Weyden, Rogier van der

Weyden, Rogier van der (1399/1400 - 1464). The leading Netherlandish painter of the mid-15th century.

Photographs by Mark Harden and Carol Gerten-Jackson.

In spite of his contemporary celebrity (his work was appreciated in Italy as well as north of the Alps), his reputation later faded, and there is little secure knowledge about his career. There are, in fact, no paintings that can be given to him indisputably on the basis of signatures or contemporary documentation, but several are mentioned in early sources, and the style these show is so distinctive that a coherent oeuvre has been built up around them.

His early life is still somewhat problematic, however. In 1427 a certain Rogelet de la Pâture entered the workshop of Robert Campain at Tournai and left as Maistre Rogier in 1432. It is generally accepted that this is Rogier van der Weyden (the French and Flemish forms of the name both meaning `Rogier of the Meadow'), although it is uncertain why he should have started his apprenticeship so late. There are no documented pictures surviving from Campain's hand, but he is generally agreed to be identical with the Master of Flémalle, so the whole question of Rogier's relationship with his master is based on stylistic analysis. Some scholars have assumed that the Master of Flémalle should be identified with the young Rogier rather than with Campin, but the prevailing opinion is now that Rogier's work shows a development from the powerfully naturalistic and expressive style of his master towards greater refinement and spirituality. Rogier's celebrated Deposition (Prado, Madrid), for example, is close to the Master of Flémalle's Crucified Thief fragment (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt) in its dramatic power and use of a plain gold background, but it has a new poignancy and exaltedness. The Deposition, like all of Rogier's works, is undated, but it must be earlier than 1443, when a copy was made.

By 1436 Rogier had moved to Brussels and been appointed official painter to the city. Apart from making a pilgrimage to Rome in 1450, he is never known to have left Brussels again. His work for the city included secular work -- four large panels (destroyed in 1695) on the theme of justice for the court room of the town hall, for example -- but all of his surviving paintings are either religious pictures or portraits. He was extremely inventive iconographically and compositionally, and was a master of depicting human emotion. Unlike Jan van Eyck he seems to have had a large workshop with numerous assistants and pupils, and many of his compositions are known in several versions.

His influence was strong and widespread; in his own lifetime his paintings were sent all over Europe, and his emotional and dramatic style found more followers than the quiet perfection of van Eyck. Rogier's portraits, usually serene and aristocratic, were also much imitated, influencing Netherlandish art until the end of the 15th century.

© 26 May 1996, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info

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