The Merode Altarpiece: Made by the Workshop of Master of
Flemalle in 1425-30, 64.5 X 27.6, Oil on Wood and in New York
In the centre piece we have the annunciation of the virgin and in this
image we have regular household equipments and there are several
details in this image that tell the story in full. Like the water in the
niche in the background alludes to the purity of the virgin Mary. This
was the moment Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be
the mother of Christ. THis was the moment before Christ entered into
her body. The shawl hanging in the background is not a regular
shawl instead it is a Jewish shawl; part of the Jewish ritual of praying.
Each ten in this painting has a symbolic reference in relation to the
iconography being displayed here. Another important thing to note is
that on the left panel we see the two donors of this work of art
kneeling before an open door and within an enclosed garden. These
donors therefore were seeing a vision of their prayer, this vision is
being display in the center panel. Not he right we see Joseph
working in his workshop. In the back of Joseph, we can see outside
and we have a view of the city. We see the inside of a domestic
workshop and household but then also we can see the outside, the
The narratives in this work were not constructed according to the
system of the linear perspective. We cannot measure the space; this
type of perspective is called an Intuitive Perspective: It works
visually but not mathematically or geometrically constructed. This is
connected to the oil painting technique.
Oil Painting Technique: Pigments are diluted in linseed oil. Oil
paint is translucent when applied in thin layers called glazes. Light
striking a surface build up of glazes penetrates to the lower layers
and is reflected back, creating the appearance of an interior glow.Oil
creates the effect of luminosity and make colours more vivid. It also
helps artists to be able to correct and make changes on the work. it
allows artists a certain kind of flexibility and to render a lot of
Master of Saint Giles. Mass of Saint Giles in the Abbey of Saint
Denis with Charlamagne, ca. 1440, London, National Gallery
==> Altar pieces are made to be on the altar
==> Altars are dedicated to a saint and are unmovable
In the Renaissance, throughout the mass, the priest was facing the
altar and the altarpiece; this is different from the earlier times where the priest usually faces away from the altar. Therefore in the
Renaissance, the altar piece and the priest have a relationship and
this lets us to think about devotional and religious subjects.
Another example of an altar piece is Jan and Hubert van Eyck, The
Ghent Altarpiece, Annuciation with donors, 1432, OIl on panel,
Ghent, Cathedral of St. Bavo
==> The inscription on this piece states the names of the artists, the
year he worked on it, and the donors.
==> When the altarpiece is closed, we see the two donors with John
the Baptist and John the Evangelist. They are painted as if they are
statues and not with colour. We have a muted colour because we
have the mom chrome and only the two colours are rendered in
colour which is different from what we see when the altarpiece is
open. Opened (jan and Hubert Van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece,
Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, 1432, 3.5 X 4.6m), Oil on Panel,
Ghent, Cathedral of St. Bavo), we see colours everywhere.
==> Opened, we see God the Father, the virgin Mary, the choir and
instrumentalists, Adam and Eve, on the bottom panels we see scenes
coming from he book of Revelation, we have apostles and those born
before Christ; in the centre is the fountain of life, etc.
==> It is an altarpiece constituted of several panels and they were
made using the oil painting technique and it has an accurate
rendering of the landscape.
==> Open vs Closed, The same artist, different landscape, same
intuitive perspective, same oil painting, different colours.
==> Massacio's Adam and Eve vs Van Eyck's Adam and Eve: Both
are nude. THe same people rendered in different ways (Masscaio's
Fresco, Van Eyck's oil painting), both are rendered against a dark
background. There is accuracy in rendering their faces, both are 3
dimensional, there is a sense of Space in Massacio's but not in
Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, Oil on wood panel,
London, National Gallery
==> Rendered in a domestic space, a bedroom. They are rendered
in very modern and luxurious clothing. Arnolfini is dressed in a long
gown with fur and his wife in a gown sweeping the flow with extra
fabric. The dog is also there symbolizing fidelity OR funerary
association. It seems like just a portrait of a wealthy couple yet the
lady is showing her pregnant belly; it might then seem like the portrait
is celebrating her pregnancy. Unfortunately, this couple only got married in 1447 so there is a discrepancy of dates. One can thus
read the portrait as a commemoration of the death of his first wife that
died in child birth before 1447. Oher scholars have also suggested
that this portrait might be a celebration of a contract. In the
Renaissance, in other for 2 individuals to get married, there was a
contract. There has to be money before they could get married, in
order for a woman to marry she has to be well off, same with men.
Marriages at the time weren't just based on love, was based on
politics and economic alliances. This portrait therefore could be just
the celebration of the promise between these two individuals.
In the painting, we see a mirror with an inscription with says "Jan Van
Eyck was here", this sort of inscription is unusual. The mirror reflects
the back of the couple and the door in front of them and two
individuals entering that door or stand by the door. Scholars have
suggested that one of the two people was Jan Van Eyck which then
makes his "I Was There" inscription meaning; I painted this but I WAS
THERE. The painting seem to be very much about the two
individuals that witnessed the event which could then be a contract.
By the mirror, we see the crystal prayer beads and the details around
the mirror show the passion of the Christ and this could mean that the
painting renders piety and some christian translation and belief within
Jan Van Eyck, Portrait of Man in a Red Turban (Self-Portrait?),
1433, Oil on Wood Panel, London National Gallery
Some scholars belief that this is just a regular man in a turban.
OThers belief that it is a portrait of Jan Van Eyck because there are