WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)
Oil on oak panel, 80,7 x 130,3 cm
Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen, The Hague
Apart from some outstanding portraits, only a few paintings from Rogier's late period are extant. They include a problematical Lamentation (The Hague) containing many figures, and the great Crucifixion (Escorial) which, unlike the Lamentation, is remarkably well documented. The Lamentation combines figures in Rogier's style with a composition lacking his ability to create a well-constructed unity.
The gesture of St. Peter, seen right with his keys, obviously expresses a particular relationship with the donor, who was a bishop. The art historian Erwin Panofsky has suggested that the bishop is Pierre de Ranchicourt (d. 1499), the only bishop in the Netherlands in the second half of the 15th century whose first name was Peter. If the identification is correct, the painting could not have been commissioned before April 1463, when Ranchicourt became Bishop of Arras.
The two halves of the scene are disconnected. Particularly unfortunate is the relationship between the woman crouching in the left foreground to the man next to her; it is almost as he had been pestering her and she were turning away in annoyance. This female figure also occurs in the fine Deposition (Louvre, Paris) of a later painter in Cologne known as the Master of the St. Bartholomew Altar: the figure corresponding to her there, however, has less in common with the woman in our picture than with her underdrawing. In the underdrawing (and like the woman in the picture by the Master of the Bartholomew Altar) she was holding a salt cellar - identifying her as the Magdalene - instead of a skull, and had her hand pressed to her breast.
The figure was therefore imported into the Lamentation from an existing model, also used by the painter in Cologne, but was not harmoniously integrated in Rogier's usual way. Nor do the brown and orange tones in the robe of the saint wringing her hands behind the Magdalene resemble Rogier's typically cooler colouring.
Perhaps the Lamentation was in fact done in Rogier's workshop, as the stylistic similarity of its underdrawing with that of the Florentine Entombment (Uffizi) would suggest, but it may be one of the many works by later successors of Rogier. It is worth noting that the saints to the left and to the right on the outside of the work show clear similarities to those on the wings of Hugo van der Goes's Portinari Altarpiece (Uffizi).