Seilern Triptych by Robert Campin
Interpretation of Flemish Entombment Altarpiece

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Seilern (Entombment) Triptych by Robert Campin
Seilern (Entombment) Triptych
By Robert Campin.
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Seilern (Entombment) Triptych (1410)


Interpretation of the Seilern Triptych
Further Resources


Artist: Robert Campin (c.1378-1444)
Medium: Oils and gold leaf on panel
Genre: Devotional religious art
Movement: Northern Renaissance (Low Countries)
Museum: Courtauld Institute Gallery, London.

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Seilern (Entombment) Triptych: Analysis and Interpretation

Art historians consider The Seilern Triptych (named after its previous owner, the Count of Seilern, and also known as The Entombment Triptych) to be the earliest surviving work of Robert Campin (c.1378-1444), also known as the Master of Flemalle. Together with Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) and Roger van der Weyden (1400-64), Campin is one of the co-founders and first great masters of the early Netherlandish Renaissance. Fifteenth century Netherlandish painting represented a radical break with the courtly Byzantine-inspired International Gothic style. Instead of relying on formal idealization in its Biblical art, the Netherlandish School of Flemish painting relied upon observation to create a new, down-to-earth realism, in keeping with the tenets of Franciscan monks, who explained religious matters in terms that were easily understood by their listeners.



More Analysis

The Entombment Triptych - one of the great works of Christian art housed at the Courtauld Institute, London - consists of three hinged panel paintings in oils and gold leaf, measuring roughly 2 feet by 3.5 feet. Intended as a set of private devotional pictures for use in the home, rather like the later Virgin and Child Before a Fireplace (1423, Hermitage, St Petersburg) and Merode Altarpiece (1425, Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the Seilern Triptych was painted about 1410. As its name indicates, it depicts one of the key stories of Christian iconography - Christ's Entombment or Deposition from the Cross, as reported in all four Gospels. One of the great religious paintings of the 15th century, Campin's composition ranks alongside similar works by Roger van der Weyden (1399-1464) (see: Descent From the Cross) and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).


The central panel of this triptych depicts the entombment of the dead Christ as his mother, Mary, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, are preparing to wrap Jesus's body in his burial shroud. The other figures in the scene are included in order to reference the different stages of Christ's suffering. Mary leans on Saint John, referring to the lamentation; Mary Magdalene rubs oil into Christ's feet, alluding to the anointment; Saint Veronica holds up a piece of fabric, an allusion to Calvary, while angels holding various items of the Passion hark back to the crucifixion.

In the left-hand panel, the patron or donor of the painting is shown kneeling piously before the Hill of Golgotha. The landscape, with its three crosses, is relatively shallow and against the middle cross, between those still occupied by the two thiefs, leans a ladder which alludes to Christ's Descent from the Cross.

The right-hand panel portrays the Resurrection with Jesus emerging from the tomb.

All three panels are decorated with gold vines and grapes, symbolizing Christ, the true vine. Campin painted the Entombment Triptych more than fifteen years before his more modern work of altarpiece art known as the Merode (Annunciation) Altarpiece (c.1425), and thus the present work - while exemplifying the Flemish Renaissance trend towards greater realism, based on observation - retains a traditional medieval feel, with its restricted perspective, use of gold backgrounds, and organization of pictorial space. Like Jan van Eyck, Roger Van der Weyden, and Matthias Grunewald, Robert Campin was influenced by the Flemish sculptor Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406) - a key figure in the Dijon school of Gothic art - whose figures are naturalistic and expressive, and more earthly bound than idealistic. This influence is noticeable here in the sculptural quality of the figures.

Robert Campin

Originally known as the Master of Flemalle, after three paintings in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt that were presumed to have been painted for the monastery at Flemalle, near Liege, art scholars have since recognized Campin as the creator of these works following the elimination of candidates like Jacques Daret and Rogier van der Weyden. Other works now attributed to him, include the Merode Altarpiece (Metropolitan Museum, New York), the Marriage of the Virgin (Prado, Madrid), The Nativity (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon), and The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen (National Gallery, London). Even so, the details of his artistic training and background remain obscure. He first appears in the municipal archives of Tournai (1405-6), as a master of the guild of painters, of which he later became Dean; he duly purchased citizenship of the city in 1410, by which time he ran a flourishing workshop.



Further Resources

If you're interested in Northern Renaissance religious painting, from Germany, Holland and Flanders, try these resources:

Hans Memling (c.1433-94)
Flemish religious painter.
Hugo Van Der Goes (1440–1482)
Flemish altarpiece artist.
Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
Visionary religious painter.
Matthias Grunewald (1470-1528)
Intense German expressionist.

See also: How To Appreciate Paintings.

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