Gilding made pictorial and the paragone with sculpture and textiles

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The ars nova's depiction of immersive spaces must have struck its audiences as particularly astonishing in comparison with other artistic media of the time, and the panels themselves certainly suggest a keen self-awareness of their conceptual advantage.146 Netherlandish paintings from the 1420s onwards frequently make a point of replicating all kinds of spaces and surfaces, including other forms of contemporary art and luxury products like sculpture, metalwork, and textiles.147 The Van Eycks' Ghent Altarpiece in particular (Fig. 27, 28), in format a puzzling conjunction of heterogeneous panels in various scales of representation, presents across its open and closed states a virtual compendium of everything that painting could render, from different sorts of objects and figures to the various spaces within which they could be situated—interior rooms, extended landscape, background cityscape, shallow stone niches, semi- and entirely abstract grounds. This variety evidently appealed to the patrons under whom the work was completed, the patrician burgomaster of Ghent Jodocus Vijd and his wife Elizabeth Borluut, themselves depicted with persuasive realism on the exterior wings.148 No other artistic medium at that time could equal these broad-ranging powers of depiction, including miniatures in illuminated manuscripts, which could represent space, detail, and illumination but not all of the sophisticated optical properties of painting in oil.149

Where pre-Eyckian paintings tried to look like metalwork (Fig. 4, Fig. 5, Fig. 6), ars nova painters instead firmly emphasized their key differences from other visual media. Here I argue that the first-generation painters' experimentation with, and ultimate rejection of, gilding was closely connected with their simultaneous establishment of panel painting as an independent practice from sculpture. Even though sculpture is literally three-dimensional, it could not match the new paintings' remarkable rendition of spatial depth; early sculpted works instead typically projected forward from a flat ground, their surfaces emphasized by polychromy and gilding. A number of early ars nova painted panels depict sculpture and/or hanging textiles in near-trompe-l'oeil in a shallow space to achieve an analogous effect of a figure appearing to project forward, and they experiment with how gilding might augment this illusion, thus interrogating painting's artistic capacities in overt comparison with other familiar art forms of the time. Before long, however, these configurations became less common in the panels by leading Netherlandish painters, as they instead concentrated on painting's singular capacity to suggest spatial depth, with which gilding could only interfere; only on the painted wings of later carved altarpieces do figures again appear juxtaposed against gilded cloths in shallow space, often with flat gilded halo discs as well.150 The Netherlandish practice was unusual, since German and Spanish painters throughout the fifteenth century regularly juxtaposed naturalistic figures against a flattened gilded backdrop, as if this was an aesthetic tension they fully expected from painted panels.151 Thus early Netherlandish painters made a specific practice of minimizing or eliminating gold leaf in conjunction with minimizing awareness of the panel surface and its materials of creation, while the practice of gilding remained associated with sculpture.

Pre-Eyckian painters typically worked closely with sculptors, and that was also the case for the first generation of Eyckian painters.152 Sculpture in this period was rarely left completely bare. Expensive materials like alabaster or marble might be only partially painted to leave much of the surface visible (and thus available for admiration), but stone and wood would normally be entirely covered in paint and gold leaf, even if the high cost of polychromy (especially gilding) sometimes led to long delays.153 The Altarpiece of the Crucifixion commissioned by duke Philip the Bold for the Champmol Charterhouse (Fig. 29, 30)154 exemplifies the typical relationship between painting and sculpture at the time that the ars nova began, and it also shows a typical wooden sculpted altarpiece format (if slightly unusual in shape) prior to the development of the entirely painted retable. The interior of the altarpiece (Fig. 29) consists entirely of small-scale carving by Jacques de Baerze, a combination of single figures on the inside wings and narrative scenes in the centre, standing against a patterned gilded backdrop and surmounted by micro-architectural canopies (which today are heavily but faithfully restored).155 All of these sculpted elements were polychromed and gilded (predominantly surviving in the original) by Melchior Broederlam, who also painted the exterior scenes on the wings (Fig. 30). All of the drapery of the interior statuettes is gilded (Fig. 29a)—pure gold for outer clothing, sometimes brocaded gowns in red or blue underneath—so that the opened retable could almost be taken for solid metalwork, whereas the painted drapery on the exterior wings is rendered in deeply saturated colours. The painted wings also (somewhat paradoxically) depict a greater spatial depth than the interior, with the burnished gold background serving semi-representationally as sky rather than the purely flat abstract backdrop of the interior. Broederlam's wings have often been discussed by art historians without reference to the rest of the altarpiece, but it is important to recognize that he painted these scenes with the same materials that he used to polychrome the interior sculpture, if with a reduced proportion of gilding to colour, for an effect closer to enamels. This would have been a common experience for painters of the time, who often worked with stone sculpture as well as wood—for instance Philip the Bold's court painter Jean Malouel gilded and polychromed Claus Sluter's large stone crucifixion group at Champmol known as the Well of Moses, though most of the polychromy is now worn away.156

The leading named figures of the ars nova known to have been working already in the 1420s are all documented as having themselves polychromed sculpture in stone and/or wood, though almost none of this work survives. Hubert van Eyck was commissioned in 1426 to polychrome a statue of Saint Anthony in Ghent; Robert Campin gilded and polychromed sculpture on numerous occasions in Tournai from 1406/7 onwards, including in 1428 an extant stone Annunciation group by Jean Delemer, during the period when Rogier van der Weyden and Jacques Daret were both registered in his workshop.157 Rogier himself is recorded as polychroming and gilding sculpture in 1427 or 1428 and again 1433-35 in Tournai, then in Brussels he polychromed a stone votive monument in 1439-40 and a wooden tomb effigy in 1458-59 (possibly he also designed both works); in the last year of his life he polychromed a statue from the facade of the Coudenberg palace.158 Jan van Eyck gilded and polychromed six stone statues for the facade of Bruges' town hall in 1434, and was paid extra for the quality of his work.159 Jacques Daret's panels from the Saint-Vaast abbey (Fig. 21, Fig. 22) constituted the wings of a sculpted altarpiece created to house alabaster apostles that the abbot had purchased from a German merchant, and Daret executed the gilding and polychromy of the altarpiece ensemble as well as other sculpted works in the church. His father and grandfather had both been sculptors in wood.160

This same generation of painters, whether despite or (more likely) as a consequence of this experience, firmly established the independence of panel painting from sculpture. Moreover, this process went hand-in-hand with the near-elimination of gold leaf from panels, even while extensive gilding continued on sculpted works. Sculptural polychromy and gilding emphasized the ground surface of the object; by implication, sculpture needed colour for best effect and, in cases of extensive gilding, sought to align itself with the high-end decorative arts. The new panel painting, on the other hand, quickly established its value by eliminating attention to the artwork's surface. None of the leading Netherlandish painters who began working in the 1440s or later, including Petrus Christus, Dieric Bouts, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes and Gerard David, appear to have worked directly with sculpture (if occasionally still with manuscripts, as had many of the first ars nova artists).161 Nor for the most part did these later painters use much gilding, though with a few notable exceptions on atypical objects such as Hans Memling's St Ursula Shrine and Hugo van der Goes' Trinity organ wings.162 By the later fifteenth century, those artists who polychromed sculpture and/or painted the wing panels for carved altarpieces were typically specialists in these practices rather than the leading panel painters, who focused on fully painted artworks.163 An essential factor of the ars nova, then, was its redefinition of painting's independent field of expertise. The leading panel painters may have increasingly designed for other media including sculpture, tapestry, and embroidery164—thus reinforcing their claim to creative authority—but by the second generation they only executed painted images, which included ever less gold leaf.

Painting's traditional ties to sculpture are reflected in the frequent depiction within early ars nova panels of unpolychromed stone sculpture (interestingly not bare wooden sculpture), particularly on the exterior wings of altarpieces like Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece (Fig. 27), Rogier's Last Judgment (Fig. 15), the Flémalle-group Holy Trinity panel in Frankfurt from a dismembered altarpiece (Fig. 38), and the stone St John the Baptist on the reverse of another Frankfurt Flémalle-group panel, the Thief to the Left of Christ (Fig. 33), the only remaining fragment of a large Deposition altarpiece. All of these ensembles equally experimented with the depiction of hanging brocaded textiles, to which I will return shortly. Rogier also depicted unpainted stone architectural carving framing the narrative scenes in the Miraflores and St John altarpieces (Fig. 24, 25). In depicting sculpture without polychromy, such images highlight painting's ability to persuasively reproduce a three-dimensional medium in two dimensions while making it perfectly obvious that the figures are sculpted rather than 'real', and the practice may also have addressed contemporary concerns about art's potential to evoke idolatry.165 On folding-wing altarpieces the grey colour of the stone further served liturgical expectations that the exteriors should appear less glorious than the interiors, and on triptychs of all kinds it reinforced the sense of threshold distinction between exterior and interior.166 But sculpture is also thereby presented as painters themselves would have encountered it, as waiting to be brought to completion (and, in a sense, to life) by the application of their art.167

The paragone with sculpture is expressed differently in a work made towards the end of the century, at a time when the separation of sculpture from painting had become firmly established. In a now-dismembered painted altarpiece by the Master of Saint Augustine (Fig. 31),168 delicate gilding has been applied in typical fashion to the saint's short halo rays, but very unusually, especially for such a late work, broad patches of gold leaf were also used to render the carved altarpiece in the central chapel. Detailed overpainting establishes the sculpted narratives as a Passion sequence: the Crucifixion can be made out at the centre, as well as Christ at Gesthemane and the arrest, the nailing to the cross, a deposition or lamentation, and Christ's resurrection. Above the small folding wings depicting the other two members of the Trinity, a winged tabernacle encloses a statuette of the Virgin and Child (Fig. 31a). In format the tabernacle broadly recalls the c. 1395-1400 Tower Retable in Antwerp, and the painter included sufficient detail to identify the tiny narratives.169 He also meticulously rendered two metal processional crosses erected behind the altar, grisaille stained glass images of standing saints, and elaborate embroidered and brocaded vestments. It is striking that all of the metallic textiles, as well as the crosses and the bishops' croziers, are rendered in paint alone and are placed convincingly in three-dimensional space, whereas the real gold leaf applied to the carved altarpiece has a rather flattening effect when directly illuminated (Fig. 31a). This is a work by a minor master, whose juxtaposition of varied narratives betrays some awkwardness of spatial organisation, so the seemingly archaic use of gilding could be perceived as a throwback by an artist insensitive to the disruptive visual properties of gold leaf. However, given the panel's insistent emphasis on its capacity to represent various types of artwork convincingly, it seems more likely that the painter deliberately turned the sculpted altarpiece into the flattest element of the scene, if also the most literally flashy.

Some decades earlier, during the emergence of the ars nova, the paragone with sculpture, and the claim for painting's superiority, is most overt in Rogier van der Weyden's Deposition (Fig. 32), created for the chapel of the crossbowmen's guild on the outskirts of Leuven.170 At some point in its history the panel had wings, although they do not survive and it is uncertain if they were planned at the outset.171 As has often been observed, the figures are squeezed into a shallow inverted-T-shaped box whose corners are decorated with small details of carved architectural tracery, like a highly simplified carved altarpiece caisse.172 In comparison with Baerze and Broederlam's Altarpiece of the Crucifixion (Fig. 29, 30), Rogier's panel combines the bright saturated colours of a painted exterior with the projected-relief narrative of a carved interior, though on a far larger scale; thus the overall effect is of a narrative group from a carved altarpiece magnified and come to life.

What has not previously been discussed is how the competition with sculpture is heightened by Rogier's use of gold in establishing the painted space. As with Philippe de Croÿ's devotional diptych (Fig. 13) and the Last Judgment (Fig. 14), Rogier used unburnished gold leaf for the background, overpainted with a network of small flecks of semi-translucent paint. However, where the overpaint in those other two panels creates semi-abstract heavenly spaces of undefined depth, here it is organized into shading that visually establishes the specific construction of the carved shrine (Fig. 32a). Moreover, unlike the later altarpiece depicted by the Master of Saint Augustine (Fig. 31a), the shrine here constitutes the entire work, rather than being situated as an isolated object within deeper space. Thus Rogier's Deposition appears to depict a three-dimensional setting whose interior is gilded, rather than looking like a flat panel with a gilded ground.173 The shallowness of the depicted depth, together with the overpainted shading, reduces the risk that the shine of light on the gold leaf will contradict the represented space by drawing attention to the panel's surface. The painting thus foregrounds Rogier's capacity to master, and then surpass, the best that contemporary sculpture could do, and it particularly demonstrates his concern to incorporate gold as a pictorial feature rather than emphasize it as a material: he manipulates the gilding to enhance the perception that gold has been depicted rather than merely applied.

Hubert or Jan van Eyck174 achieved a similar effect in the Ghent Altarpiece in gilding the semi-circular arches behind God, Mary, and John the Baptist in the upper register of the interior (Fig. 28, Fig. 28a). Again unburnished gold leaf is overpainted with depicted shading, in this case not tiny flecks but thin layers of glazing (as on the Philadelphia diptych, Fig. 12).175 Compared with Rogier's Deposition, the resulting impression is arguably somewhat closer to trompe-l'oeil, as if Van Eyck has almost conjured into existence an actual three-dimensional gilded surface, although in the context of the whole altarpiece it seems clear that viewers are expected to marvel at its visual persuasiveness rather than mistake its true nature. The gold leaf again establishes the back plane of a defined shallow space, but the Van Eycks made no attempt to maintain a consistent ground plane across the entire altarpiece (Fig. 27, 28), as if part of their intention lay in exploring how paint could define a wide range of depicted depths.

In another seminal work of the ars nova, the Thief panel in Frankfurt (Fig. 33), the nature of the gilded backdrop is much more ambiguous.176 On the panel's reverse, which would have been the upper part of the exterior right wing, the damaged remainder of a stone John the Baptist stands in a shallow niche underneath what appears to be a metallic canopy, though depicted entirely with paint, whereas the interior multi-figural Deposition (of which the Thief is only a small fragment) juxtaposed the narrative against a gilded backdrop. The full composition is known from various later imitations including a c. 1500 reduced-size copy now in Liverpool,177 which appears to faithfully reproduce the figures and landscape but sets them against a blue sky; as with the Berlin Crucifixion (Fig. 16), audiences at that later date clearly viewed the still-admired figural composition as incompatible with a non-naturalistic setting.

At the time it was made, however, this large triptych altarpiece appears to have deliberately presented itself as a painted alternative to what would then have been the far more familiar carved format.178 It may have been commissioned by the patrician Jacob Biese the Elder for the parish church of St James in Bruges, a city postulated as an important production centre for early carved altarpieces before the impetus moved to Brabant later in the century.179 Only a handful of pre-1450 carved altarpieces survive, mostly ones that were exported outside the Low Countries; the earliest are the two in Dijon carved for Champmol in the 1390s (of which Fig. 29, 30 is one), known from the accounts to have been modelled after existing altarpieces in Dendermonde and the Cistercian Bijloke abbey in Ghent, and just a few further carved altarpieces are dated around 1410-20, plus a few more in the 1430s-40s. The total amounts to fewer than 20 pre-1450 works, and unfortunately virtually none of these survives in an original state with full polychromy and gilding; for instance the gilding on the central carving of the high altarpiece in St Reinoldi in Dortmund (Fig. 34) was stripped off at some point between 1853 and 1890.180 Like the Baerze/Broederlam Altarpiece of the Crucifixion (Fig. 29, Fig. 30), arguably the best preserved, and like the fictive altarpiece depicted by the Master of Saint Augustine (Fig. 31), most of these works present small-scale single saints and narrative scenes underneath extensive micro-architectural canopies, and those with remaining original polychromy are extensively water gilded with a limited range of other, mostly flesh tones; the majority also have an inverted T-shape, often depicting the crucifixion in the centre, with carved inner wings that are sometimes painted on the exterior (as at Champmol), although, by around 1430-40, the wings were generally entirely painted on both sides, as already in the Dortmund altarpiece (Fig. 33). After the earliest works, carved altarpieces also soon devoted much more of their sculpture and/or micro-architectural background to establishing an implied setting for the narratives, perhaps in response to the ars nova.181 Later carved altarpieces display the same characteristics, although they are usually dominated more heavily by narrative and polychromed with a much wider range of colours.182

In contrast to southern German carved altarpieces, which normally feature large single figures in limewood with smaller narratives reserved for wing reliefs, Netherlandish carved altarpieces used a small scale for both carved and painted elements, in part due to origins and market expectations, in part a consequence of the Baltic oak planks most commonly used to carve the figural scenes.183 Small-scale sculpted figural groups set in a shallow space would also have been familiar to Netherlandish audiences from stone memorials, particularly those manufactured in Tournai (Fig. 35).184 Therefore the Flémalle-group Deposition's highly unusual life-size scale on both exterior and interior (Fig. 33)—which never became common in either panel painting or sculpted altarpieces in the Burgundian Netherlands—would have presented a pronounced alternative to familiar works, similar to Rogier's slightly later Deposition (Fig. 32) but on an even more magnificent scale.

The painted Deposition also differentiated itself in other respects from contemporary carved altarpieces, including the lack of micro-architecture, the somewhat broader palette range, and the stone sculpture depicted on the exterior. What does nevertheless distinctly recall carved altarpieces is the interior's juxtaposition of a powerfully modelled figural narrative against a gleaming gold setting (though unburnished rather than water gilded). The effect is of strong relief, analogous to the Philadelphia Christ and the Virgin (Fig. 12),185 but used for a narrative rather than iconic subject, like the Berlin Crucifixion in its original state (Fig. 16). The juxtaposition creates a distinct visual contrast, as do early sculpted narratives themselves in presenting literally three-dimensional figural scenes silhouetted against an undefined flat ground (Fig. 29, 29a). What is particularly striking about the Thief remnant is the distinctive technique used for gilding the background: it is made with mordant-gilded applied cast reliefs, as with Hendrik van Rijn's 1363 epitaph (Fig. 4), but rather than a heraldic motif the reliefs here constitute raised patterns of stripes that imitate brocaded cloth (Fig. 33a). The wear of the intervening centuries makes it difficult to discern the pattern (consisting of alternating decorated banderols and birds on pomegranates),186 but it would have been much more evident in its original state.

The applied brocade technique had at that time only recently been introduced: its first known fifteenth-century appearance is on the painted wings of the carved Netherlandish altarpiece acquired c. 1420-25 by Hanseatic merchants for St Reinoldi in Dortmund (Fig. 34), and it appears again in a slightly later German triptych in Cologne, with the Thief/Deposition following soon after.187 Applied brocades were also used in two further extant ars nova works, on the Ghent Altarpiece for the three brocaded hangings behind the upper central figures (Fig. 28, 28a), and on the exterior wings of Rogier's Last Judgment Altarpiece for the hangings behind the donors (Fig. 15, 15a), though most of the actual reliefs in the latter case have worn away.188 In contrast to the Thief fragment, both of these works clearly depict textiles hanging in a defined space, although the Ghent Altarpiece gives little indication of how the cloths are suspended or their precise physical relationship to the gilded arches. All three works use the technique called continuous applied brocade: the panel was covered by tin rectangles in which the brocaded reliefs had been cast, rather than the alternative possibility of applying individual cast cut-outs for each pattern repeat (called local applied brocades-both techniques were used on the Dortmund altarpiece panels to depict various brocaded textiles, Fig. 34).189 Thereafter applied brocades disappeared from Netherlandish panel painting, other than on a few wing panels of carved altarpieces made later in the century by specialists in this practice (not the leading panel painters). But they became very common on sculpture, and they also appeared in wall painting, as well as on panel paintings in other countries including many parts of Germany and Spain.190

In virtually all of these cases, whether in painting or on sculpted figures, gilded applied brocades were designed to create a visual mimesis of gold-shot textiles: the raised lines of gilded tin replicate the parallel lines of woven gold thread, and the surrounding areas were usually painted over to represent the silk parts of the fabric, as in the Ghent Altarpiece (Fig. 28a); the Last Judgment gold cloths may once have been similarly overpainted with red detailing, judging by a few fragments around the figures (Fig. 15, Fig. 15a). On sculpture, where represented brocades lie on the work's surface both literally and conceptually, applied gilded relief has strong trompe-l'oeil potential, but given that most panel paintings conceptually situate represented textiles well behind the actual panel surface, applied brocades are likely to create greater visual ambiguity. Hence, it would seem, their limitation to just a couple of works, and in those rare cases for hangings portrayed at a relatively shallow distance exactly parallel to the picture plane.

In comparison with the Last Judgment and the Ghent Altarpiece, the Thief panel (Fig. 33) seems to acknowledge this potential for visual conflict and leave it deliberately unresolved, since although in part the brocade looks like a literal rendition of gold cloth, it cuts off along the line of the landscape and thus serves the traditional function of a general patterned background, like those seen in earlier illuminated manuscripts (Fig. 8). In later carved German altarpieces the interior of the caisse was sometimes decorated with applied brocades behind the standing figures of saints,191 so possibly the Deposition's unique background was meant to imitate sculpted altarpieces, although direct comparisons are virtually impossible given the dearth of surviving evidence, and punched decorations may have been more common in Netherlandish works (Fig. 29). In any case, it seems likely that, like the Philadelphia Christ and the Virgin (Fig. 12), the Flémalle-group Deposition deliberately created a visual paradox by evoking contrasting impressions of flat ground and depth, painting and sculpture, abstract space and textiles, thus making the scene from Christ's Passion appear simultaneously timeless/visionary and immediate/present, a potent combination for an image serving as a backdrop to the Eucharist.192

In doing so, this work presented painting as a conceptually richer medium than sculpture. Where the extensive gilding of early carved altarpieces was designed to look like precious metalwork193—as is particularly evident in the Champmol altarpieces (Fig. 29), as well as the depicted altarpiece by the Master of Saint Augustine (Fig. 31, Fig. 31a), and even to some degree the Dortmund altarpiece, despite the loss of so much of its gilding (Fig. 34)—the Thief fragment transposes the back-lit effect of such works into a painterly realm. Moreover, like Rogier's later Philippe de Croÿ diptych (Fig. 13), the panel invites viewers to compare the real gleaming leaf of the background with skilful painted imitation of metallic and jewelled detail, since the clothing of the two men at the base of the cross is done entirely with paint. Such overt contrast occurs in a number of works of this era, often seemingly for aesthetic and conceptual reasons (like the Master of Saint Augustine's triptych, Fig. 31) rather than the differentiating iconographic function in the Flémalle-group Nativity (Fig. 26, Fig. 26a). Rogier's Deposition for instance (Fig. 32, Fig. 32a) renders the gold-thread textiles worn by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea with paint alone; in the Ghent Altarpiece (Fig. 28, Fig. 28a) the jewelled metalwork and the golden border decoration of the garments worn by the Virgin, God the Father, and John the Baptist are also rendered entirely in paint; and Rogier's Last Judgment outer wings (Fig. 15) juxtaposes real gilding on the coats of arms and the hanging cloths-of-gold with the painted brocaded cloths covering the prie-dieux. In all of these cases, the difference in materials would have been clearly evident from the action of light on the panel surface, and they appear to be motivated by representational persuasiveness: the objects that project in three dimensions use paint, whereas only the purely flat surfaces are gilded. Surely the artists expected viewers to admire the achievements of the paint rather than perceive it as inferior to the adjacent gold.

Flat brocaded hangings were also created with a more painterly gilding technique in a few other early Flémalle-group panels. In the case of the Cleveland panel depicting John the Baptist (Fig. 11), the entire background was gilded and partly covered over in green paint to simulate a brocaded cloth, although compared to later more sophisticated techniques it looks distinctly flat, more like a patterned backdrop than a true textile. A far more persuasive representation appears in two of the three Frankfurt panels for which the 'Master of Flémalle' was originally named, respectively depicting St Veronica and the Virgin and Child before different brocade hangings (Fig. 36, Fig. 37), similar to those seen on the Ghent altarpiece.194 Here, however, the technique is not applied relief but gilding on a thick mordant, thick enough that the patterns are slightly raised as they would be on a cast relief.195 These panels thus use a more painterly technique to achieve an analogous effect to the applied brocades of the Ghent Altarpiece, although the two Frankfurt panels slightly vary in approach. On the Veronica, the striated lines are closer together and directly imitate the appearance of local applied brocades, the type that is cut out rather than an entire square of tin applied (Fig. 36a); in the Virgin panel, the raised gilded lines of mordant are a little broader and more separated from each other, as if attempting to look more like brocaded cloth itself rather than applied brocades (Fig. 37a). Here the broader interstices have led to greater flaking of the leaf, so that currently, when seen in person, the Veronica backdrop appears to have brighter gold, although that would surely not originally have been the case.196

The backgrounds of the two Flémalle panels still appear distinctively flat, and only the bottom-edge borders of the hanging textiles can be seen, thus enhancing an ambiguous ground/projection effect as in the Philadelphia Christ and the Virgin (Fig. 12) and the Thief panel (Fig. 33). This is particularly exacerbated in the Virgin by the flat jewel-encrusted halos (similar to those on the Philadelphia panel), applied over a bole; they have been covered with a thick coloured glaze,197 perhaps to moderate the gleam as far as possible, though it has not yet been possible to conclude whether the halos are burnished or unburnished (the latter seems much more likely). Like the Flémalle-group Deposition, these panels appear to have been conceived in relation to sculpture, but this time probably as part of a carved rather than fully painted altarpiece: the most convincing reconstruction of the original ensemble proposes a double-winged sculpted altarpiece displaying, in the interior, two rows of half-sized sculpture, with sculpted reliefs on the open innermost pair of wings. These would have closed to show, together with the open outer wings, a sequence of four standing saints against brocades, including the Veronica and Virgin; and then the closed outer pair of painted wings depicted two scenes of grisaille sculpture in shallow niches, including the Holy Trinity (Fig. 38), the third panel of the extant group.198 The work would therefore have moved in a sequence from depictions of semi-trompe-l'oeil unpolychromed sculpture on the exterior, to painted three-dimensional-looking figures projected against semi-trompe-l'oeil textiles on the first open wings, to smaller, though now genuinely three-dimensional carved and polychromed figures, probably set against a flat ground. It seems likely then that the painter(s) of these panels deliberately created a visual artistic dialogue with textiles and sculpture, exploring how painting might recreate the specific visual effects of each medium.

Still, the flat ground remains somewhat contradictory to the striking projection of the figures themselves, a tension reinforced by the further gilding on the Virgin panel. In the Veronica (Fig. 36), gold only appears on the back hanging; she has no halo, and the metallic detailing on the hem of her dress was created with paint (thus, as with so many other panels, inviting the viewer to note the contrast). The Virgin, on the other hand, not only has her ostentatious halo, but the brocade on her dress has been created with mordant gilding (Fig. 37b), visually emphasizing her higher status (thus another case of iconographic distinction). The mordant here is much thinner than on the back hanging, hence the gilding better preserved, and the artist(s) applied glazes of overpainted shadow at the left to augment the illusion of cloth hanging in three dimensions rather than applied to the surface of the picture.199 But the potential visual contradictions of this technique quickly led to its disappearance from painted works: hardly again did an early Netherlandish painting render complex textile folds using real gold leaf.  Nor did many subsequent panels establish a flat ground space via gilded hanging textiles, other than on the wings of some carved altarpieces, where the flattening and surface-emphasizing effect of gilding was evidently perceived as appropriate to the work as a whole.200

The archaic quality of this formulation is evident in an approximately mid-century Madonna and Child with Saints in the National Gallery, Washington (Fig. 39),201 where the Virgin and Child are visually emphasized by bright gilding on the central pink hanging and cushion and on the Virgin's hem decoration, with somewhat less vibrant gold on the other textiles. An initial plan to render the saints with heavy mordant-gilded halos was abandoned,202 but, even so, most elements of this composition appear out of step with the latest practice. By this time, not only had textile gilding become unusual in painting, so had an absolutely frontal rendition of hanging cloth. In the case of Rogier's Last Judgment (Fig. 15), which dates around the same time or just slightly earlier, the archaic features of the composition and materials must both have been a specific request from Nicolas Rolin, who evidently wanted his commission to make a strong visual statement about his elevated position and his aspirations to present an established lineage. (It is particularly striking that he and his wife are juxtaposed against the hanging textiles, like Philippe de Croÿ, Fig. 13, whereas it was usually saints who were thus honoured.) Other early Netherlandish panels certainly continued to depict gold-shot textiles, but typically with paint alone. Jan van Eyck set the example as the greatest master of elaborate brocaded textiles, including Gabriel's magnificent red chasuble in the Annunciation in Washington (Fig. 23). After the Ghent Altarpiece, none of his depicted textiles includes any actual gold.203

Across these early gilded panels, the ars nova painters experimented with varied applications of gold leaf to test different means of creating persuasive representational effects. They soon enough concluded, however, that gilding was fundamentally incompatible with painting's singular capacity to render surfaces in deep space, and this representational capacity became more important than gold's intrinsic worth. In this essay I have explored how several of the early panels used gilding to establish a ground space from which figures project forwards, but I would like to conclude with a work that does the opposite, Rogier's Seven Sacraments Altarpiece (Fig. 40). This unusual fixed triptych imaginatively combines Christ's crucifixion with smaller-scale scenes of the sacraments as performed by the church in contemporary life, all taking place within a visually persuasive church interior. The patron, the Tournai bishop Jean Chevrot—who came from a bourgeois family—is incorporated into the depiction, giving confirmation in the middle ground of the left panel (Fig. 40a).204 A number of artworks are portrayed, including embroidered vestments, rubricated manuscripts, the sculpted choir screen, a carved altarpiece beneath it (Fig. 40b),205 another carved altarpiece behind it on the high altar (its Christ in Gethsemane and two flanking angels on columns just visible—both altarpieces oddly lacking wings), the presumably brass eagle lectern next to it, and a seemingly gold-ground painted altarpiece at the back of the north aisle surmounted by a carved winged tabernacle (Fig. 40c). Intriguingly Rogier made it rather difficult to judge the exact materials of which these objects are meant to be made, given his repeated use of muted brownish tones, although their locations are precisely delineated. Surrounding this interior, a fictive gilded framework with Chevrot's and the bishopric's coats of arms in the spandrels establishes the frontal ground space, behind which the church interior extends back.206 Gilding appears in two further places on the panels, a single mostly worn-away line edging the Virgin's blue mantle (contrasting with the other depicted textiles), and the angels' banderols with inscriptions commenting on each sacrament, each partly overpainted with flecks and hatching to show them extending in three dimensions. Evidently their otherworldly nature made the banderols seem suitable objects for space-defying gilding.

The gilded framing device is made persuasively three-dimensional by overpainted flecks and cross-hatching (Fig. 40c, Fig. 40d), though it is in fact as flat as the rest of the panel. It differs from Rogier's Deposition (Fig. 32) or the various ars nova brocaded textiles in that rather than looking like a plausible rendition of a three-dimensional gilded surface, it appears to be a three-dimensional gilded surface, behind which the depicted architecture recedes. Of the ars nova gilding studied here, it is arguably the closest to genuine trompe-l'oeil. Rogier partially acknowledged its fictive nature, however, by its paradoxical integration into the linear perspective of the church interior, as particularly evident at the bases of the gilded piers. The colonnades carry up to become the projected moulding of the frontal archways, depicted in the same perspective as the rest of the architecture, i.e. seen somewhat from the left and below, as is most evident on the upper left corner of the right panel (Fig. 40d). But there are obvious contrasts between this framing architecture and the depicted stonework, not only in the materials but also the architectural style: as has often been observed, the interior arcades with their single columns and foliate capitals are reminiscent of the type of Brabantine Gothic seen in St Gudule in Brussels, but the continuous colonnades of the gilded piers are more analogous to the different architectural style seen in Our Lady in Antwerp, St John in 's-Hertogenbosch, or St Pieter in Leuven (whose choir had just recently been completed).207 It seems that Rogier wanted to subtly reiterate the impossible nature of his visual fiction, which he had been able to generate by skilful painterly manipulation.

Rogier's decision to gild the architectural framework returns us to Alberti's recommendation that gold should be reserved for frames rather than applied to painted scenes. Whether gilding was also applied to the Seven Sacraments' lost original frame itself, and/or to the frames of other works in the Rogier/Flémalle groups, can only be speculated, given that only Jan van Eyck's frames survive in significant numbers.208 In any case, as Alberti suggested, gilded frames need not have contradicted the persuasive nature of early Netherlandish panels: all the more would they create the sensation of carrying viewers through and beyond the panel surface, into an illusory world that only painters could create.

146 An analogous visual case for painters' self-awareness has been argued in Till-Holger Borchert, 'Rogier's St. Luke: the case for corporate identification', in Rogier van der Weyden, St Luke Drawing the Virgin: Selected Essays in Context, ed. Carol J. Purtle (Turnhout, 1997), 61-87.

147 Grams-Thieme, Lebendige Steine; Hugo van der Velden, 'Defrocking St. Eloy: Petrus Christus's vocational portrait of a goldsmith,' Simiolus 26, no. 4 (1998): 242-76; Lisa Monnas, Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings, 1300-1550 (New Haven, 2008).

148 Harbison, Jan van Eyck, 220, 256.

149 Hanley, 'The Optical Concerns of Jan van Eyck's Painting Practice', 180-237.

150 Geelen and Steyaert, Imitation and Illusion, 85-103.

151 See for example the work of Stefan Lochner and his successors, Frank Günter Zehnder, ed., Stefan Lochner, Meister zu Köln: Herkunft-Werke-Wirkung, 3rd ed. (Cologne, 1993), and the collection of fifteenth-century Spanish paintings at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, Maria Rosa Manote i Clivilles et al., Gothic Art Guide, trans. Andrew Langdon-Davies (Barcelona, 2000)./p>

152 Hans Nieuwdorp et al., 'Sculptors and painters in the early Netherlands around 1400', in Campbell and Stock, Rogier van der Weyden, 82-101; Till-Holger Borchert, 'Claus Sluter and early Netherlandish painting: Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck', in Fliegel and Jugie, Art from the Court of Burgundy, 345-51 (esp. 346-48). Documented cases of painters polychroming sculpture are also discussed in Douglas Brine, 'Campin's contemporaries: painting in Tournai in the early fifteenth century', in Nys and Vanwijnsberghe, Campin in Context, 101-12, and in the same valume Daniel Lievois, '"Le chêne qui cache la forêt - Van (een) Eyck die het bos verbergt!": la peinture sur panneau à Gand à l'époque de Robert Campin et de Jan van Eyck', 205-21.

153 Jacobs, Early Netherlandish Carved Altarpieces, 82-87, 280 note 36; Susie Nash, "No Equal in Any Land": André Beauneveu, Artist to the Courts of France and Flanders (London, 2007), 49-51.

154 Fliegel and Jugie, Art from the Court of Burgundy, cat. nos. 68-70.

155 Ibid., 195.

156 Susie Nash, '"The Lord's Crucifix of costly workmanship": colour, collaboration and the making of meaning on the Well of Moses', in Circumlitio. The Polychromy of Antique and Late Medieval Sculpture, ed. Vinzenz Brinkmann, Oliver Primavesi, and M. Hollein (Frankfurt, 2010), 356-81; Louis Courajod, 'La polychromie dans le statuaire du moyen age et de la Renaissance,' Mémoires de la Société nationale des Antiquaires de France 8 (1887): 193-274, at 206-11.

157 W.H. James Weale, Hubert and John van Eyck: Their Life and Work (London and New York, 1908), xxix-xxx; Thürlemann, Robert Campin, 336-58. The original polychromy is unfortunately covered by nineteenth-century overpaint; see Campbell and Stock, Rogier van der Weyden, cat. no. 26, and Camille De Clercq, Lieselote Hoornaert, and Jana Sanyova, '"The Annunciation" by Jean Delemer and Robert Campin: highlights of the material technical study and conservation-restoration treatment', in Campbell, Rogier van der Weyden in Context, 267-77.

158 Albert Châtelet, Rogier van der Weyden: problèmes de la vie et de l'oeuvre (Strasbourg, 1999), 14-18, 22-23, 34-35, 39.

159 Maximiliaan P.J. Martens, 'Artistic Patronage in Bruges Institutions, ca. 1440-1482' (University of California, Santa Barbara, 1992), 91.

160 Henri Loriquet, Journal des travaux d'art exècutès dans l'abbaye de Saint-Vaast par l'abbé Jean du Clercq (1429-1461) (Arras, 1889); Vera F. Vines, 'A reassessment of Jacques Daret in the context of Robert Campin's workshop in Tournai', in Foister and Nash, Robert Campin, 197-206.

161 Thomas Kren and Maryan W. Ainsworth, 'Illuminators and painters: artistic exchanges and interelationships', in Illuminating the Renaissance: the Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, ed. Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick (Los Angeles, 2003), 35-57, and part one of the catalogue; Stephanie Buck, 'Petrus Christus' Berlin wings and the Metropolitan Museum's Eyckian diptych', in Petrus Christus in Renaissance Bruges: An Interdisciplinary Approach, ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth (New York, 1995), 65-83; Maryan W. Ainsworth, '"Diverse patterns pertaining to the crafts of painters or illuminators": Gerard David and the Bening Workshop,' Master Drawings 41, no. 3 (2003): 240-65; Vanwijnsberghe, 'Robert Campin and Tournaisian manuscript painting'; Campbell, 'Rogier van der Weyden and manuscript illumination'.

162 Jeanne Nuechterlein, 'Hans Memling's St Ursula shrine: the subject as object of pilgrimage', in Art and Architecture of Late Medieval Pilgrimage in Northern Europe and the British Isles, ed. Sarah Blick and Rita Tekippe (Leiden, 2004), 51-75; Colin Thompson and Lorne Campbell, Hugo van der Goes and the Trinity Panels in Edinburgh (Glasgow, 1974), 74-75, 79-81.

163 See Jacobs, Early Netherlandish Carved Altarpieces, 99-102. There are a couple of partial exceptions: in the early sixteenth century the north Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch painted the wings for a sculpted altarpiece and supervised, though did not carry out, the altarpiece polychromy, Jacobs, 99-100; in 1453-59 the French-born painter and illuminator Simon Marmion painted the wings for the St Bertin Altarpiece whose central shrine contained sculpture in gilded silver, Rainald Grosshans, 'Simon Marmion. Das Retabel von Saint-Bertin zu Saint-Omer. Zur Rekonstruktion und Entstehungsgeschichte des Altares,' Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 33 (1991): 63-98.

164 Fransen, 'A passion for carving'; Lorne Campbell, 'Rogier van der Weyden and tapestry', 238-50; Elizabeth Cleland, 'Tapestries as a transnational artistic commodity', in Locating Renaissance Art, ed. Carol M. Richardson (London, 2007), 102-32, esp. 111-13; Trnek, 'The liturgical vestments', 213-22.

165 Constanze Itzel, 'Peinture et hétérodoxie. La peinture flamande à la lumière du débat sur les images', in Nys and Vanwijnsberghe, Campin in Context, 139-54.

166 Lynn F. Jacobs, Opening Doors: the Early Netherlandish Triptych Reinterpreted (University Park, 2012), 34-40, 62-65.

167 Early Netherlandish Carved Altarpieces, 89; Borchert, 'Rogier's St. Luke', 63. Some scholars have discounted the idea that these sculptures are meant to be seen as unfinished; see Jacobs, Opening Doors, 37 with further references.

168 Ainsworth and Christiansen, From Van Eyck to Bruegel, 128-32; one of its wings is now in Dublin, with another fragment in Aachen.

169 Depuydt-Elbaum, 'Scenes from the infancy of Christ'. The depicted tabernacle shows standing male and female saints on the outer columns, and on the inner columns from left to right, top to bottom, the meeting of Joachim and Anne, the birth of the Virgin, her presentation in the temple, her marriage to Joseph, the Annunciation, and the Nativity.

170 De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden, cat. no. 4; Edward Van Even, Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent (Leuven, 1895), 436-38.

171 De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden, 31-33; Verougstraete and Schoute, 'Frames and supports in Campin's time', 92.

172 De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden, 12-15.

173 The same technique appears in the 1443 Edelheere Triptych in St Pieter, Leuven, which imitates the Deposition in smaller scale and a rectangular format, with wings depicting the donor family; Micheline Comblen-Sonkes, The Collegiate Church of Saint Peter, Louvain (Brussels, 1996), 129.

174 I leave the identity open to be on the safe side, although I find persuasive Hugo van der Velden's argument (presented to date most fully in conference presentations) that only the lower Adoration of the Lamb was begun by Hubert, finished by Jan van Eyck as of May 1432, and the rest of the altarpiece subsequently added by Jan by mid-May 1435; see the conclusion of Hugo van der Velden, 'A reply to Volker Herzner and a note on the putative author of the Ghent Quatrain,' Simiolus 35, no. 3-4 (2011): 131-41, with a fuller article to follow.

175 Paul Coremans, L'Agneau mystique au laboratoire. Examen et traitement (Antwerp, 1953), 101. Van Asperen de Boer, 'A scientific re-examination of the Ghent Altarpiece', 165-66 discusses the gilding and the painting of the inscriptions though not the shading technique.

176 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 8; on this and Rogier's Deposition as references to carved altarpieces, 222-23.

177 Ibid., fig. 125.

178 Ibid., 222-23.

179 Stephan Kemperdick, Der Meister von Flémalle: Die Werkstatt Robert Campins und Rogier van der Weyden (Turnhout, 1997), 36-39; Evelyn Bertram-Neunzig, 'Das Flügelretabel auf dem Hochaltar der Dortmunder Kirche St. Reinoldi. Untersuchungen zu seiner Gestalt, Ikonographie und Herkunft' (University of Cologne, 2004), 188-91.

180 'Das Flügelretabel', 33, 196-244; Jacobs, Early Netherlandish Carved Altarpieces, 24-26 and passim.

181 This development can be seen in the works studied in Bertram-Neunzig, 'Das Flügelretabel'.

182 Jacobs, Early Netherlandish Carved Altarpieces, 35-49, 81-82.

183 Ibid., 239-44; see also Michael Baxandall, The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany (New Haven, 1980), especially 27-69.

184 Ludovic Nys, Les tableaux votifs tournaisiens en pierre 1350-1475 (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2001).

185 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 222.

186 Geelen and Steyaert, Imitation and Illusion, 549.

187 'Relief decorations in the art of around 1400', 170-72; Imitation and Illusion, 31-33, 49-50 and cat. nos. G2-G3.

188 Imitation and Illusion, 36-39 and cat. nos. 37 and F2; Ingrid Geelen, 'Modelling splendour: applied brocade in the Ghent Altarpiece', in De Mey, Martens, and Stroo, Vision & Material, 129-39.

189 Geelen and Steyaert, Imitation and Illusion, 76-80.

190 Ibid., 39, 85-137.

191 K. W. Bachmann, E. Oellermann, and J. Taubert, 'The conservation and technique of the Herlin Altarpiece (1466),' Studies in Conservation 15, no. 4 (1970): 327-69, esp. 354-65; Geelen and Steyaert, Imitation and Illusion, 54.

192 On the theology and cultural history of the Eucharist see Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1991), especially 12-82. See also Peter Humfrey and Martin Kemp, eds, The Altarpiece in the Renaissance (Cambridge & New York, 1990).

193 Jacobs, Early Netherlandish Carved Altarpieces, 93-95, 100, 210-12.

194 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 6.

195 Geelen and Steyaert, Imitation and Illusion, 34-36; J.R.J. Van Asperen de Boer, 'On the painting technique of the Master of Flémalle panels at Frankfurt', in Foister and Nash, Robert Campin, 21-25, at 23.

196 I am grateful to Christine Haeseler for confirming this observation, personal communication, 31 October 2012.

197 My thanks to Christine Haeseler for this observation, personal communication, 31 October 2012.

198 It seems likely that this original altarpiece was destroyed during the religious upheavals of the 1560s-80s and its remnants later reconstructed as a new altarpiece, which in its turn was eventually dismembered; Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, 212-13.

199 Confirmed by Christine Haeseler, personal communication, 31 October 2012.

200 See for example Geelen and Steyaert, Imitation and Illusion, cat. nos. 35, G5, S4.

201 Kemperdick and Sander, The Master of Flémalle, cat. no. 12.

202 John Oliver Hand and Martha Wolff, Early Netherlandish Painting (Washington, 1986), 35.

203 Lisa Monnas, 'Silk textiles in the paintings of Jan van Eyck', in Foister, Jones, and Cool, Investigating Jan van Eyck, 147-62; Merchants, Princes and Painters, 110-18, 121-47.

204 Campbell and Stock, Rogier van der Weyden, cat. no. 81; De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden, 221.

205 The plausibility of this altarpiece is assessed in Bertram-Neunzig, 'Das Flügelretabel', 247-50.

206 The perspective in the painting as well as the framing, though not the significance of the gilding, are discussed in De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden, 217-20.

207 On these buildings see J.P. Boyazis, 'L'espace intérieur dans l'architecture gothique brabançonne au XVe siècle,' Bulletin de la commission royale des monuments et des sites 12 (1985): 5-57, esp. 35-39, and Markus Hörsch and Krista De Jonge, 'De kerkenbouw. Brabantse religieuze architectuur uit de gotiek', in Gotiek in het Hertogdom Brabant, ed. Krista De Jonge, Piet Geleyns, and Markus Hörsch (Leuven, 2009), 15-61.



Illustrations