Mérode Altarpiece-Robert Campin c.1425

My Professor assigned us to groups today. I am in group 2. We were asked to come up in front of the class and talk about this painting. Other groups had other paintings.

meorde altarpiece, campin

One of my group members said the painting was about the Angel Gabriel coming to tell the Virgin Mary that she was going to have Jesus. We focused on the center panel. I said that Mary seemed to be really comfortable. She is really into her book which I’m pretty sure is a spiritual book. I think she’s comfortable because she’s sort of leaning on the short couch/bench thing. I don’t think she’s aware of the angel in the room with her. I also said that everything seems to be sliding toward us. It feels like the stuff on the table and Mary herself is going to slip right off the canvas. Our teacher pointed out that the candle had just gone out. She told us that the flowers in the vase were white lilies and asked what we thought they symbolized. We said purity.

We talked about the ceiling and the perspective of the room not being naturalistic. We then went over to the right panel. The Professor says that it was Joseph. I knew the guy was making something but I didn’t know the religious part of the history of the painting. So Joseph was a carpenter. He’s working. He has his tools all about him. The window is open in the background and people are walking about. The city buildings look far away but they aren’t. We were running out of time when she asked us about the left panel. She didn’t let us really answer. She tolds us that the people on the left were patrons. I don’t know what that meant. Like were they the people who payed to have the painting made or were they going to visit Mary? Is Mary in a public place or is she at home?

What I didn’t say but what I was thinking about is that the center panel is bigger than the other panels. It seems to be the main thing. I think because of the way Mary is sitting, comfortably reading is that it might be saying that the inner life is more important than the external life. Her devotion has invited an Angel into the space. He can only be with her because she is so deep into her faith practice. I thought the people in the left panel were la nun and a priest but I don’t know. Now that I know that Joseph is on the right working I think of him in his small space doing the work that needs to be done. Mary seems to have a wide open leisure like existence in this picture. The angel is interesting. I read the Angel as female but I do know that Gabriel or I think I heard somewhere that Gabriel was seen as both male and female. The wings are gold and brown. The gold-light makes me think of Seraphims, who burn with the light of God. Brown always makes me think of earth. So the foundation of physical life. Gabriel came from Heaven to Earth to speak with Mary and tell her what was coming for her. His arrival may have made the candle go out.

What do you all think of this painting? What do you see when you look at it? What feelings if any does this painting evoke? What do you think Campin is trying to communicate or get across to us as viewers?

2 thoughts on “Mérode Altarpiece-Robert Campin c.1425

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