2012: Advent Art History: Naked Baby Jesus, December 05

by on December 5, 2012

The Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen

Robert Campin (The Master of Flemalle)


Back in Flanders today.

Robert Campin worked at around the same time as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.

This image is one of the first of a new tradition, wherein the Virgin and Child are represented as if Mary was a fifteenth-century mother having a tender moment with her baby. She sits in a contemporary Flemish interior, the kind you’d find in the house of a well-to-do merchant.

Mary’s dress is wool lined with fur, and is in the style popular at the time with wealthy townswomen (subtly different to the kind of dresses popular in royal courts), although the colour and the hem embroidered with gold and jewels serve to show that she’s more important than that. It was typical at this time for wealthy townspeople to wear black wool due to the high cost both of fine wool and the dye, and it displayed wealth and social status in an ascetic, morally acceptable, and understated way.

The view from the window is an early example of a contemporary urban street. These were reproduced in miniature in a lot of devotional paintings of this time. The locations of these can generally be identified.

Campin’s image was greatly admired, and hence it got copied a lot. This wasn’t considered bad form at the time, copying had a totally different (and far higher) status in the fifteenth century than it does now. Here is one of the copies:

Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen

Follower of Robert Campin (the name of this artist is not known)


Like Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin became very popular. These painters are among the first whose names survive, which is a reflection of their status at the time. Jan van Eyck was famous enough to be mentioned in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. It’s no wonder that less-well-known painters, most of whose names have not survived, wanted to emulate them, and that there was a healthy market for their work.

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