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Weyden, Rogier van der (Rogier de la Pasture) (1399/1400-1464)
( Originally Published 1955 )
After Jan van Eyck, the greatest of the Flemish primitives. A master of tragic pathos, he dominates a major current in Flemish art which stands opposed to the pictorialism of van Eyck. His genius is characterized by a profound psychological and aesthetic sensitivity, a tender poetic reserve, a strong feeling for rhythmic equilibrium, and most of all a fertility in the invention of emotional symbols that became the basic vocabulary of Flemish painting. He has been, and still is by some scholars, identified with the Master of Flemalle (see), but his style is less vigorous, more subtle and refined, nobler, more logically consistent, and of greater clarity. He was born in Tournai and probably trained at first as a sculptor under his father, Henry. Although a Rogier de la Pasture was honored by the town of Tournai in 1426, a Rogelet de la Pasture was inscribed in the following year as an apprentice to Robert Campin (see), and made a member of the guild of painters only in 1432. In 1435 he settled in Brussels and became town painter the following year. In 1450 he journeyed to Rome for the Jubilee of St. Anne and on his return to Brussels stopped at Ferrara to work for Lionello d'Este.
If one assumes that Rogier van der Weyden is not identical with the Master of Flemalle, then his earliest masterpiece, and one which made him immediately famous, is the Descent from the Cross (c.1432-33, Prado), devised as a painted imitation of a wood-carved relief and exhibiting his gift for transforming emotion into aesthetic symbols. Unfortunately none of his works are either signed or documented, and their relative chronology is disputed, but among the other paintings usually ascribed to this period of maturity (1430-45) are the Diptych of the Virgin and St. Catherine (Vienna), still strongly under Flemalle's influence, and the Triptych of the Annunciation (Louvre, wings in Turin), both probably before 1435. Also put in this period are the Dream of Pope Sergius (private collection, New York), the Exhumation of St. Hubert (London), and St. Luke and the Virgin (Boston), based on the van Eyck Rolin Madonna, all probably after 1435; the Triptych of the Crucifixion (Vienna) and the Altar of the Virgin (Pieta and Nativity in Granada, Christ Appearing to the Virgin in the Metropolitan), of which the so-called Miraflores Altar (Berlin) is probably a copy, both c.1440; the Crucifixion Diptych (c.1445, Philadelphia), based on the earlier Escorial version; and, finally, the Rolin Altar of the Last Judgment (1443-46, Beaune).
His late style (from 1445 to 1464) was characterized by a general softening of Gothic linearity and a final achievement of noble serenity, perhaps under thte influence of his Italian experiences. Works predating that trip are the Bracque-Brabant Triptych (Louvre), the St. John Triptych (Berlin), and the Seven Sacraments Triptych (Antwerp). The Italian influence is first seen in the Deposition (Uffizi), perhaps even painted in Florence, and is continued in the paintings of his late years: the Bladelin Altar (c.1452, Berlin) and the Columba Triptych (c.1460, Munich), showing the impact of Gentile da Fabriano. His few portraits are profound examples of psychological penetration, from the early Lady (1435, Berlin) to the Lionello d'Este (c.1450, Metropolitan), the late Laurent Froimont (c.1560, Brussels) and the Yhilippe de Croy (c.1560, Antwerp), His influence was extensive, perhaps because his "diagrams of emotions" were so easily assimilable, having its effect not only on Flemish art through Christus, Bouts and Memling, but also on painters in the northern Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and even Italy.