The culturalimpact of Rogier van der Weyden’ work
Rogier van der Weyden (circa 1400-1464) was one of the most popularearly Flemish artists in Europe. He was largely influenced by fellowFlemish artist, Jan van Eyck. Rogier worked on a range of artworksthough he never signed them. Originally from Netherlands, his worksare spread out all over major museums in Europe and around the world.Most these works were painted on contract from a range of donorsincluding cathedrals (Simiolus, 56). Scholars have attempted toidentify some of existing paintings by analyzing the style used. Oneof the major identifiers of his work is that it highlighted humanemotions in a range of colors. Having seen one his refurbished works,it is hard to understand that these pieces are centuries old yet theylook so magnificent. His works had far reaching implications onculture and society at that time not just on fellow artists but onordinary folks.
One the greatest implication on van der Wayden’s work heightenedreligious awareness among the people. He achieved this because mostof his works pertained to Christianity. He borrowed from the bible toillustrate some of the teachings and narrations from the Bible. Oneof the most famous works “The Deposition” depicts Jesus beingdeposed or lowered from the cross after the crucifixion. The paintingcaptures the pain and grief suffered by the apostles, friends andJesus’ immediate family members. The image also captures one of thelowest points in the Christianity narrative where the Messiah, whopreached life, forgiveness and the afterlife, was dead just like anyother human being (Powell 543). His work thus sought to bring peoplecloser to Christianity and understand the story of Jesus his deathand resurrection. His human aspect is well depicted in the frailty ofhis body. This resonates very well with practicing Christians up totoday.
Van der Weyden other works also comprised of Christian themes whichpopularized the religion and its practices. Take for instance the“Seven Sacraments Alterpiece” which portrayed seven sacraments ofthe Roman Catholic Church. The portrait comprises of three majorpieces with the center one being bigger and dominated by the crucifixon the forefront and the sacrament of the Eucharist in thebackground. The left piece has the sacraments of confirmation,baptism and confession. The right piece portrays the ordination of apriest, marriage and the last rites. This artwork carried its role ofpreaching religion and specifically Catholicism (Simiolus, 59). Giventhat these works were copied on numerous occasions, the impact onreligion and religious practices reached far and wide. Sometimes evendifferentiating the original from the copies is hard.
I have personally taken notice that Rogier’s work and other Flemishartists’ works lack signatures. This is no coincidence. Powell(549) writes that artists during that period did not use names astheir identifiers but rather style, context and origin to identifyartwork. In the case of “the Deposition” ‘the altarpiece on thehigh altar of Our Lady Outside the Walls in Louvain’ was theidentifier. This is because the painting was originally made for theOur Lady Outside the Walls chapel in Brussels. This idea furthercemented a culture among artists that encouraged a personal style intheir work that could be used to identify their pieces withoutnecessarily including the name of the artist or the donor. Thismethod has been borrowed from Jan van Eyck who signed his works asALS IK KAN" ("AS I CAN") (Powell, 552)
The cultural impact of Rogier’s work did not just influence fellowartists then and today but has had far reaching impact on hisaudience especially Christians. Majority of the artworks illustratescenes and practices discussed in the bible. Given that the bible hasno official illustrations, the pieces filled and continued to shapethe image of Christian history and practices.
Powell, Amy, Theerrant image: Rogier van der Weyden’s deposition from the cross andits copies. Art history volume 29, no. 4, (2006) pp. 540-562.
Simiolus, Piet,The Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden. NetherlandsQuarterly for the History of Art, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2010), pp.56-65.