WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)
Bladelin Triptych (right wing)1445-50
Oil on oak panel, 91 x 40 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin
The scenes in the side panels depict the advent of the Son of God on earth being announced in miraculous visions to the Roman emperor Octavian (Augustus) and to the three Magi. The Christ Child receives the homage of both East and West, that is to say the whole world as displayed in the panorama of the open triptych: the West is symbolized by the Roman empire - which was regarded as the direct predecessor of the medieval Holy Roman Empire - the East by the Magi, and between them stands the Holy Land with Bethlehem, to the medieval mind the centre and navel of the world.
The three pictures in the triptych are united not so much by their background setting as by the figures. These are all on the same scale, and are linked to create a compositional line running through the three panels: arranged on both wings in a semi-circle turning in, and on the central panel in a semi-circle turning out, they curve rhythmically in an undulating line - a good example of Rogier's "sense of rhythm." The panels are also linked by the skillful distribution of colour, with the red robe of the oldest king on the right, for instance, echoing the red garments of St. Joseph on the central panel, while the red-patterned gold brocade worn by the central king is matched by Octavian's robe on the opposite wing. These mirror-image correspondences are slightly shifted toward the central axis, and there are many other interrelating colour notes. However, the colour also has other meanings. On the wings, where it is distributed in smaller areas over the surface of the picture and is thus more varied, it illustrates the secular magnificence of earthly rulers, while on the central panel the symphony of red, white and black makes a nobler and sterner effect. Symbolically, white stands for Mary's virginity, while the black worn by the donor was the fashionable colour of the upper classes of the time. The colour composition of the altarpiece as a whole, constantly balancing its slight asymmetries, is well calculated, although ultimately the impression is of rather too regular a kind of diversity, without deep meaning or resonance.