Artworks
Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece)

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Fifteenth century artists like Robert Campin produced some crazy detailed paintings.

And the theme for most of these tended to be, “Look busy, Jesus is coming.” This means lots of biblical anecdotes laced with moral messages that were commissioned by rich people or the local church.

Speaking of rich people, in this particular triptych you have the patrons themselves kneeling down in the left panel, looking righteous and holy while they gaze upon the central panel. The artist has definitely taken some liberties with the idea of time in this work, 'cause you basically have the Annunciation scene going on in Campin’s contemporary Flemish city. He’s a few centuries off, but it’s ok.

Campin wasn’t just confused about time-he may have used the same model for Gabriel AND Mary in that central panel. The resemblance is kinda unsettling…they might be brother and sister!

You might overlook all the everyday objects here, but they are loaded with some heavy meaning. Religious symbols galore! The vase of lilies points towards Mary’s purity (three of them=Holy Trinity, obviously), the blown out candle shows Christ’s sacrifice for the world, and the copper basin's a reminder of rituals carried out during Eucharistic mass. Feeling guilty about not going to church yet?

In that last panel, Joseph seems to be carpenter-ing away, building mousetraps for some non-existent mice. But them absent mice are not the actual prey. The mousetrap was a symbol for Christ, who was used as bait in this world to capture the Devil. Campin wouldn't miss out on painting JC himself either- look closely at the central panel and you see a cute lil’ baby Christ floating in through the round windows carrying a cross. And we all know what that symbolizes.

 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Mérode Altarpiece

The Mérode Altarpiece (or Annunciation Triptych) is an oil on oak panel triptych, now in The Cloisters, in New York City. It is unsigned and undated, but attributed to Early Netherlandish painter Robert Campin and an assistant. The three panels represent, from left to right, the donors kneeling in prayer in a garden, the moment of the Annunciation to Mary, which is set in a contemporary, domestic setting, and Saint Joseph, a carpenter with the tools of his trade. The many elements of religious symbolism include the lily and fountain (symbolising the purity of Mary), and the Holy Spirit represented by the rays of light coming falling from the left hand window.

The central panel was completed after 1422, likely between 1425 and 1428, by a member of Campin's workshop. The outer panels are later additions by a workshop member, probably on request by the donor who sought to elevate the central panel to a triptych and place himself in the pictorial space. The wings contain views of the city of Liège, in today's Belgium. A version of the center panel in Brussels is earlier, and maybe Campin's original panel.

The triptych is a founding and important work in the then emerging late Gothic, Early Netherlandish style, and has been described as a "milestone between two periods; it at once summarizes the medieval tradition and lays the foundation for the development of modern painting".


Check out the full Wikipedia article about Mérode Altarpiece.