Madonna and Child with Saints in the Enclosed Garden
Robert Campin

Robert Campin

c. 1375 - 1444

Robert Campin, now usually identified with the Master of Flémalle (earlier the Master of the Merode Triptych, before the discovery of three other similar panels), was a master painter who, along with Jan van Eyck, initiated the development of Early Netherlandish painting, a key development in the early Northern Renaissance.

While the existence of a highly successful painter called Robert Campin is relatively well documented for the period, no works can be certainly identified as by him through a signature or contemporary documentation. A group of paintings, none dated, have been long attributed to him, and a further group were once attributed to an unknown "Master of Flémalle". It is now usually thought that both groupings are by Campin, but this has been a matter of some controversy for decades. A corpus of work is attached to the unidentified "Master of Flémalle," so named in the 19th century after three religious panels said to have come from a monastery in Flémalle. They are each assumed to be wings of triptychs or polyptychs, and are the Virgin and Child with a Firescreen now in London, a panel fragment with the Thief on the Cross in Frankfurt, and the Brussels version of the Mérode Altarpiece.

Campin was active by 1406 as a master painter in Tournai, in today's Belgium, and became that city's leading painter for 30 years. He had attained citizenship by 1410. His fame had spread enough by 1419 that he led a large and profitable workshop. He had an extra-marital affair with a woman named Leurence Pol, led to his imprisonment. Yet he maintained his standing and workshop until his death in 1444.

The early Campin panels shows the influence of the International Gothic artists the Limbourg brothers (1385 - 1416) and Melchior Broederlam (c. 1350 - c.1409), but display a more realistic observation than any earlier artists, which he achieved through innovations in the use of oil paints. He was successful in his lifetime, and the recipient of a number of civic commissions. Campin taught both Rogier van der Weyden (named in these early records as Rogelet de la Pasture, a French version of his name) and Jacques Daret. He was a contemporary of Jan van Eyck, and they met in 1427. Campin's best known work is the Mérode Altarpiece of c 1425-28.

Campin first appears as settled in Tournai from the archives of 1405-06, as a free master of the guild of goldsmiths and painters, and there has been a lot of speculation about his origin and birthplace which is actually unknown, although he is sometimes listed as having been born in Valenciennes. In 1408 he had purchased the house that he had been leasing since 1406 near the Tournai Cathedral. In 1410, he bought full citizenship. Records show a large number of commissions from individuals and guilds, as well as from ecclesiastical and civic authorities. Campin owned several houses, purchased city bonds and invested in mortgages.

Between 1423 and 1429, the city government was dominated by the guilds. Campin was the deputy dean of the guild of goldsmiths and painters in 1423-24 and 1425. In 1427 he represented the guild on the city council.

After restoration of the oligarchy of full citizens, the leaders of the guild regime, including Robert Campin, were brought to court. Campin was ordered to make a pilgrimage to Saint-Gilles and pay the fine.

Campin was married to Ysabel de Stocquain (Elisabeth van Stokkem). The couple was childless. He had an affair with Laurence Polette, for which he was prosecuted in 1432 and sentenced to banishment for a year. Margaret of Burgundy, wife of the Count of Holland and sister of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy intervened on his behalf, and this was reduced to a fine.

A short time after the verdict Campin's apprentices Rogier van der Weyden and Jacques Daret were accepted as masters into the guild of painters. However, the dated Werl Altarpiece (1438) shows he continued to work (the two outer wings are in the Prado; the main panel is lost). He died in his adopted city of Tournai in 1444.

The Entombment Triptych (or "Seilern Triptych" Courtauld Institute, London) is dated to around 1425. The central panel shows his debt to the sculpture of the time (Campin was known to have polychromed several statues). After this, he painted the Marriage of the Virgin (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and Nativity (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon) around 1420-1425.

Around 1425-1428 Campin painted the Mérode Altarpiece, a triptych (three paneled paintings) commissioned for private use. The Annunciation occupies the central panel. The Archangel Gabriel is shown approaching Mary, who sits reading. She is depicted in a well-kept middle-class Flemish home. Several works attributed to Robert Campin may be seen in the Hermitage, including diptych panels depicting The Holy Trinity and The Virgin and Child. Other works are displayed in the Prado, and the London National Gallery. Campin also collaborated with other artists, e.g. with Jean Delemer in creating (presumably painting) two wooden sculptures of the Annunciation currently in the Church of Saint Quentin, Tournai.

Text courtesy of Wikipedia, 2024