse of Mary. He works diligently, surrounded by tools and objects that again carry symbolic significance. One prominent interpretation suggests that the mousetraps he is working on symbolize Christ’s role as the trap to catch Satan. The view through the open window to the bustling city beyond further connects the holy scene with the everyday world of the viewer.

Overall, the Merode Altarpiece combines a highly detailed representation of a sacred story with a depiction of the ordinary world, typical of the Northern Renaissance’s aspiration to merge devotional imagery with familiar contemporary life.

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