WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)
St Columba Altarpiece (central panel)c. 1455
Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
The picture shows the Adoration of the Magi, the central panel of the altarpiece executed for the St Columba church in Cologne.
The composition of the central panel demonstrates a masterly balance between freedom and discipline. The Virgin and Child are shifted slightly to the left of the middle axis, which appears to run through the central pillar and down into the hat of the kneeling king. In fact, however, even these two details lie slightly left of centre. This left-hand bias is compensated by the figures of the second kneeling king and the third, youngest king, visually strongly accented by his expansively angled pose. The asymmetrical ruins of the stable correspond precisely to the composition of the main group. Insofar as Rogier arranges his figures from left to right in the style of a relief and orients his architecture parallel to the pictorial plane, he remains true to the principles underlying his Descent from the Cross. Here, however, he displays a more sovereign mastery of the organic structuring of the human figure and the partial creation of spatial depth.
The anachronistic little crucifix at the centre of the picture anticipates the purpose of Christ's life on earth, His act of redemption. The donor, with a rosary, kneels on the extreme left, divided from the rest of the scene by a small wall.