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The Annunciation

Robert Campin, Meester van Flémalle1415/1425

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

In this work, the Annunciation is taking place in a middle-class interior, something which was entirely new in art at the time. Until this time, the scene was depicted inside or on the porch of a church. In keeping with tradition, Archangel Gabriel enters the room from the left. In a sign of humility, the Virgin Mary is sitting on a tiled floor before a large seat. The edge of her coat is decorated with an inscription, another innovation added by the Master of Flemalle. The text seems to be inspired by the Salve Regine, a popular Medieval hymn. The Virgin Mary's gestures show her compliance: her right hand resting on her stomach, her eyes chastely lowered. On both Mary's knees and the table is an open book. This motif may be inspired by the treatise on true devotion around 1400, according to which the Virgin was meditating on the Holy Scriptures when Gabriel entered the room. The books also say that she is the holder of divine wisdom. In keeping with this theme, the seat is adorned with little lions, like the throne of Salomon. This Old Testament king is also considered a wise man. The windows may represent prophets who predicted the Messiah's coming. Other seemingly ordinary objects from daily life have a deeper meaning. The small brush near the fireplace symbolises the purification of the mark of sin, and the white lilly in a majolica vase represent Mary's virginity. The open window probably alludes to the "fenestra coeli", window of the sky. The chandeliers and candles represent the Virgin and Christ with the fact that they are not lit showing that the conception has already taken place. The wooden carving depicting Saint Christopher taking the Christ Child across the river is a curious detail. The motif is a good example of the chronological inconsistencies frequently found in paintings by the Flemish Primitives. As the main scene depicts the Annunciation, the Messiah has clearly not yet been born. (Roel Slachmuylders in 'Musée d'Art Ancien. Oeuvres choisies' [Ancient Art Museum: Selected works])

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Details

  • Title: The Annunciation
  • Creator: Master of Flémalle (Robert Campin?)
  • Date: 1415/1425
  • support: oak
  • origin: Gift from the Friends of the Royal Museums association, Brussels, 1910 (aquired on the art market from Percy More Turner, London, 1910)
  • Physical Dimensions: w63.7 x h61 x d0.35 cm (without frame)
  • Provenance: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels
  • Type: painting (panel)
  • Rights: © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels / photo : J. Geleyns / Ro scan

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