MASTER of the Aix Annunciation
(active in 1440s)
Prophet Jeremiah and Christ1443-45
Oil on panel, 152 x 86 cm (each)
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
Like a statue that has become human or a human being turned into a statue, placed in a niche on a stone plinth, the prophet Jeremiah, richly robed in the manner of the period, is deeply absorbed in his book. Crumpled parchments, books, boxes and various other objects on the shelf above evoke the spiritual life and the literary qualities of the figure in an astonishing still-life that is precisely described in subtle and delicate colours. On the reverse the powerful figure of Christ from a Noli me tangere, whose body, violently modelled by the light, gives off a terrible sense of pathos, seems to be in total contradiction with the summarily painted landscape in which he is placed.
This panel represents the left-hand wing of a now dismembered triptych, commissioned by the rich Aix draper Pierre Corpici for the altar that he had founded at the Cathedral of St Saviour's at Aix-en-Provence. The central panel, still preserved in Aix, shows an Annunciation, whilst the left-hand wing depicts, on the front, the prophet Isaiah, and on the back a Magdalen which formed a Noli me tangere along with the Christ on the back of the present panel. The archives tell us that the altarpiece was produced between 1443 and 1445 by an anonymous master, whom certain believe can be identified as Barthélémy d'Eyck. This artist, who probably trained in Flanders, is mentioned in the accounts of the court of René, Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence and King of Sicily from 1447 to 1472. He is believed to be the author of remarkable illuminated manuscripts produced in the king's entourage, as well as designs for embroidery work and stained glass, and a small number of paintings.
A masterwork, the Annunciation altarpiece is no doubt one of the key works of 15th century Provence. The sculptural handling of the draperies, the geometric shapes and the exemplary use of intense light betray the Mediterranean facet of the artist's culture. At the same time, the concern for detail, the love of and careful working of the materials, the shadows and the portrait-like realism of the prophet's face point more to the Flemish tradition. The painter succeeds in combining these two visions in a brilliant synthesis which was to profoundly influence Provençal painting and to leave its lasting mark on many important workshops in southern France.