WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)

The Annunciation

c. 1440
Oil on oak panel, 86 x 93 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Louvre Annunciation is the central panel of a triptych the wings of which are most probably not the work of Rogier. Its style is quite different from that of the Descent from the Cross and shows closer affinities to that of Jan Van Eyck. It even reproduces certain details familiar to us from the Arnolfini Marriage, including the red of the bed clothes and hangings and the carved copper chandelier. Instead of the famous convex mirror, the painting features a copper medallion glinting in the background. This is also a picture replete with symbols in typical Campin style: lily, ewer and basin for purifying water, representing the purity of the Virgin Mary; a phial traversed by a ray of light evoking the miraculous birth; an orange or "Chinese apple", fruit of the forbidden tree, reminding us of the necessity of Redemption; extinguished candles, awaiting the coming of the Light, i.e. the Word made flesh.

The painting seems to have been designed to suit the Flemish taste for intimate domestic scenes, according to which painters were expected to portray religious themes in familiar bourgeois interiors. Yet, this does not derive from any concern for the minutiae of realist detail, but from properly theological reasons.

The new religious tendency in Flanders at that time was the "devotio moderna". This doctrine urged the believer to meditate on Christ's humanity, by representing it to himself in the context of his present life. In Rogier's painting, the contemporary setting, underlined by the absence of haloes, is meant to draw the viewer in so that he effectively participates in the scene before him. This is why the angel Gabriel appears before Mary dressed in an immaculate alb and magnificent brocade cope, as if he had come to celebrate mass, rather than deliver a message.