WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)
Virgin with the Child and Four Saints1450-51
Oil on panel, 61,7 x 46,1 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
This Sacra Conversazione may have been painted in 1450, the year in which Rogier visited Rome. Iconographical details indicate that it was probably commissioned by the Medici family (Saints Cosmas and Damian on the left were the Medici's patron saints, and a modified Florentine lily appears in the coat of arms). The painting is known as the Medici Madonna.
The composition, in which the figures are grouped in a stepped, semicircular arrangement whose gentle curve is restated in the upper arch of the frame, may have been inspired by Domenico Veneziano's St Lucy altarpiece. A comparison of the two works nevertheless also reveals the fundamental differences between Flemish and Florentine painting around the middle of the 15th century. Rogier's figures stand close together; in comparison to Domenico's distinctly separate figures, Peter and John here appear directly connected. Their proportions are elongated (compare, for example, the two Johns) and they are given solidity more by the outlines of their robes than by the organic structure of their bodies.
In the precision and texturing of his details, on the other hand, as seen in the plants and vase in the foreground, the glass bottle in St Cosmas' hand, and the sumptuous damask inside the tent-like baldachin, Rogier introduced his Florentine contemporaries to what must have been a whole new experience of painting.
Italian clients valued the painting of the Netherlandish artist, so different from the ideals of Renaissance art, for its delicacy and for the artist's ability to capture the material nature of objects realistically in oils (particularly when painting shimmering light and reflections). They also admired his convincing depiction of human moods and emotions.