Robert Campin’s “The Annunciation”

Workshop of Robert Campin, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) (ca. 1427-1432), oil on oak, central panel: 25-1/2 x 24-7/8″, each wing: 25-3/8″ x 10-3/4″; courtesy The Cloisters Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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An obvious pick. The Merode Altarpiece is among the most renowned examples of Netherlandish painting and a touchstone of Western art; its astonishing precision and atypical domesticity are characteristics that can be rattled off by anyone who’s ever slept through an art history class. Having not seen the painting in many years, I was heartened by the picture’s swift, almost merciless ability to transcend its ubiquitous status.

From the crisply illuminated cityscapes spied through Joseph’s window to the angel riding in on thin strands of golden light to the unnerving animism of the central panel’s still-life (did Miró have it in mind when painting this?), The Merode Altarpiece is a sum-of-its-parts triumph indicative, to some extent anyway, of the various hands responsible for it. Let’s fob off the left panel, the least spectacular of the three, to the little known Jacques Daret and split the difference between the inestimable Rogier van der Weyden and Campin himself.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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