From gold grounds to depicted space

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The near-elimination of gold backgrounds began in early Netherlandish painting around the mid-1420s, not long after the introduction of the ars nova. Where gold backgrounds continued to appear, since they were not burnished or tooled they have a primarily visual effect, reflecting light in a diffuse gleam rather than the brilliant surface-emphasizing flashes of burnished leaf. (Admittedly the difference can now be difficult to see, given that few burnished panels still retain their full shine.) This was not a pan-European phenomenon: in Germany and elsewhere, panel painters continued to use burnished gold-leaf backgrounds for several more decades, alongside other uses of gilding such as depiction of brocaded textiles.84 Moreover, in the early Netherlandish panels partial overpainting usually incorporates background gold into the representation to some degree, thus mitigating the material and conceptual distinction between painting and gold ground. Limited overpainting of gold leaf appeared in some pre-Eyckian panels, particularly to define objects like the water-gilded flower vase and the mordant-gilded eagle lectern in Melchior Broederlam's altarpiece wing (Fig. 30, Fig. 30a),85 but the ars nova introduced an entirely new level of overpainting (Fig. 12, Fig. 13, Fig. 14, Fig. 32).

The major exception is Rogier van der Weyden's so-called Medici Madonna, which according to dendrochronological analysis likely dates after 1450 (Fig. 10, Fig. 10a).86 It has a burnished gold background applied over an ochre-coloured bole,87 and it also displays further mordant gilding on certain details including the central coat of arms (though the leaf is mostly worn away), St Peter's hem decoration, and the Virgin's halo and blue mantle hem embroidery, although other metallic details were rendered in paint such as the flower vase, the brocaded hanging behind the Virgin, and the solid golden edging of her red and dark blue garments.88 The panel's iconography and composition have led to the inference that it was commissioned by an Italian patron, given its vertically-oriented sacra compositione of saints flanking the Virgin under a baldachin, including at the right saints Cosmas and Damian, very rarely depicted in Netherlandish art.89 The background, which appears to be original (unlike a similar gold ground erroneously added to a Rogier-workshop Crucifixion diptych in 1941),90 further suggests southern patronage, given that such grounds had entirely disappeared by that time in the Low Countries, but were still produced in many parts of Italy (for example by Giovanni di Paolo, Carlo Crivelli, and Bartolommeo Vivarini). Many Netherlandish paintings were exported to Italy in the fifteenth century, and Italian merchants and bankers who worked in the Low Countries often commissioned local artworks to be sent back home; Rogier van der Weyden himself travelled to Rome for the 1450 jubilee.91 The unknown patron(s) of this particular panel evidently wanted a combination of familiar Italian features with Netherlandish naturalistic detail and deeply saturated colour.

The Medici Madonna is highly atypical, as the few other extant gold-background panels are unburnished, with the majority dating from the earliest transitional years of the ars nova, and most feature partial overpainting that mitigates the inherent contradiction between a flat ground and the new painting style. One that does retain an old aesthetic is the c. 1415-20 Seilern Triptych (Entombment) in the Courtauld Gallery, whose mordant-gilded pastiglia relief background is very similar in design and execution to pre-Eyckian panels such as the c. 1410 triptych of Saints Crispin and Crispinian in Saint-Omer, whereas the paint itself employs far more detail and sophistication than pre-Eyckian works (though still incorporating older painting techniques as well).92 A Madonna Before a Grassy Bench in Berlin made perhaps around 1420 uses a much smaller amount of flat unburnished gilding for the Virgin's halo and around the top edges of the panel surrounding a painted textile backdrop.93 A flat gold background also appears behind a Christ as the Man of Sorrows in the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, which perhaps was made c. 1430.94 A St John the Baptist panel in Cleveland, a triptych wing fragment often viewed as the oldest of the surviving Flémalle-group panels (Fig. 11),95 has a somewhat advanced figural painting style juxtaposed against a flat gold ground, though the gold leaf beyond John's halo has been partially overpainted to simulate a green brocaded silk textile, a conception to which I will return in the following section. A similar motif appears in another Madonna Before a Grassy Bench in Dortmund perhaps painted around 1440.96

More representative of the rapid expansion of painterly innovation is an unusual Flémalle-group work depicting the heads and hands of Christ and the Virgin against flat unburnished gold leaf (Fig. 12).97 A number of early Netherlandish paintings borrowed the iconography of Byzantine icons, depicting single, usually half-length figures of Christ and/or the Virgin against an abstract background; especially well known are imitations after the mid-fourteenth-century Notre-Dame de Grâce given to Cambrai cathedral in 1450, though in other cases the borrowing was more general.98  Many such works have dark backgrounds, but, towards the end of the fifteenth century, there was something of a revival of this type of iconic image set against a gold-leaf (or occasionally yellow-painted) background, seemingly as part of a renewal of interest in older art forms, particularly devotional images.99 Icon-like depictions of Christ or the Virgin were thus subjects for which the archaic quality of the gold background could be deemed appropriate, even in conjunction with figures in a more modern style. The Philadelphia panel, which likely refers to a particular Byzantine diptych formerly located in Paris,100 dates much earlier than the revivalist works, and its new painterly techniques interrogate the theological underpinning of icons as instantiations—or at least direct evocations—of their divine prototypes.101 Whereas eastern icons portray their figures as abstracted types, here Christ and the Virgin are somewhat more (if not fully) individualized, and the juxtaposition of the ars nova-style oil painting against the flat ground creates a striking impression of relief, more so than the earlier John the Baptist panel (Fig. 11) where the tempera mixed in with the oil inhibits its refractive properties.102 In part, then, Christ and the Virgin accords with the typical early Netherlandish aim of depicting persuasively 'realistic' figures, but, in keeping with its Byzantine sources, the gold setting situates them in a heavenly realm.

These somewhat contradictory impressions are augmented by the distinctive technique with which the gilding was modified. In most analogous images, the background appears as an abstract space, whereas here the dominating halos act to define the panel's surface. Moreover, where earlier generations of panel painters would have used tooling to distinguish halos from background (as for instance in the Beaumetz panels from Champmol, (Fig. 5), the Philadelphia artist instead used paint: the parts outside the halos have been overlaid with a very thin glaze to reduce their shine and thereby make the halos gleam more brightly in comparison.103 The same effect could have been achieved by burnishing the halos and leaving the rest of the leaf matte, but the innovative glaze technique was both more efficient and more pictorial. The halos are further partially overpainted with trompe-l'oeil jewels and pearls, and not only are the stones themselves replicated, cast shadows have been painted on as well. It can initially appear as if precious stones are actually attached onto the panel surface—as in some pre-Eyckian panels, goldsmiths' work, sculptures, and wall paintings104—though this impression is countered by the slight overlap of Christ's halo over the Virgin's, and by the slight depth of the halos themselves as defined by the depiction of internal cast shadows. The panel thus creates an absorbing and deliberately irresolvable visual play on flatness and depth, trompe-l'oeil and self-acknowledged representation, divine presence and artistic invention. Even though the iconography and the gold background partially evoke Byzantine and metalwork aesthetics, the techniques of gilding and representation have become thoroughly Netherlandish and painterly, and more than attempting to look like a gold object, the panel harnesses the visual effects of precious materials for pictorial purposes.

Most other early Netherlandish panels with partially-overpainted gold grounds use the overpaint to different ends: to visually dissolve the panel's flat surface. The few other gilded backgrounds in panels by Rogier van der Weyden, for instance, employ hatched lines or networks of semi-translucent flecks of brown/red paint to generate an effect of depth. In the Virgin and Child that formed the left half of a devotional portrait diptych for the nobleman Philippe de Croÿ (Fig. 13),105 the unburnished gold ground holds the traditional iconic function of a generalized heavenly realm of golden light, although the overpainted network of irregular, sometimes dense flecks of paint creates an impression of vague shadows. Gold backgrounds do not appear in Rogier's two other extant devotional portrait diptychs, nor indeed in most other early Netherlandish examples of the genre,106 which suggests that the patron—a member of one of the leading aristocratic families in the Burgundian Low Countries—requested this rather out-dated setting, though Rogier modified its effect with the overpainting, a technique that was also applied by other artists to later iconic-style images of Christ and the Virgin.107 The slightly lower quality of the Virgin panel has led to the suggestion that it was a workshop stock image to which the portrait by Rogier himself was added;108 another possibility is that the Virgin was primarily worked on by assistants while Rogier focused on the portrait so as to finish the whole commission as quickly as possible. Either way, it is striking that De Croÿ was evidently more concerned about the pictorial quality of his own image than that of the Virgin, leaving the gold ground to create the impression of her value.

De Croÿ was depicted in front of a green textile hanging, rendered by a green glaze over silver foil, which in its original state must have been highly impressive, though the silver has now darkened, making the fold-lines of the depicted textile difficult to see.109 Overpainted silver foil was a rare technique among early Netherlandish painters, though Hubert or Jan van Eyck also experimented with it in the Ghent Altarpiece to represent the tiles beneath the upper central figures of God enthroned, Mary, and John the Baptist (Fig. 28).110 In Rogier's diptych, metal leaf was not used to represent material objects: the book clasps, jewellery, hem decoration, and brocade cushion are rendered entirely with paint, as if inviting viewers to compare their persuasive portrayal with the real gold gleam of the Virgin's background. But extensive gold and silver leaf do appear again in the coat of arms on the reverse of Philippe's portrait, the side that would have been visible when the diptych was closed; like the portrait itself the execution is of very high quality.111

In this work, the patron's desire to display his status and wealth evidently prompted Rogier to include more overtly valuable materials than had by then become the norm in panel painting. The same applies to another of Rogier's extant works with an extensive gold ground, the Last Judgment Altarpiece (Fig. 14, Fig. 15) commissioned by the Burgundian chancellor Nicholas Rolin for the hospital he founded in Beaune, in his native French duchy of Burgundy.112 Rolin came from a burgher family in Autun but rose to become a legal advisor to the dukes and eventually chancellor. In 1424, two years after the latter appointment, he was ennobled by Philip the Good (as was another of Rogier's wealthy patrons, Pieter Bladelin), although long-standing noble families such as the De Croÿs did not fully accept such nouveaux riches among their ranks until at least the second generation.113 In founding the hospital at Beaune, together with his endowments for the church of Notre-Dame-du-Châtel in Autun, Rolin followed a long-standing noble tradition of generous institutional patronage.114 He ordered the hospital chapel's altarpiece from the most important Netherlandish artist then still alive, and unlike the much smaller single panel that he commissioned from Jan van Eyck a decade or so earlier,115 which was entirely painted, this one included a rich expanse of gold leaf.

Conceptually, Rogier used gold here in a very similar manner to the later De Cröy diptych, to represent a heavenly realm when opened and to indicate the patron's status when closed. Given the subject matter, however, the gold on the interior panels (Fig. 14, Fig. 14a, Fig. 14b) has a more directly representational function than typical gold-ground images, and the surrounding clouds of yellow and red paint make it appear more a component of the imagery than a background. As with the De Croÿ Virgin and Child, Rogier (and his workshop assistants, who actually carried out most of the work)116 applied a stippling of reddish-brown specks to the gold leaf beyond the halos, with a resulting impression, as in the Philadelphia Christ and the Virgin (Fig. 12), that the halos gleam more brightly in comparison.117 The speckled overpaint—which is only clearly visible when seen very close—partly ensures that the heavenly aura appears as a semi-representational space, creating a plausible transition from halos to golden setting to painted cloud (Fig. 14a). It also generates a visual effect analogous to paintings by Mark Rothko, where the colour appears to permeate the space between the viewer and the picture, hovering before the image rather than defining its ground surface.

Gold has also been used on the left-most panel for the gate of heaven, partially overpainted with linear hatching to render the architectural detailing, and when directly illuminated the gate appears much brighter than the adjacent yellow/red painted cloud (Fig. 14a). In most photographs, it can be difficult to distinguish the areas of gold from yellow paint, but the difference becomes much more evident in person, and Rogier used it to differentiate the heavenly from other spaces: the cloud at the saints' feet and on the side panels is entirely executed in yellow/red paint, thus visually emphasizing the separation of the divine from earth and from hell, and the right-most hell panel is the only one with no gilding (Fig. 14b). The gold on the exterior wings (Fig. 15, Fig. 15a), on the other hand, has a largely secular function, applied to the coats of arms and the cloths-of-gold hanging behind Rolin and his third wife Guigonne de Salins, though the textiles covering their prie-dieux are painted. I will return to these panels later in discussing painters' depictions of brocaded textiles.

A Crucifixion panel in Berlin (Fig. 16), variously attributed to Rogier or the Flémalle group,118 originally had a gold background which towards the top of the panel was partially overpainted by red glazes culminating in a rainbow. In the sixteenth century the landscape was extended upwards and the rest of the gold background overpainted with sky, leaving only traces of gilding visible (for instance around John's hair). Recently it has been argued that the painter of this panel also painted revisions onto an earlier panel of c. 1410-20 that depicted a very similar Christ on the cross flanked by angels, though rather than a semi-narrative, that was a visionary scene opening up behind a flat ground of gold stars against blue. The Virgin Mary and a donor were depicted below, kneeling in front of a brocade hanging and looking up towards the vision of the crucifixion. Technical and stylistic analysis suggests that the Berlin artist was asked around 1440 to revise the Christ figure on that earlier panel, perhaps also the Virgin and donor, while leaving the setting intact—i.e., whoever then owned and still valued the twenty- or thirty-year-old painting wanted its figural style updated but the traditional flat setting left as it was.119 The Berlin Crucifixion's analogous juxtaposition of a modern-style figural group against a retro-style gold ground would have been designed for a patron with similar tastes, someone who admired ars nova figural arrangements but wanted the setting to imbue the scene with a heightened abstraction. Whoever had the background overpainted in the following century evidently perceived this combination as deeply incongruous, as did most viewers of the ars nova era.

The prevailing shift in taste away from gold backgrounds with the introduction of the ars nova is evidenced in pair of images made in the 1420s, an Annunciation panel now in Brussels and the central panel of the Mérode Triptych in the Cloisters (Fig. 17, Fig. 18).120 Between these two versions of the same composition, the Brussels panel is arguably more cohesive but displays a distinctly more old-fashioned style, whereas the Mérode painter (likely a younger artist) imbued his version with an updated painting technique, palette, and detailing, such as complex rendering of doubled cast shadows. In both paintings the shutters of the back window(s) are partly pulled open, revealing in the Brussels panel a gold ground beyond the domestic interior, though this is actually constructed not with gold leaf but with another metal foil (perhaps tin) overpainted with a yellow glaze.121 This might have been a cheat on the artist's part,122 or perhaps more likely a surrogate luxury aimed at buyers of limited means, though mordant gilding was applied to Gabriel's belt and the decorated hem of the Virgin's red robe.123

In the central panel of the Mérode Altarpiece, no gilding was included on the depicted textiles, though the background window originally had a golden ground constructed with the same glazed-foil technique;124 the other window was replaced by a lavabo in a wall niche, thus enriching the picture with further religious and/or social meanings.125 This Annunciation must have been created as an independent work, perhaps one of several workshop copies, and the initial buyer—likely a member of a merchant family from Mechelen—commissioned the addition of the wings, together with the overpainting of the metal foil, to turn it into a domestic triptych.126 The wing panels display a more convincing depiction of recessional space, and they also focus on exterior scenes, at the right a remarkable view from Joseph's workshop onto a busy town centre, and a more enclosed garden space on the left; clearly the golden ground of the central panel was no longer suitable, and a fully convincing setting became more important to the triptych's owner than flashy materials on the panel's surface, in contrast to the Brussels version (and to courtly luxury objects).

The great majority of early Netherlandish paintings—especially those depicting narrative subjects—are conceived similarly to the Mérode Triptych: gold backdrops were rapidly supplanted by entirely representational settings, as if it quickly became almost inconceivable for the new mode of painting to depict a religious scene in anything other than a recognizably worldly space. The Philadelphia Christ and the Virgin (Fig. 12) and its successors are significant exceptions in that they deliberately evoke eastern icons that isolate their subjects from any particular time or place, thus appealing to worshippers in a perpetual present through their timeless divinity. The popular mainstream of late-medieval religion, however, followed a different path: as devotional practices were increasingly taken up by a wider range of the religious orders and by laity, devotees were strongly encouraged to focus on the saints' real-life experiences and to visualize biblical events as detailed narratives unfolding in a familiar environment.127 Though such ideas were widespread in texts by the fourteenth century, it is only in the fifteenth that they were carried out in images to their fullest logical conclusions. Thus part of the profound appeal of the ars nova must have arisen from its resonance with already-widespread theories of devotional vision,128 as well as from the intrinsic delight of seeing substances and spaces so stunningly recreated. While a few early Netherlandish images depict saints against a wholly abstract ground, and others in a semi-defined space, the great majority occupy a fully contemporary setting consisting of a landscape and/or interior.

In the case of Rogier van der Weyden's Braque Triptych (Fig. 19), the contemporary setting modulates the deliberately iconic rendition of the saints, particularly the frontal Christ set against a yellow-painted aureole superimposed with mordant-gilded rays.129 Mordant gilding was also applied to the Virgin's shorter halo rays, as well as to the hem decoration of the mantles worn by the Virgin and John the Baptist, and to the sheaves within the coats of arms on the reverse of the wings.130 Thus as with the De Croÿ diptych and the Last Judgment (Fig. 13, Fig. 14 and Fig. 15), if more subtly, the touches of gilding highlight the patrons' arms on the exterior and reinforce a visual hierarchy of the holy figures in the interior. This work was likely commissioned by the Tournai citizen Catherine de Brabant, a member of a wealthy burgher family, as a memorial to her deceased husband Jean Braque, an illegitimate descendant of a noble French family with a long history of service at the royal court.131 The continuous background landscape, populated with occasional modern buildings and people in addition to the baptism of Christ in the left panel, implies that these rather hieratic-looking figures with their archaic floating speech inscriptions should nevertheless be understood as belonging to and in the contemporary world; the combination of imagery thus linked earthly life with the saintly realm to which Jean's soul had moved.

Most early Netherlandish panels went farther and populated their settings with almost entirely humanized saints, often not marked out with halos of any kind, as in the Flémalle-group Werl panels (Fig. 20), once the wings of a triptych likely flanking a lost central image of the Virgin.132 The left wing was originally planned to be set in a landscape,133 as would have been particularly appropriate for John the Baptist, but in the final version he was brought into a modern barrel-vaulted room to fulfil his role as patron saint for the donor Heinrich von Werl (who, as the head of the Cologne province of Conventual Franciscans, and a well-known professor and preacher, would have viewed contemporary urban life as the fitting context for his life's work). The opposite wing visualizes St Barbara's day-to-day indoor existence while the construction of her tower takes place in the landscape seen through the back window. Other than their biblical clothing, the saints are pictured here as fully occupying the world of 1438, the date inscribed below the donor. No gold is used at all within these panels, which suits the representational ethos: although the depicted spaces certainly suggest comfortable prosperity, they do not overtly promote the type of high luxury seen at the Burgundian court.

Not all panels with detailed settings completely eliminated gold leaf, as seen particularly in the altarpiece wings painted by Jacques Daret for the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Vaast in Arras (Fig. 21, Fig. 22), commissioned by abbot Jean du Clercq and completed only three years earlier than the Werl panels.134 Though contracted specifically to Daret, the likelihood that more than one individual executed the work is suggested by stylistic variations across the four extant panels135 as well as variations in the gilding techniques. In the Presentation in the Temple, bands of mordant gilding are used to depict textile edging and altar decoration, all of it overpainted with shadow-casting pearls and jewels like those on the Christ and the Virgin halos (Fig. 12). (Similar jewelled textile decoration also appears in a large-scale Trinity commissioned c. 1430-40 by Leuven's patrician city secretary Gerard van Baussele.136) Broad patches of gold leaf also appear in Daret's Adoration of the Magi (Fig. 21, Fig. 21a) to render the objects presented to the Christ Child as well as the central king's crown. The vessels are partially overpainted to define their three-dimensional shape, but they nevertheless still appear much flatter than the rest of the image; perhaps the artist(s) fully intended this effect, since the magi's gifts for Christ thereby stand out all the more from the metallic elements of their attire, which other than the crown are all executed with paint. Symbolically it seems incongruent to have used gold for the crown—perhaps the implication is that it too should be transferred to Christ.

More delicate lines of gilding define the rays of the star and the Virgin's and Christ Child's halos, as well as the Virgin's mantle hem embroidery, and this type of delicate linear gilding appears again with the Virgin and Elizabeth in the Visitation panel (Fig. 22, Fig. 22a), with further somewhat broader gilding on the donor's abbatial staff shaft, mitre, and family coat of arms, thus incorporating his office and himself personally into the visual hierarchy of materials. In the Presentation in the Temple tiny touches of gold leaf, now mostly worn away, were also applied to the candle flames, so that their reflections would literally represent the flickering emission of light; the humbler Nativity only employs ray gilding, and the Virgin's blue mantle there does not include the elaborate embroidery gilding seen in the other three panels (only a single, mostly worn-away line). Thus these panels experiment with gold's potential representational purposes as well as its varieties of application.

The degree of gilding in these panels is unusual, and most subsequent early Netherlandish paintings restricted mordant gilding (where it appeared at all) to just a few fine lines. In the form of heavenly or halo rays, the flash of golden light could represent divine presence without intrinsically contradicting the naturalistic portrayal of earthly objects. Jan van Eyck used such gilded rays in his Washington Annunciation (Fig. 23), possibly (though not certainly) made for duke Philip the Good,137 and he or his older brother Hubert also applied mordant-gilded rays emanating from the dove of the Holy Spirit in the Ghent Altarpiece (Fig. 28). However, a golden glory originally underneath this dove was mostly painted over, although it is unknown when or why: either to cover up what had come to be seen as incongruous, or intended from the outset as a visual device partially shining through the overlying cloud.138 Van Eyck did not use gold on the surface of any other of his extant works, although rays of mordant gilding or shell gold do appear in many early Netherlandish paintings, even some by later artists like Hans Memling and Hugo van der Goes.139 Gilded embroidered hem decoration also recurs among various Flémalle and Rogier panels; it seems that the delicacy of application made this form of non-heavenly gilding visually acceptable, if only for a couple of decades, but, in many panels, such decoration was carried out with paint instead.

In Rogier's Miraflores Altarpiece (Fig. 24, Fig. 24a), for example, the decorated hems of the Virgin's mantles were painted, whereas on the later St John Altarpiece (Fig. 25, Fig. 25a) similar mantle decoration was executed with gold.140 Cost could not have been a motivation here, given that the Miraflores Altarpiece was commissioned by King Juan II of Castille for the Carthusian monastery he had recently founded near Burgos, and which he rebuilt in 1452 after a fire. More likely, Rogier decided to omit gold from the Miraflores Altarpiece in consideration of its austere and enclosed Carthusian viewers; he also omitted all non-biblical human figures from the two landscape backgrounds (Fig. 24), as occurs in no other of his paintings, whose background city- and landscapes—like those of the Flémalle group—always showcase tiny details of daily life. The St John Altarpiece differs from the Miraflores in both gilding and background narrative detail, particularly evident in the central panel depicting Christ's baptism, although because of the unusual compositional similarities it has been postulated as a later gift for the same Carthusian institution.141

Occasionally, gold might be used within a panel to make iconographic distinctions: in the Flémalle-group Nativity in Dijon (Fig. 26),142 the Christ Child emanates mordant-gilded rays, and shell gold was applied in two places, to the hem of the Virgin's mantle and the dress of the midwife seen from behind.143 The other midwife, in contrast, wears a more richly-decorated brocaded dress but one executed entirely in paint (Fig. 26a); her posture and banderol identify her as Salome, the midwife who, unlike Azel, doubted the virgin birth and was punished with a withered hand. The slight gleam on Azel's dress thus literally highlights her faith and visually aligns her with the Virgin, in opposition to Salome. The Nativity's other area of mordant gilding, the blazing sun—conceptually analogous to Daret's candle flames, if less persuasive—is a much more overt, even jarring, inclusion of gold leaf, especially given that the rest of the panel is so renowned for its attention to naturalistic detail; perhaps it should be interpreted as a failed experiment. In other paintings analogous gilding is usually reserved for purely divine phenomena, like the Virgin's aureole and crescent moon in the Aix-la-Chapelle Virgin in Glory, commissioned by an unidentified Augustinian abbot.144

All of these works highlight the ars nova's singular capacity to depict persuasive settings constructed down to the last detail, not unlike the appeal to today's video-gamers of richly detailed and believable environments, enhancing the immersive experience. Where an earlier panel like the St Denis Altarpiece (Fig. 6) combined simplified narrative episodes of different times and places against an abstract ground, early Netherlandish panels situate biblical events and saints' lives in a consistent and cohesive modern world. That is not to say that time and space are coterminous in these images,145 but the visual evidence suggests that it quickly became the expected norm for painted religious subjects to appear within fully plausible and contemporary locales, and that representational persuasiveness became far more valuable to its audiences than the projected worth of the panel's material components.

84 See for instance Billinge et al., 'Methods and materials', 31 and Plate 3.

85 See Currie, 'Genesis of a pre-Eyckian masterpiece', and Cyriel Stroo, 'Broederlam's world of surface appearances: traditional and innovative aspects. Dat sulck een schoon nieuw Const, soo heel volmaeckt begint? (Lucas de Heere, 1534-1584)', in Vision & Material: Interaction Between Art and Science in Jan van Eyck's Time, ed. Marc De Mey, Maximiliaan P.J. Martens, and Cyriel Stroo (Brussels, 2012), 67-91.

86 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 39.

87 Many thanks to Jochen Sander, curator of German, Dutch and Flemish paintings before 1800 at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, for this information; personal communication, 20 April 2012.

88 Many thanks to Christiane Haeseler, conservator at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, for examining the painting and confirming many of these details; personal communication, 31 October 2012.

89 Nuttal, From Flanders to Florence, 5, 85-89.

90 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 362; Mark Tucker, 'Rogier van der Weyden's Philadelphia 'Crucifixion',' The Burlington Magazine 139, no. 1135 (1997): 676-83.

91 Nuttal, From Flanders to Florence, esp. 4-5, 43-91, 105-30; Borchert, The Age of Van Eyck, 79-125.

92 Christian Heck, ed., Collections du Nord-Pas-de Calais: la peinture de Flandre et de France du Nord au XVe et au début du XVIe siècle, 2 vols. (Brussels, 2005), vol. 2, 391-99; Geelen and Steyaert, 'Relief decorations in the art of around 1400', 157-60; Caroline Villiers and Robert Bruce-Gardner, 'The Entombment triptych in the Courtauld Institute galleries', in Foister and Nash, Robert Campin, 27-35. The panel also uses mordant gilding for armour details in the right-wing Resurrection.

93 The panel also incorporates mordant-gilded rays and hem decoration; see Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 2.

94 Robert Hoozee, Museum of Fine Arts Ghent: Paintings Catalogue (Ghent, 2007), vol. 1, 125, Inv. 1904-A. The non-translucent painting technique of this panel is distinctly different in character from Van Eyck's or Rogier's works.

95 This was the final work in the exhibition Fliegel and Jugie, Art from the Court of Burgundy, cat. no. 136, and the first work in the exhibition Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 1.

96 The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 25.

97  Ibid., cat. no. 7; John Oliver Hand, Catherine Metzger, and Ron Spronk, Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych (Washington and New Haven, 2006), cat. no. 5.

98 Maryan W. Ainsworth, '"À la façon grèce": the encounter of northern Renaissance artists with Byzantine icons', in Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), ed. Helen C. Evans (New York, 2004), 544-55 and cat. nos. 345, 349-51; Jean C. Wilson, 'Reflections on St. Luke's hand: icons and the nature of aura in the Burgundian Low Countries during the fifteenth century', in The Sacred Image East and West, ed. Robert Ousterhout and Leslie Brubaker (Urbana & Chicago, 1995), 132-46.

99 See for example Helen C. Evans, ed., Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557) (New York, 2004), cat. nos. 334-35, 341-42, 344-47, 352-55; and for the revival trend, Maryan W. Ainsworth, 'The Virgin and Child in an Apse: reconsidering a Campin workshop design', in Foister and Nash, Robert Campin, 159-69, and Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting, 350-56. Stephan Kemperdick and Jochen Sander, 'Tafelmalerei', in Die Kunst der burgundischen Niederlande: Eine Einführung, ed. Birgit Franke and Barbara Welzel (Berlin, 1997), 159-90, at 181 suggest that this revival also reveals a distinct interest in the leading artists of earlier generations.

100 Evans, Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), 565-66; Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 216.

101 See for instance Ambrosios Giakalis, Images of the Divine: the Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Leiden & Boston, 2005).

102 Flémalle-group panels typically do not match the translucency of Jan van Eyck's work because of the degree of opaque lead white mixed in with the other pigments; see Hanley, 'The Optical Concerns of Jan van Eyck's Painting Practice', 222-35, with citations of previous literature.

103 I am grateful to Mark Tucker, Vice Chair of Conservation and The Aronson Senior Conservator of Paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for examining the panel with a low-power stereomicroscope and sharing his findings with me: 'The gilding, to judge from the microscopically irregular texture that is responsible for the consistently matte effect, even where exposed by tiny paint losses, does not appear to have been burnished at all.  Without analysis it remains an open question what the medium of the pigmented preparatory layer is or what, if any, additional adhesive was used for the laying of the gold. The subtly different levels of brightness that distinguish the gold of the haloes from the gold background do appear to be the product of glazing, as some places in the background where the surface has been disturbed show bright gold exposed. The glazing film is exceedingly thin, however, and under 50X magnification no individual pigment particles were visible.' Personal communication, 7 February 2012.

104 Geelen and Steyaert, 'Relief decorations in the art of around 1400', 160-64; Stroo, Pre-Eyckian Panel Painting, 398; Binski and Massing, The Westminster Retable, 130-35, 143-49.

105 Campbell and Stock, Rogier van der Weyden, cat. no. 19; Hand, Metzger, and Spronk, Prayers and Portraits, cat. no. 38. The Virgin and Child both also have mordant-gilded halo rays, partially superimposed on the background.

106 Prayers and Portraits catalogues 14 devotional portrait diptychs, including the three by Rogier (nos. 37-39), and illustrates four others in the introductory essay; just two others have gilded backgrounds: cat. no. 23, by the Master of the Magdalene Legend (whose accompanying donor portrait was re-gilded at a later date), and one by the Master of the St Ursula Legend, 9-10.

107 Particularly in the Bouts circle; see Valentine Hendericks, Albrecht Bouts: (1451/55 - 1549) (Brussels, 2011), cat. nos. 10, 13-14, 16 (also nos. 51-256), and Hand, Metzger, and Spronk, Prayers and Portraits, cat. nos. 3-4.

108 Campbell and Stock, Rogier van der Weyden, 319.

109 Hand, Metzger, and Spronk, Prayers and Portraits, 301-02.

110 J.R.J. Van Asperen de Boer, 'A scientific re-examination of the Ghent Altarpiece,' Oud Holland 93 (1979): 141-214, at 167, 169, 173, 175. Overpainted silver foil is used in Lucas Moser's 1432 Tiefenbronn Altarpiece for the depiction of water, and the panel also has extensive gilding; see Rolf E. Straub et al., 'Der Magdalenenaltar des Lucas Moser', in Beiträge zur Untersuchung und Konservierung mittelalterlicher Kunstwerke (Munich & Berlin, 1974), 9-46.

111 Metzger and Steyaert, 'Painting, a distinct profession', 174; Hand, Metzger, and Spronk, Prayers and Portraits, 302.

112 Nicole Veronee-Verhaegen, L'Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune (Brussels, 1973); Dirk De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden: the Complete Works, trans. Ted Alkins (New York, 1999), cat. no. 17; Maurice-Chabard, La splendeur des Rolin, 67-110.

113 Werner Paravicini, 'Soziale Schichtung und soziale Mobilität am Hof der Herzoge von Burgund,' Francia: Forschungen zur Westeuropäischen Geschichte 5 (1977): 127-82, esp. 148-52, 168. On Bladelin see Wim De Clercq, Jan Dumolyn, and Jelle Haemers, '"Vivre noblement": material culture and elite identity in late medieval Flanders,' Journal of Interdisciplinary History 38, no. 1 (2007): 1-31; and for the painting he commissioned from Rogier—much earlier in his career than Rolin, and some 35 years before he was ennobled—Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 33.

114 Hermann Kamp, 'Le fondateur Rolin, le salut de l'âme et l'imitation du duc', in Maurice-Chabard, La splendeur des Rolin, 67-80; Laura Gelfand, 'Piety, nobility and posterity: wealth and the ruin of Nicolas Rolin's reputation,' Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 1, no. 1 (2009).

115 Harbison, Jan van Eyck, 107-22.

116 See J.R.J. Van Asperen de Boer, Jeltje Dijkstra, and Roger van Schoute, Underdrawing in Paintings of the Rogier van der Weyden and Master of Flémalle Groups (Zwolle, 1992), 181-201.

117 Veronee-Verhaegen, L'Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, 53-58. The speckling is best seen in the black-and-white photographs of this volume.

118 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 23; Van Asperen de Boer, Dijkstra, and Schoute, Underdrawings, 286.

119 Antje-Fee Köllermann, 'Netherlandish painting before the master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden', in Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 39-51, at 46-47. Of the original painting, only a fragment with the crucifixion survives in the Brussels Royal Museum of Fine Arts, although the full composition is known from later copies (depicting two different donor figures) in the treasury of Bruges' St Salvator and the Museo Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid.

120 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. nos. 3-4; Jeltje Dijkstra, 'The Brussels and the Mérode Annunciation reconsidered', in Foister and Nash, Robert Campin,  95-104; Lorne Campbell, 'Robert Campin, the Master of Flémalle and the Master of Mérode,' Burlington Magazine 116 (1974): 634-46.

121 Van Asperen de Boer, Dijkstra, and Schoute, Underdrawings, 116; Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 188.

122 Billinge et al., 'Methods and materials', 8; Kirby, 'The price of quality', 21.

123 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 188.

124 Ibid., 195.

125 On the symbolism of such objects see Barbara Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting (New York, 1984), 41-77; Craig Harbison, 'Realism and symbolism in early Flemish painting,' Art Bulletin 66, no. 4 (1984): 588-602; Robert G. Calkins, 'Secular objects and their implications in early Netherlandish painting', in Art into Life: Collected Papers from the Kresge Art Museum Medieval Symposia, ed. Carol Garrett Fisher and Kathleen L. Scott (East Lansing, 1995), 183-211.

126 Varying theories have been proposed as to the donor and circumstances of production, including a further revision when the female donor and background messenger were added to the left wing; see Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen, eds, From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1998), 92, 95-96; Felix Thürlemann, Robert Campin (Munich, 2002), 58-73; and Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 195-200. In any case it is clear that the triptych was painted by more than one artist.

127 Francis X. Taney Sr., Anne Miller, and C. Mary Stallings-Taney, eds, Meditations on the life of Christ (Asheville, N.C., 2000); James Marrow, Passion Iconography in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages: A Study of the Transformation of Sacred Metaphor into Descriptive Narrative (Kortrijk, 1979); Sixten Ringbom, Icon to Narrative: The Rise of the Dramatic Close-Up in Fifteenth-Century Devotional Painting, 2nd ed. (Doornspijk, 1984).

128 Craig Harbison, 'Visions and meditations in early Flemish painting,' Simiolus 15, no. 2 (1985): 87-118; Bret L. Rothstein, Sight and Spirituality in Early Netherlandish Painting (Cambridge, 2005).

129 On the painting see Blum, Early Netherlandish Triptychs, 29-36; De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden, cat. no. 19; Barbara G. Lane, 'Early Italian sources for the Braque Triptych,' The Art Bulletin 62, no. 2 (1980): 281-84.

130  Philippe Lorentz and Micheline Comblen-Sonkes, Musée du Louvre, Paris III (Bruxelles, 2001), 135, 145.

131 Paul Leprieur, 'Un triptyque de Roger de la Pasture au Musée du Louvre,' Gazette des beaux-arts 10 (1913): 257-80, at 273-80.

132 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 22.

133 Carmen Garrido, 'The Campin group paintings in the Prado Museum', in Foister and Nash, Robert Campin, 55-70, at 56-57.

134 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 13. The Visitation and Adoration of the Magi are in Berlin, the Nativity in the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, and the Presentation in the Temple in the Petit Palais in Paris.

135 Hanley, 'Review of exhibition: Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden', 579.

136 Campbell and Stock, Rogier van der Weyden, cat. no. 69; gold is also used for the lettering on God the Father's mantle and for the halo rays.

137 E. Melanie Gifford, 'Assessing the evolution of van Eyck's iconography through technical study of the Washington Annunciation, I', in Foister, Jones, and Cool, Investigating Jan van Eyck, 59-66, at 65.

138 Van Asperen de Boer, 'A scientific re-examination of the Ghent Altarpiece', 188-94; the rays were later added to and extended. Treatment of this panel under the on-going KIK-IRPA conservation/restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece is scheduled for 2016-17,  http://www.kikirpa.be/EN/249/461/Restoration%20of%20the%20Ghent%20Altarpiece.htm.

139 For example Memling's 1487 Maarten van Nieuwenhove Diptych in Bruges and Van der Goes' c. 1470 Monforte Altarpiece and c. 1480 Adoration of the Shepherds in Berlin.

140 For these works see Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. nos. 29, 37, though the gilding or lack thereof is not discussed.

141 Ibid., 354.  The later copy of the St John Altarpiece probably by Juan de Flandes (see cat. no. 38) appears not to use gold.

142 Ibid., cat. no. 5.

143 Micheline Comblen-Sonkes, Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon (Brussels, 1986), 174.

144 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 10.

145 See Lew Andrews, Story and Space in Renaissance Art: The Rebirth of Continuous Narrative (Cambridge, 1995), 1-33.



Illustrations