Rogier van der Weyden’s Crucifixion from Escorial was recently restored. This spring it is exhibited at Prado in Madrid together with an impressive selection of some of his other masterpieces
Rogier van der Weyden’s Crucifixion, from the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, is one of the painter’s most impressive and original works. It is furthermore one of the very few works by the painter that can be authenticated by documents from the time the artist gave it to the charterhouse of Scheut in Brussels, its original location.
However, the paintings’s various locations and the different interventions it underwent throughout more than 500 years influenced its aesthetic appearance and the conservation of the support and paint layer.
The technical documentation work (dendrochronology, pigment analysis, X-radiography, infrared and ultraviolet reflectography), together with work on the support and picture surface of the Crucifixion has restored the painting to its original state, making it possible to confirm Van der Weyden’s authorship and to date it specifically to a period between 1455, the earliest possible year the panel could have been used, and 1464, the year of the painter’s death.
The recent intervention has restored the sensation of three-dimensionality of the figures, whose volume was distorted by a thick layer of grey repainting. The new X-ray image and infrared reflectography indicate that it was a very well thought out work, as no major changes were made to the composition. This is documented by an extremely carefully executed underdrawing. For his imposing composition (3.24 x 1.94 m.) the painter used fourteen Baltic oak planks that were assembled horizontally. These have been stabilized and fitted with a new support.
Rogier van der Weyden
Born in Tournai around 1399, Rogier died in Brussels in 1464. An official painter of Brussels, he also worked for the Duke and Duchess of Burgundy. According to his friend Cardinal Jouffroy, his paintings “adorned the courts of all the kings”. In 1445 John II of Castile gave the Miraflores charterhouse a triptych painted by him. The four huge allegories of Justice painted on panel for Brussels city hall that were his best-known works in his own day were destroyed in 1695. Other large paintings such as the Descent, the Durán Madonna and the Calvary were exported to Spain.
It will never be possible to provide a definite explanation of the full complexity of works such as the Descent, the Miraflores Triptych or the large Calvary, which greatly transcend the circumstances of everyday life, or others like the Triptych of the Seven Sacraments in which the figures, dressed in the fashion of the time, are depicted in the setting of an equally contemporary church. Above them is a cross so high that it almost touches the vault over the nave, and on it is an enormous Christ. None of the other figures of the triptych, very different in size, are portrayed in the same scale as the building.
Like his contemporary Jan van Eyck († 1441), Van der Weyden must have discovered as a young man that although he was capable of producing lifelike renderings of the natural world, he could do more than simply imitate immediate reality. So sensitive was his treatment of forms and lines that his compositions, based on geometric harmonies, were immediately striking and became engraved on the memory. He also knew how to handle colour and abstract forms in order to intensify the spectator’s emotional reaction. He could represent anything highly realistically, but when it suited him he ignored the logic of space and scale or blurred the boundaries between reality and sculpture. His works are so beautiful, ambiguous and fascinating that they compel us to return to them time and time again, and we always discover something new.
The small, but very important exhibition in Madrid this spring, has been curated by curated by the renowned British art historian Lorne Campbell. It presents us with a unique opportunity to see four masterpieces aside each other: The Crucifixion and The Descent from the Cross, the Miraflores Triptych and The seven sacraments
LIST OF EXHIBITS
This oil-on-oak wood panel altarpiece by the Early Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden, in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin since 1850. The three panels are each 71 x 43 cm and show, from left to right, a portrait of the Holy Family, a Pietà (the Virgin cradling the dead body of Jesus) and Christ’s appearance to Mary—a chronological reading of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, with Mary the focus of both wings. The altarpiece examines Mary’s relationship with Christ at different stagesof his life. It is notable for its use of colour, distinguished by its use of whites, reds and blues, and use of line—notably the line of Christ’s body in the central panel—and, typically of van der Weyden, its emotional impact. The triptych was commissioned by Isabella’s father John II who donated it to the Miraflores Carthusian monastery, near Burgos, Spain, around 1445 (featured photo).
The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece is a fixed-wing triptych by Rogier van der Weyden and his workshop. It was painted from 1445 to 1450, probably for a church in Poligny. It is now in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp. It depicts the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. On the left panel are baptism, confirmation and confession and on the right hand panel the ordination of a priest, marriage and the last rites. The central panel (possibly the only autograph part of the work) is dominated by a crucifixion in the foreground, with the sacrament of the Eucharist in the background. Angels hover over each sacrament with scrolls, with clothes colour-matched to the sacraments, from white for baptism to black for the last rites. The side panels also depict the altarpiece’s commissioners, along with some portrait heads only added shortly before the work was completed. Two coats of arms (probably that of the commissioners) (left: “sable” chevron on “or” field; right: “argent” tower on “sable” field) are painted in the spandrels of the painting’s inner frame.
3. Drawings for the tomb of Alfonso de Velasco and for the chapel of Saint Anne in the basilica of the Real Monasterio de Guadalupe. By Egas Cueman. Pen and ink on paper from 1460-67. Real Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe
Crucifixion, right wing of an altarpiece dedicated to our Lady in Laredo (Cantabria), Brussels sculptors probably after designs by Rogier van der Weyden and his workshop Walnut, ca. 1430 – 40, Laredo, Santa María de la Asunción de Laredo. Diócesis de Santander
Oil on oak panel, ca. 1435. Robert Campin was a renowned painter of his day whose workshop trained important artists such as Jacques Daret and Rogier van der Weyden. Together with Jan van Eyck, he developed a new way of depicting reality that completely departed from the International Gothic vision. The present portrait follows the new direction opened up by other Flemish painters in which the donors, who were previously shown as witnesses to the religious scenes taking place in the altarpiece, acquire greater importance and become the sole protagonists of the works. The sitter depicted here totally fills the pictorial space, standing out against a light coloured background that is reduced to the minimum. His features are painted with great detail and realism as the portrait was intended to be seen from close up. Hulin de Loo identified the sitter as Robert de Masmines and related him to a figure in a drawing attributed to Jacques Leboucz in the Recueil d’Arras, although that work bears little similarity to the present one. There is another version of this portrait in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie. Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
- The Crucifixion by Rogier van der Weyden. Oil on oak panel 1457-64
Patrimonio Nacional, Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial
This work was commissioned by the Cross-bowmen’s Brotherhood of Louvain, now in Belgium, for their chapel at the Church of Nuestra Señora de Extramuros. Small crossbows are depicted at the lower corners of this work. It was acquired by María de Hungría in the sixteenth century and passed down to her nephew, Felipe II, who placed it in the chapel at the El Pardo Palace. In 1574, it was moved to El Escorial, where it remained until it was brought to the Prado Museum in 1939 in exchange for the copy by Michel Coxie.
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
The Christ Child plays with a book in Mary’s lap, a clear allusion to the Holy Scriptures that announce Christ’s redemptive mission. Above, an angel crowns Mary. The two figures placed under a niche with gothic tracery recall that same artist’s Descent from the Cross (P02825). Moreover, the neutral background and strongly plastic character of the figures, with their considerable volume, makes them look like polychrome sculptures. Also known as the Madonna in Red or Durán Madonna, this is unanimously considered an original work by Van der Weyden, though numerous versions existed in Spain. A work of great intimacy and technical quality, it is outstanding among his pieces and bears the influence of his teacher, Robert Campin.
Christ appears on the Cross, flanked by two angels, the Virgin and Saint John, on one side, and the three Marys on the other. Jerusalem appears in the guise of a Flemish city in the background. The artist based this work on Rogier van der Weyden’s Crucifixion (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), except for the figures of Mary Magdalene and the two Marys at the right of the panel, which take the place of the donors that Weyden incorportated in that part of his work. This artist’s closeness to Rogier van der Weyden in this and other works ascribed to him has led to the hypothosis that he may be the latter’s son, Pieter van der Weyden. The three Marys are depicted in a manner characteristic of works by the so-called Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine, with hard-drawn figures and Oriental eyes.
Oil on oak panel. 1440-50. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Pietà is a painting by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden dating from about 1441 held in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. There are number of workshop versions and copies, notably in the National Gallery, London, in the Prado, Madrid, and in the Manzoni Collection, Naples. Infra-red and X-radiograph evidence suggest that the Brussels version was painted by van der Weyden himself, not necessarily excluding the help of workshop assistants.
The painter was an artist from Guadalajara, where he worked for Mendoza. Another of his works is an Altarpiece in the Toledo Cathedral.It is a companion to The Lamentation, also in the Prado
The Redemption Triptych consists of three scenes. The central one shows Christ on the Cross, with the Virgin and Saint John under an archway with Gothic tracery leading to a church. In the archivolts are depictions of different passages from the Passion of Christ, and the lateral jambs bear various scenes from the sacraments.
When the triptych is open, the lateral compositions present a similar layout, as both are set under Gothic pointed arches. The left panel shows the Expulsion from Paradise with various scenes alluding to the Creation in the arch’s orders. On the right, the Last Judgement is accompanied by small images alluding to different Works of Mercy. On the reverse of the triptych’s wings, the gospel scene of the Tribute to Caesar is represented in grisaille.
Van der Stockt closely followed the esthetic of his teacher, Rogier van der Weyden, with his customary layout of sculpted reliefs on the arches that frame the scenes. Unlike his teacher, however, Van der Stockt colors these groups, creating the appearance of polychrome sculptures. He uses the same human types, but is unable to endow them with the same elegant movement and profound drama of his master’s figures.
In the sixteenth-century, the triptych belonged to Leonor Mascareñas, who was Felipe II’s governess. She donated it to the Convent of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, which she founded. During the Disentailment, it entered the Trinidad Museum, whose collection was added to that of the Prado Museum in 1872.
By Egas Cueman, Polychromed and gilded gypsum alabaster. 1447-54
Medina del Campo, Fundación Museo de las Ferias. Obra depositada por la Fundación Simón Ruiz
14 Livy, History of Rome (Ab urbe condita), Italian translation of the Third Decade, books 21-30, open at fol. 3.
Francesco di Antonio del Chierico (iluminator). Tempera on velum. Firenze 1476, Valencia, Biblioteca Històrica. Universitat de València
15. Episodes from the Story of Jephthah
Wool and silk, 1450-60 Zaragoza, Museo de Tapices de la Seo- Cabildo Metropolitano de Zaragoza
Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden
Oil on oak panel, 1450, Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum
Seated with her hands crossed in her lap, Isabella of Portugal, the duchess of Burgundy, conveys the poise and confidence of her noble position. Her sumptuous attire, heavily woven with gold thread, and her jeweled fingers and headdress reflect her aristocratic status. Oddly, the artist did not match the patterns of the sleeves, as would have been customary during this period.
In fact, the duchess never actually sat for this portrait, which may account for the misunderstood representation of her clothing. Scholars believe that the artist copied Isabella’s likeness from a lost portrait by Rogier van der Weyden. The tender, slightly mocking expression on the duchess’s face and the elongated fingers reflect van der Weyden’s concept of portraiture.
The prominent inscription in the upper left corner of the panel, PERSICA SIBYLLA IA, suggests that the portrait was part of a series depicting sibyls. This identity strikingly contrasts with Duchess Isabella’s costume. Scholars believe that someone other than the original artist added the inscription, as well as the brown background meant to simulate wood, some time after the portrait was painted.
Probably trained in Bruges, Juan de Flandes immigrated to Spain to serve at the court of Isabella of Castile. Workshops routinely produced copies of paintings that were prized for their spiritual powers or for the status of their authorship and/or ownership. Such factors prompted Queen Isabella of Castile to order a copy of Rogier van der Weyden’s Mary Altarpiece (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), which was given by her father, King Juan II, to the Carthusian monastery of Miraflores, near Burgos, Spain, in 1445. This picture is the right panel of Isabella’s triptych and can be attributed to her court artist Juan de Flandes on the basis of documentary and technical evidence. The centre and left panels remain at Isabella’s burial site, the Capilla Real, Granada, where she bequeathed the triptych upon her death in 1504. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Bequest of Michael Dreicer.
18. Saint Francis holding a Crucifix
By Nuno Gonçalves, Oil on oak panel, ca. 1470, Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
19. Copy after a lost painting then in the monastery at Batalha
Domingos António de Sequeira, Pencil on paper. From an album of drawings, fol. 46
1808, Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Rogier van der Weyden
Prado, Madrid. Ticket office at Goya Entrance
24.03.2015 – 2806.2015
Rogier van der Weyden
ISBN Spanish: 978-84-8480-314-0
ISBN English: 978-84-8480-315-7
Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile: The Virgin, Christ, Devotions, and Images in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
By Cynthia Robinson
Penn State Press 2013