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

Crucifixion Triptych

c. 1445
Oil on oak panel, 101 x 70 cm (central panel), 101 x 35 cm (each wing)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

A rectangular framework design, not linked to the depiction behind it, occurs in this triptych that has a Crucifixion in the middle. As in the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, a unified scene, in this case a landscape, links all three panels, while the centre is marked off from the side panels and emphasized. Not only do the gestures of Mary, John, and the grieving angels express strong emotion, so also do the billowing cloak of St John and the ends of Christ's loincloth, which swirl ornamentally in the air, though on the whole the work is less emotional than the Abegg Triptych. The donors, a married couple, have approached the Cross; they are shown on the same scale as the saints, though they are not to be seen as really part of the Crucifixion scene - they are present only in thought, in their prayer and meditation, and are thus on a different plane of reality from the other figures. Their relation to the main scene is like that of the Christian believer to the image before which he or she kneels devoutly.

The Crucifixion Triptych, like the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, is impressive in its composition. The two are linked not only by the use of a painted golden frame structure in the picture (not found, or not yet found, in any other surviving works by Rogier), but also in the style of the underdrawing. Both works may have been created at roughly the same time, and the dating of the triptych to around 1445, on dendrochronological evidence, would support that theory. Certainly the designs of both pictures derive from Rogier himself, but his assistants seem to have been involved in the execution, and perhaps did some of the preparatory underdrawing as well. The figures of the triptych are executed to a very high standard. However, they seem more abstract and graphic and less three-dimensional than those in the great Deposition (Prado, Madrid), the Madonna in Red (Prado, Madrid), and the Miraflores Altarpiece (Staatliche Museen, Berlin). There is less play of light and shade, and although the landscape is crisscrossed by many rocky crevices and paths, it seems rather empty. Not a single blade of grass enlivens the foreground, and the view into the distance, with the town, also seems dry and lacking in atmosphere, in marked contrast to the artist's other landscapes.