Annunciation Triptych Essay Samples
Annunciation Triptych Workshop of Robert Campin
Description of the painting
Robert Campin is largely accepted as a painter that is part of the first artists to depict a more realistic interpretation of the subjects that he painted. He is also credited to be among the first artists to experiment with oil paints. In portraying paintings that depicted things as they would appear at the time period when he was painting then he achieved this making many people to be able to relate to his paintings. One of his main paintings is that of Annunciation Triptych. The artist of this painting is Robert Campin (1378-1444).The painting is dated 1427-1432 and the painting was made in Tournai, South Netherlands. The medium that was used for the painting was oil on an oak panel. The dimensions of the painting are four feet in width and two feet in height. The art is classified as a painting on panels. The genre of the art was a religious art that was most likely made for devotional purpose. It represents the Netherlandish Renaissance and currently the piece of art is available at Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art located in New York. There is also another version of the central panel of the triptych in Brussels. It is a representation of the original version by Campin (Sharon Butler, 2012).The owners of the art work were aristocratic Belgian Arenberg and later Merode families before the artwork finally reached the market. The triptych was unsigned and also undated and it is only after the early 20thcentury was Robert Campin identified as the creator of the artwork alongside his assistants. Also one of his greatest students has been identified as Roger van der Weyden (1400-1464).
Annunciation Triptych painting is a display of the good works of the rising early Netherlandish art style. It shows a captivation with the natural world that is the dominant feature of the paintings. There is meticulous work on each detail including very small details so as to reflect the reality on a two –dimensional plane (Minot, 1969).The technical creativity that has been applied of overlaying translucent oil pigments on water based opaque pigments enhance the illusion effects. The result is luminous, enamel looking like surface that helps to achieve apparent depth, a broader distribution of color values and a rich graduation of light. Many scholars agree that the painting was originally conceived as a private object of devotion though some other scholars give other complex explanations. It is believed that that the significance of its imagery must have been easily understood by most ordinary educated persons of the time at which the painting was made.
The panel at the center lays a focus on the Virgin Mary deep in devotion. It is depicted as a middle class room that the annunciation took place in. Mary is so lost in prayers that she has not yet noticed the arrival of the archangel Gabriel. This painting depicts the events that took place just moments before the divine annunciation occurred. There are also some objects on the painting that are symbolic. The laver and the lily are a symbolism of the purity of the Virgin Mary that was expressed through the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ. The scroll and the book that are shown on the table are a representation of the old and the new testaments respectively. The space in which the said annunciation was executed is also shown to be lit by rays of sunlight that are illustrated at the top left of the painting. The imagery of a small figure of Christ the child with a cross and coming down on rays of light through a round window is indicative of the primary subject of the painting which is the immaculate incarnation. On the painting the miniature Jesus is carried on one of the rays and is about to enter into the body of the Virgin Mary. This light is further shown to be focused on Mary’s dress and forming a star and this can be interpreted to be symbolic of the star that occurred at Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The flame of candle that has just been extinguished is a symbolism of the divinity of God the father that just has been extinguished and this gives a further reference to the moment of incarnation when God descended down to become man and hence bringing an everlasting light in form of Jesus Christ. This detail that is very significant has been placed right at the center of the composition.
On the panel placed to the right is the painting of Joseph who is betrothed to the Virgin Mary. From biblical writings he was not present at the annunciation but it is still possible to explain his presence in the context of the event of incarnation. Joseph is shown to be drilling holes in a board and is also shown to have made two mousetraps and the meaning of this as explained by the speculation of St. Augustine which is interpreted to mean that the incarnation was God’s way of enslaving the devil just in the same manner in which a bait on the mouse trap traps a mouse. Satan is illustrated to have been trapped and finally defeated in through the battle between good and evil that the passion of Christ brought about. An unusual feature of this painting is showing Joseph and Mary living together though the biblical scripts show that they did not live together until after the holy conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
On the left window there is the coat of arms in the central panel. It has been identified as that of the Engelbrechts of Malines who documentation show that lived in Tournai in 1427and are considered to have commissioned the painting. The donor together with messenger seen in the background of the painting on the left panel are believed to have been added later most likely after the marriage of the donor (Sharon Butler, 2012).The donor is shown to be kneeling and witnessing the events in the central scene through the open door. His wife too is kneeling behind him. The town messenger is standing at the garden gate. An assumption is that the owners may have purchased the triptych for use in private prayer and the imagery of the immaculate conception of Christ should have been a reinforcement of their deep hope to receive their own children from God.
The annunciation is still one of the most celebrated paintings of the early Netherlandish paintings. It is particularly accredited for being very detailed in observation has rich imagery and it is still in very good condition. The annunciation was a following an earlier workshop that was not commissioned. The wings were ordered latter and then the portrait of his wife and the messenger. Originally the windows of the central panel were covered in gold leaf but latter they were painted sky blue and then armorial shields added latter.
Background of the painting
The Annunciation Triptych is a fifteenth century Flemish oil painting that is also known as Merode Altarpiece. It was a domestic altarpiece that was painted by a Flemish artist called Robert Campin (1378-1444) who is also known as the master of Flemish. This name was taken from the aristocratic Merode family in Belgium that owned it in the nineteenth century (Minott, 1969).It is a masterpiece of Christian painting that is from the Northern Renaissance and basically consists of three panel painting. It depicts the moment of the annunciation when the archangel Gabriel announced to Virgin Mary that she had been elected by God to execute a special mission of being the mother of Jesus. The painting has some radical features and the greatest of them being its domestic setting. The annunciation in the Christian settings is the beginning of Christianity and salvation and in other paintings such as the Gothic and Early Renaissance it has been traditionally set in a church or a palace.Campin in departure from the rest sets it in a scene in middle class house set up in an urban setting. This piece of art can be considered as a reflection of the teachings of the Franciscan Order whose monks went out of their way to interpret the teachings of the bible in simple terms that the listeners that they hoped to reach would understand and relate to. This concept and approach was quite popular in Northern Europe.Campin in his painting amplified this concept by amplifying the domestic nature of the setup of annunciation and keeping to the minimum the religious conventions and associated formalities. In Campin’s painting both the archangel Gabriel and Mary are not wearing halos that is present in other paintings of such a religious setting. There is also the absence of the dove that is usually present in other artworks to represent the Holy Spirit. In domesticating the painting the artist places Mary in a comfortable and well sized room though it looks claustrophic and this result due to the use of exaggerated perspectival recession. There is also the presence of a table and a bench that runs along the length of one of the walls. There are windows and also a fireplace. All the details are meticulously recorded.
Despite the domestication there are still a lot of symbols that are of theological importance. There is the presence of a tiny naked figure of a small child that is symbolism of the body and pious soul of Jesus Christ. This is transported on seven golden rays of light that are entering the room through one of the windows of the living room. The child Jesus is carrying a cross that it a somber reminder to the entire destiny of the child Jesus which is to die on a cross for the sins of the world. The purity of Mary in this domesticated setting is shown by the white lilies, vessel of water and the white towel. Also to illustrate the virginal life that Mary followed is the small windows located at the side of the room and the half closed window that is located at the back of the room. The recently extinguished candle is also very symbolic as it is used to signify the entrance of a powerful but invisible presence such as that of the Holy Spirit. It could also be used to show that the light that the presence of Jesus in the world will bring cannot be matched with that that is produced by the candle. The candle flame is shown not to be a match for the divine radiance that is provided by Christ (Sharon Butler, 2012).
The right hand panel that has the portrait of Joseph in his workshop is also full of symbolism. The tools that have been included have their unique symbolism in Christian teachings. The saw represents the instrument that Saint Peter used to cut off the ear of one of the Roman soldiers that Jesus later healed during the betrayal and arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. The log in the portrait is symbolic of the cross onto which Jesus was crucified. The chisel, pliers, hammer and screwdriver are all likely to allude to the crude instruments that were used to inflict pain on Jesus during his trial and subsequent crusifixtion.Most scholars are not in agreement on the exact meaning of the mouse trap but some art experts state that it points to the description by Saint Augustine of Jesus being Satan’s trap. The artistic representation of Joseph’s workshop is good. However critics state that it portrays Joseph to be coming from a much lower social class compared to Mary whose room is shown to be that of a middle class lady a discrepancy that is not present in religious scriptures. The setting of the whole annunciation has also been placed in Liege, Tournai which is the home town of Campin or Mechelen which is the home town of the donor as opposed to the biblical Bethlehem. This fact can be deduced from the window that is present in Joseph’s room that is overlooking a city square that contains many houses, shops and churches. The lack of communication doors between Mary’s living room and Joseph’s workshop is symbolic in excluding Joseph from the sacred events of the annunciation that are occurring in Mary’s living room.Howevor by depicting a domestic situation between Joseph and Mary before the birth of Jesus is a very unique in the history of religious art.
It is documented that the left panel that contains the picture of the donor and his wife kneeling was added much later after the triptych had been made. Behind the couple wearing a straw hut is the town’s messenger. The identity of the donor was never confirmed and research has centered on the coat of arms that is in the windows of the central panel. The art work present owner who are the Metropolitan Museum of Art located in New York state that the donor was Jan Engelbrecht who was a prominent businessman (Minott,1969).Felix Thurlemann who is a German art historian states that the patron was Peter Engelbrecht who was born in Cologne and was a cloth mechant.The name Engelbrecht when loosely translated into English means “the angels brings” and this is suggestive of a family that had a reason to commission an annunciation in celebration of a forthcoming marriage. All in all this art work remain the greatest of Robert Campin and also the greatest one of the Renaissance paintings in Northern Europe. The Netherlandish painting of the early 15thcentury was a radical break from the International Gothic style that was largely popular at that time. It brought with it a more realistic approach to art.There was also the use of drapery robes worn by Joseph, Mary and Archangel Gabriel an aspect that was not present in earlier works.
The background to the commissioning of the art work is associated with the family in the Mechelen.This confirmation was reinforced in 1966 by Helmut Nickel. The discovery of a small bearded figure on the edge of the left panel when studied is seen to be dressed in a costume that was typically worn by the town messenger and it had a badge sewn on the chest with the Mechelen’s city arms. A further research on the archives of Mechelen’s register proved that there was a family with the surname Imbrechts that was involved in trade in the town of Mechelen towards the end of the 14thcentury and also some members of that family had commercial dealings with Tournai (Sharon Butler, 2012).The cologne Engelbrecht appears as a merchant in the municipal records of Tournai in 1427.He even went ahead to get many years of residence in Mechelen.The Engelbrech family even ended up settling in Mechelen and held positions of leadership such as councillers.Peter Engelbrecht even ordered for a chapel to be built at the oldest parish church in the town and even employed a private chaplain. He is documented to be a very wealthy man though had a past of having committed murder of a priest in the year 1450 together with his brother and for this they served a prison sentence in Cologne.
It is in common belief that on his freedom from prison a seal was imposed on him as his commitment to ensuring peace and this seal was unique to him and it significantly resembles the one used by the rest of the Ymbrechts of Mechelen leading researchers to believe that he is the donor of the painting. Also before leaving Cologne to settle in Mechelen Peter had married a woman by the name Schrinemecher that when translated means “the cabinet maker” and this is speculated to have been the reason of inclusion of Joseph in his workshop in the painting. Theory has it that the woman kneeling down with the donor on the left wing is called Bille and she was Peter’s wife after the death of his first wife. The coat of arms on the right window of the back wall is believed to belong to Bille linking the painting to the Engelbrecht family.Peter is characterized as a rich farmer who was also influential hence had the ability to commission the painting. The messenger that is on the painting is said to be a carrier of an important letter post between Duke, Mechelen and Cologne that is believed to have finally led to the release of the Engelbrechts from the Cologne prison hence an important person in the life of the Engelbrechts.In conclusion as much as the painting is largely religious it also has heavy connotations of events that had significantly punctuated the life of the donor.
Minott, C. I. (1969). The Theme of the Merode Altarpiece. The Art Bulletin, 51(3), 267-271.
Sharon Butler. (2012). strange perspective at the Cloisters: Art History Lesson, retrieved from