Art history on altarpiece
The masterpiece I am going to discuss is an altarpiece consists of Three Panels depicting the Annunciation, Baptism of Christ and Crucifixion. It is made in ca. 1400, regarding as one of the earliest paintings of the Netherlands School. It is also one of the earliest oil paintings in that era. Originally there were Four Panels depicting six scenes, they are the Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Baptism and Saint Christopher (four scenes on the front and two scenes at the back). The Walter Museum of Art has only three of them (the Annunciation, Crucifixion and Baptism).
The other three are in the Museum Meyer can den Berg, Belgium. It was founded by Philip the Bold (1343-1404), Duke of Burgundy. It is hand-carry size and believed to be made for Philip to take on his travel. Unlike the other altarpieces, this altarpiece contains six scenes with six different themes. On the front side from left to right, the order is exactly according to the Bible (Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection). Compare to other altarpieces in that era, usually those works Just contain one theme only.
For example, Robert Camping’s Emerged Altarpiece showing he Annunciation; Hugo Van Deer Goes’ Portrait Altarpiece and Hans Mailings SST. John Altarpiece showing the Virgin and the Child. The Netherlands Altarpiece showing different scenes at one time. Every scene is also in great details and reminds me of other masterpieces in Proto-Renaissance and Renaissance period. It is interesting to compare and contrast each of them. The Renaissance artists always use the subjects from the Bible in their works. It is not difficult to find the same theme of paintings by different artists.
However, each piece has its unique element inside, none of the works are entirely the same. There must be some differences in details. It is interesting to notice that although the Netherlands Altarpiece is in great details, unlike other altarpiece, each scene consist of no more than three characters. Probably because of its hand-carry size, the author also wants to include everything in details as much as possible. In the Annunciation scene, it reminds me of Simons Martini’s Annunciation Altarpiece. There are a lot of similarities. My first attention was on the Virgin Mary.
In both of the altarpiece, the posture of Virgin Mary is exactly the same. She was turning away from the angel. It shows she was surprised by the annunciation. Also when she received the message, she was sitting and has a book in her hands. The significant difference I found is that in Martini’s Annunciation Altarpiece, the angel is holding olive leaves and there are lilies in the vase. The olive leaves symbolize the peace and the lilies symbolize the cleanness and purity of the Virgin Mary. In the Netherlands Altarpiece, the author used a dove to replace the olive leaves and the lilies.
The Bible does not specify these details so the authors seed different things to express the main ideas in their works. Furthermore, the angel was holding a letter instead of olive leaves. All these details are different, but we can see that the artists were giving us the same ideas according to the Bible. Unlike the paintings in the Byzantine style, this altarpiece is also one to the earliest evidence of oil paintings in naturalism. Hierarchical scale does not applied in this masterpiece. Everything is based on close observation of the nature. In the Baptism panel, we can see the translucency of river water.
There are also fishes swimming in he Jordan River. The details are so small that we can even see the fins on the fishes. Furthermore, the textures of different clothes are also in great details. John the Baptist is wearing a fur. The animal hair attach on the coat looks very soft. Jesus’ coat is more likely to be a cotton or silk texture. The artist did a great Job on how he handled the shadow on the clothes, which helps the viewers to identify the textures of the clothes. Similar to the other paintings in Northern Renaissance style in 15th century, this altarpiece is showing the realism style of that time.
In the Crucifixion panel, again, we can see the great details of Jesus’ wounds. Angels were holding glasses to contain the blood that Jesus has bled. It is the precious blood that Jesus had to bleed for the sins of humans. Mary was crying because her son was Just being crucified. It is a very important scene in the Bible. However, the artist Just used three main characters and four angels to express such important scene. It is simple but included everything. The Crucifixion panel reminds me of Ghetto Did Bonnet’s Lamentation and Rosier Van Hoyden’s Deposition. These masterpieces are showing he scene after Jesus’ death.
Compare to the Netherlands Altarpiece and Lamentation, Rigger’s Deposition is drawn in ca. 1435, which is latest painting comparing to the above. We can see the work is even more in details. Their clothes tend to be more varieties instead of the plain clothes. Patterns are shown on certain characters’ clothing. Shadow is illustrated even better than before to let the viewers have a clearer three dimensional effect. We can see the changes and the improvements in the realism through the Renaissance. Paintings have been changing from the Proto-Renaissance to Renaissance.
The evolution of the styles and details are shown clearly on every masterpiece. The latest works showed the greater details and tend to be more naturalism and realism. The thing does not change a lot is the content of the paintings. Artists would use different objects to symbolize the same idea from to the Bible. The Netherlands Altarpiece is a significant work in that period, the artist himself is as famous as Limbo Brothers. Its hand-carry size constrained the contents and details of the work. However, it does not constrain the popularity of this altarpiece.