Next to Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin was one of the founders of early Netherlandish painting whose celebrated Merode Triptych is displayed at the Cloisters. Based on a lost original of about 1420, this picture is among the earliest of over sixty variants that attest to the burgeoning cult of the Virgin during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Burgundian Netherlands. While the motif of the suckling Child lying in his mother’s arms derives from the Byzantine icon type known as the galaktotrophousa, the music-making angels refer to liturgical celebration, evoking the numerous contemporary hymns which praised the Virgin.
This painting intended for private devotion is a copy after a lost original by Robert Campin (ca. 1375–1444). Campin’s prototype was undoubtedly a very popular image, as there are over sixty surviving versions. The MMA painting is one of the earliest copies, and generally believed to be one of the closest to the original composition. It demonstrates several aspects characteristic of Campin’s early style—the round-faced Virgin, her thick wavy hair, the sculptural folds of the drapery, and the pearly tone of her skin. Similar versions can be found in the collections of the National Gallery, London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. Later variations of the composition, which date from 1480 to 1530, show the figures in a larger and more open architectural space, with added genre elements such as flowers or animals, and a view which is altered to appear straight-on, rather than from above (Ainsworth 1996). Paintings which are loosely based on this composition were produced in the workshops of important Netherlandish artists such as Gerard David (ca. 1460–1523), Quentin Massys (1465/66–1530) and Bernard van Orley (ca. 1492–1541/42).
This painting has sometimes been called the Virgin of Salamanca, because it was erroneously believed to have been painted in that Spanish city. A semi-circular apse in the old cathedral of Salamanca was thought to be very similar to the one in this work (Robinson 1905). The white robe of the Virgin, instead of the more common royal blue, was also understood to be a Spanish motif. However, white-robed Virgins are not unknown in Northern art, and the painting’s origin is demonstrated by the large number of versions of this composition produced in the Burgundian Netherlands. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the cult of the Virgin was especially popular there, perhaps because the region was the home of certain Marian relics, such as the Virgin’s hair, milk, and girdle.
The suckling Christ child lying in his mother’s arms is related to a Byzantine icon type known as the galaktotrophousa, or its Latin name, Maria lactans. The tight, niche-like space of the arch indicates the association of the Virgin with the Church and the Ara Coeli, the tabernacle which holds the body and blood of Christ. Her arms are crossed in adoration, and the white cloth which she holds underneath his body is reminiscent both of the shroud used at his burial, and the altar cloth upon which the Host rests during the celebration of Eucharist. Further references to liturgical celebration can be found in the music-playing angels. The angel on the left plays a lute and the harp-playing angel on the right wears clerical vestments. The lute and harp are examples of what would be known in the fifteenth century as bas instruments, namely, musical instruments with a softer sound, which were commonly played during liturgical services (Ainsworth 1996). The high regard in which these images were held, which relates to the Marian cult of devotion and associations with the Eucharistic celebration, suggests that some may be the product of the same late-fifteenth-century workshop, which mass-produced these images to meet the demands of the art market.
[2011; adapted from Ainsworth 1998]
Sir John Charles Robinson, London, and Newton Manor, Swanage, Dorset (possibly acquired in Spain [Salamanca?]; by 1892–at least 1904); [Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell, London, 1905; sold to Roger Fry for MMA]
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Masters of the Netherlandish and Allied Schools of XV. and Early XVI. Centuries," 1892, no. 32a (as Later School of Roger van der Weyden [?], lent by Sir J. C. Robinson).
London. New Gallery. "Exhibition of Pictures by Masters of the Flemish and British Schools," 1899–1900, no. 45 (as by an Early Flemish Master Working in Spain, lent by Sir Charles Robinson).
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Pictures, Decorative Furniture, and Other Works of Art," 1904, no. 6 (as by the Maître de Flémalle, lent by Sir J. C. Robinson).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 47.
Roger Fry. Athenæum (December 17, 1904), p. 851, considers it an original work by the Master of Flémalle.
J. C. Robinson. "The 'Virgin of Salamanca' by the Maître de Flémalle." Burlington Magazine 7 (June 1905), p. 238, ill. p. 239, states that this picture was acquired in Spain "many years ago," and attributes it to the Master of Flémalle.
C. J. Holmes. "Three New Pictures for the Metropolitan Museum of New York." Burlington Magazine 8 (1905), pp. 350–51, ill.
J. C. Robinson. "The 'Maître de Flemalle' and the Painters of the School of Salamanca." Burlington Magazine 7 (August 1905), pp. 387–88, 393, notes that many copies and versions exist; claims that the setting is the apse of the Old Cathedral of Salamanca, and on the basis of this and of the use of white and blue for the Virgin's robes concludes that the Master of Flémalle at least visited Salamanca.
"An Early French Master." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (January 1906), p. 28.
Sir W. Martin Conway. "Durer's Works in Their Order." Burlington Magazine 13 (April 1908), p. 214, states that our version of this composition may be the original.
Morton H. Bernath. New York und Boston. Leipzig, 1912, pp. 54–55, ill.
Friedrich Winkler. Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden. Strasbourg, 1913, pp. 7–9, considers our version the original, and notes that the apse is too generalized to be connected with the Salamanca Cathedral or with a type confined to Spain [see Ref. Robinson 1905].
Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, pp. 114–16, pl. IV, no. 4, considers it likely that our panel and the version in the National Gallery, London, come from Campin's shop; notes that the white-robed Virgin is often characteristic of Madonna pictures painted for Spain, and that the two music-making angels have a source in Italian art.
Friedrich Winkler. Die altniederländische Malerei: Die Malerei in Belgien und Holland von 1400–1600. Berlin, 1924, p. 70, refers to our picture as possibly the original.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 2, Rogier van der Weyden und der Meister von Flémalle. Berlin, 1924, pp. 75, 114–16, no. 74c, lists it among many known copies of a picture, no longer extant, painted about 1428 by the Master of Flémalle; considers those examples which, like ours, show the architecture in a perspective seen from above, nearest to the source picture, and supposes that the painting in the Julius Weitzner Gallery, New York, in 1967 [collection Hester Diamond, New York, 2002] gives the best idea of the original.
Willy Burger. Die Malerei in den Niederlanden 1400–1550. Munich, 1925, p. 41, pl. 29, considers it the work of a pupil recording a lost work by the Master of Flémalle.
Jules Destrée. "Le Maître dit de Flémalle: Robert Campin." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 54 (1928), p. 114, refers to the group of replicas as recording a lost work by the Master.
[Hippolyte] Fierens-Gevaert. Histoire de la peinture flamande des origines à la fin du XVe siècle. Vol. 2, Les continuateurs des Van Eyck. Paris, 1928, pp. 9–10, 21–22, mentions it as one of many replicas of a lost original by Campin and cites Friedländer's date of 1428 for the source work [see Ref. 1924].
August Schmarsow. Robert van der Kampine und Roger van der Weyden: Kompositionsgesetze des Mittelalters in der Nordeuropäischen Renaissance. Leipzig, 1928, pp. 38–40.
Germain Bazin. "L'Esprit d'imitation dans l'art flamand: le thème de la Madone dans une abside." L'Amour de l'art 12 (1931), p. 495, fig. 55.
Émile Renders. La Solution du problème Van der Weyden-Flémalle-Campin. Bruges, 1931, pp. 66–68.
Max J. Friedländer. "Über den Zwang der Ikonographischen Tradition in der Vlämischen Kunst." Art Quarterly 1 (1938), p. 22, places the prototype, generally ascribed to the Master of Flémalle, in the first decade of the 15th century.
Alan Burroughs. Art Criticism from a Laboratory. Boston, 1938, pp. 210–11, considers the original prototype a youthful work by Campin.
Charles de Tolnay. Le Maître de Flémalle et les frères van Eyck. Brussels, 1939, p. 59, no. 1, mentions our picture as the best copy of the Campin composition.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 26–28, ill., as Workshop of Robert Campin.
Ernest Lotthé. La pensée chrétienne dans la peinture flamande et hollandaise. Lille, 1947, vol. 1, pp. 112–13.
Ludwig Baldass. Jan van Eyck. New York, 1952, p. 16 n. 1, p. 17 n. 1, calls Campin's lost original a work of the "second decade" and observes that it must have been executed "almost at the same time" as the central panel of the Seilern triptych.
J. V. L. Brans. Isabel la Católica y el arte hispano-flamenco. Madrid, 1952, p. 107 n. 13, lists a painting in the posthumous inventory of the possessions of Queen Isabella with the same theme as the Virgin of Salamanca, noting that our example of the Campin composition came from Spain.
Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, pp. 175, 352–53, 426 n. 2 (to p. 175); vol. 2, pl. 104, fig. 222, calls the composition an early work by the Master of Flémalle, of which ours is the best replica, and notes Gerard David's and Quentin Massys's adaptations of this composition.
Martin Davies. The National Gallery, London [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, 3]. Vol. 1, Antwerp, 1953, p. 62, mentions our picture in an extensive discussion of the version in the National Gallery, accepting the view that they are based on a lost prototype by Campin; dismisses Robinson's connection of the apse with the Old Cathedral of Salamanca [see Notes] and observes that it was not only in Spain that the Virgin was represented in white.
Ruth Massey Tovell. Roger van der Weyden and the Flémalle Enigma. Toronto, 1955, p. 32, refers to it as a work by Rogier van der Weyden.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 48–49, 112, fig. VII, refers to it as "if not the original, the best of the known copies," and dates the composition considerably earlier than 1428.
Colin Eisler. "Erik Larsen, Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York, 1960." Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964), p. 101.
Mojmír S. Frinta. The Genius of Robert Campin. The Hague, 1966, p. 115, considers our picture and one in the Weitzner Gallery, New York [now Diamond collection, New York] the best of the variants.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 2, Rogier van der Weyden and the Master of Flémalle. New York, 1967, pp. 43, 74–75, no. 74c, pl. 101, lists the copies and their whereabouts.
Charles D. Cuttler. Northern Painting from Pucelle to Bruegel. New York, 1968, p. 82, calls it an early shop copy of a work by Campin.
Denys Sutton, ed. Letters of Roger Fry. New York, 1972, vol. 1, pp. 26, 245 n. 4 to letter no. 164 (December 11, 1905), p. 255 n. 1 to letter no. 177 (March 2, 1906).
Martin Davies. Rogier van der Weyden: An Essay, with a Critical Catalogue of Paintings Assigned to Him and to Robert Campin. London, 1972, pp. 253, 260.
Grands noms, grandes figures du Musée de Lille, I: La Collection d'Alexandre Leleux. Exh. cat.Lille, 1974, p. 109, cites this Master of Flémalle composition as the prototype for a work after Joos van Cleve in the Musée de Lille.
Frances Spalding. Roger Fry: Art and Life. Berkeley, 1980, p. 91, notes that this painting was acquired during Fry's first year at the Metropolitan.
Elisa Bermejo. La pintura de los primitivos flamencos en España. Vol. 1, Madrid, 1980, p. 93, as apparently coming from Spain at the end of the nineteenth century.
Larry Silver in Franklin W. Robinson and William H. Wilson. Catalogue of the Flemish and Dutch Paintings, 1400–1900. Sarasota, 1980, unpaginated, fig. 9a, mentions it in cataloguing the version in the Ringling Museum.
Vinko Zlamalik. Strossmayerova Galerija Starih Majstora Jugoslavenske Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti. Zagreb, 1982, p. 302.
Larry Silver. "Fountain and Source: A Rediscovered Eyckian Icon." Pantheon 41 (April–May–June 1983), pp. 101–3, ill.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, pp. 230, 236, notes that Fry transferred this picture from panel to canvas, as he considered works on panel to be at "a serious disadvantage".
Duro Vandura. Nizozemske Slikarske Skole u Strossmayerovoj Galeriji, Starih Majstora Jugoslavenske Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti. Zagreb, 1988, pp. 114–16, ill., publishes a version of this composition in a Zagreb collection signed with the monogram "VIE?" and dated 1420, perhaps referring to the date of the prototype.
Hans J. van Miegroet. Gerard David. Antwerp, 1989, p. 280.
Marie-Léopoldine Lievens-de Waegh. Le Musée National d'Art Ancien et le Musée National des Carreaux de Faïence de Lisbonne [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. 16]. Brussels, 1991, vol. 1, p. 113, interprets the crossed arms of the Virgin as an allusion to Christ's sacrifice; believes that panels like this one with the apse seen from above, a frontal Virgin and lute player, and the harpist in profile were at the beginning of the composition's evolution.
Albert Châtelet. Robert Campin, Le Maître de Flémalle: La fascination du quotidien. Antwerp, 1996, pp. 162, 308–9, no. C4a, ill. pp. 163, 308, dates it "about 1420–25?"; calls it studio of Campin and notes that its pictorial matter is analogous with that of the master, but it lacks the vivacity of his handling.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "'The Virgin and Child in an Apse': Reconsidering a Campin Workshop Design." Robert Campin: New Directions in Scholarship. Ed. Susan Foister and Susie Nash. [Turnhout, Belgium], 1996, pp. 149–58, ill. (details, infrared reflectogram assembly, and x-radiograph), colorpl. 52, observes that although the panel has been transferred to a linen support and cannot, therefore, be dated dendrochronologically, none of the other extant versions can be dated much before the mid-fifteenth century; notes that similarities among these in technique and execution suggest that they were mass produced during the last quarter of the fifteenth century and that indulgences may have been attached to the image; compares infrared-reflectography and x-radiography of the MMA picture with that of the panel in the Diamond Collection and concludes that the MMA picture is the earlier work, its technique typical of the first half of the fifteenth century
Catherine Reynolds inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 20, New York, 1996, p. 669, in regard to the numerous versions of the composition, finds that "the awkwardness of the apse . . . as well as the more obtrusively contrived elegance of the Virgin's support of the veil suggest that, if the design did originate with the Master of Flémalle, it would considerably antedate the Flémalle altarpiece [Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt]".
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 65, 74, 81, 95, 211, 220–22, 252, no. 47, ill. (color), dates it about 1500 and calls it one of the earliest of the many versions of this composition.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition. New York, 1998, p. 265, fig. 249.
Hélène Mund inDirk Bouts (ca. 1410–1475): Een Vlaams primitief te Leuven. Ed. Maurits Smeyers. Exh. cat., Sint-Pieterskerk en Predikherenkerk, Leuven. Louvain, 1998, p. 236.
Lorne Campbell. National Gallery Catalogues: The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools. London, 1998, p. 102, notes that this picture and the version in the Diamond Collection, New York, are generally considered the most faithful to Campin's original.
Zsuzsa Urbach. "From Connoisseurship to Art History: Case Study of an Early Netherlandish Painting in Esztergom." Acta historiae artium [Art-historical journal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences] 42 (2001), pp. 27–28, ill.
Felix Thürlemann. Robert Campin: A Monographic Study with Critical Catalogue. Munich, 2002, pp. 190, 313–14, no. III.E.2/C, ill., attributes the original, which he dates about 1420, to a "student of Robert Campin," the Master of the Madonna before a Grassy Bench (Jan van Stoevere?), and links it with the painting of this subject in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; finds the facial type and hands of the Virgin, as well as the "long and slightly curved parallel lines of the folds in the drapery" not typical of Campin's work; considers our picture the only example of the composition that might possibly be the original.
Till-Holger Borchert. "Collecting Early Netherlandish Paintings in Europe and the United States." Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research. Ed. Bernhard Ridderbos et al. English ed. Amsterdam, 2005, p. 207 [Dutch ed., "'Om iets te weten van de oude meesters'. De Vlaamse Primitieven—herontdekking, waardering en onderzoek," Nijmegen, 1995].
Important Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, New York. January 25, 2007, p. 64.
Stephan Kemperdick inThe Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden. Ed. Stephan Kemperdick and Jochen Sander. Exh. cat., Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Ostfildern, 2009, pp. 186–87, fig. 111 (color) [German ed., "Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden," Ostfildern, 2008], comments on the remarkably similar physiognomies of the Virgin here and in the "Madonna before a Grassy Bench" (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), and on the chubby, round-headed type of Christ Child present in both works; notes that the underdrawing of the Berlin panel shows the Child's head and left arm in a position almost identical to that in our picture; concludes that "the original of this work [the MMA painting] must have belonged to the same context" as the Berlin picture.
Old Master & British Paintings. Christie's, London. December 8, 2015, p. 44, under no. 10.