WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)
Abegg Triptychc. 1445
Oil on oak panel, 102 x 70,5 cm (central), 103 x 31 cm (each wing)
Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg near Berne
The Abegg Triptych was painted for an Italian gentleman, an unidentified member of the Villa family from Chieri in Piedmont, who were active in banking in the Netherlands. Their coat of arms appears in the glazed window in the left wing. The picture is generally regarded as a late work by one of Rogier's successors, perhaps not painted until the 1460s, though some of the figures of the Crucifixion were copied as early as 1447 by the Hamburg painter Hans Bornemann, who died in 1475. The costume of the donor and the findings from dendrochronological investigation allow us to date the picture to the middle of the 1440s. Compared to figures in works by Rogier's own hand the figures here, particularly in the Crucifixion, seem excessively emotional; instead of radiating dignified grief they are uttering loud cries of lamentation.
Once again, the design of the triptych must have been by an assistant in Rogier's workshop. The figure of the red-robed St. John to the left of the Cross shows how he reworked the master's figural types to suit his own ideas. The model is St John in Rogier's Deposition (Prado, Madrid), and it is followed faithfully in such details as the right foot. The folds of the robe, however, are more strongly modeled.
The cloak in particular, very dynamically draped and with a large fold flung backward over the shoulder, gives the figure a sense of agitation that is in tune with the character of this painting as a whole, but not with its model. Similarly, Mary Magdalene's cloak slipping down from her hips picks up a motif from the Deposition, but combines it with an extrovert gesture foreign to that picture, with the saint suddenly flinging up her arms.
The series of the three panels follows a chronological sequence: the sculptural Annunciation group in the donor's loggia refers to Christ's becoming man; in the central panel Christ has just died, and the sun and moon turn dark as His companions break into loud lamentations; on the right Joseph of Arimathaea, Nicodemus, and a servant are approaching with a ladder to take the dead body down from the Cross.