Robert Campin (c.1375-1444)
The Seilern Triptych, c.1425
Oil and goldleaf on panel
Samuel Courtauld Trust: Princes Gate Bequest, 1978
The central panel of The Seilern Triptych by Robert Campin, The Courtauld Gallery, London The Seilern Triptych is one of the finest masterpieces of Early Netherlandish painting. It was painted by a highly talented artist who has been identified as Robert Campin from Tournai, also known as the Master of Flémalle.
The triptych shows the narrative of Christ's passion. In the left wing, though Christ's body has been removed from the central Cross, the thieves remain in torment on their crosses. A donor kneels in the foreground directing his gaze to the central panel, where the body of Christ is lowered into the tomb by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. The Virgin, supported by St John, leans over to kiss Christ; the other women are the Three Marys. Four angels carry the Instruments of the Passion: the spear, the Crown of Thorns, the nails and the sponge. In the right wing, the resurrected Christ watched by an angel steps from the tomb, which is guarded by three soldiers.
No documentation survives concerning this work or the commissioner. Apparently too small to have been used as an altarpiece, it may have been displayed in the donor's home. When open, the triptych was designed to be seen with the wings at a slight angle. Every aspect of the painting has been considered carefully. The gold background is decorated with plants (redcurrants, vines and the gourd) referring to the Mass, the Eucharist and the Resurrection. The colours are carefully balanced, and the striking linear patterns contribute to the powerful decoration and expressive effect of the triptych as a whole.