MASTER of Flémalle
(b. ca. 1375, Valenciennes, d. 1444, Tournai)
The Werl Altarpiece (left wing)1438
Oil on panel, 101 x 47 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
The Werl Altarpiece was a triptych the central panel of which has been lost. The left wing depicts the donator Heinrich von Werl, a theologian from Cologne, head of the Minorite Order, with St John the Baptist, the right wing St Barbara.
Though long regarded as an authentic work by Robert Campin (the Master of Flémalle), the altarpiece now is usually thought to be a pastiche by a follower. The bench on which St Barbara sits and the perspective of the whole room is taken over from Campin's Annunciation (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); even the white towel and the ewer of water, symbolizing the Virgin's chastity, have been copied, though they are not the attributes of St Barbara. Her attribute, the tower in which she was imprisoned, is shown outside the window - typical of the way the early Netherlandish school rationalized abstract symbols naturalistically. In the left wing, the mirror on the wall is borrowed from Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Marriage in the National Gallery in London, painted four years earlier.