Painterly Vernacular and Pictorial Piety: Rogier van der Weyden, Robert Campin, and Jan van Ruusbroec Open Access

Wise, Elliott Daniel (2016)

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Historians of Netherlandish art have long hailed Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1399-1464) and Robert Campin (c. 1375-1445) as founding innovators of northern Renaissance painting, renowned for their virtuosic naturalism, detail, and affective piety. Campin's work has frequently been cited for dizzying theological erudition, while Rogier's panels find praise for their emotion and formal elegance. I argue that the devotional tropes employed in many of these artists' sacred paintings evince an important engagement with vernacular mysticism, particularly the work of the great Brabantine recluse and exegete, Jan van Ruusbroec (1293-1381). Ruusbroec's texts were actively disseminated among reform-minded groups within the Church by the Carthusians, an order that also exerted a pronounced impact on Rogier's work. In fact, Rogier's son became a Carthusian at the Charterhouse of Herne, a historic center for copying Ruusbroec's treatises. Ruusbroec expounded his complex theology in the untried lexicon of the vernacular, frequently punctuating his prose with highly visual analogies and colorful, rhetorical flourishes. I contend that his descriptions of divine vision and his vivid explication of Scripture resonate closely with the imagery employed by Rogier and Campin, who explored similar themes in their paintings, such as tailoring the soul to align with Christ, using images to commune with the incarnate "image" of God's son, and seeking mystical unification with the Father through the Eucharistic Christ. My dissertation examines the ways that Rogier and Campin borrowed, extrapolated, and reinterpreted Ruusbroec's literary tropes to construct the arguments in many of their paintings. Viewers of their work--particularly Carthusian custodians of Rogier's panels--would have been prompted to recall their own reading of Ruusbroec's texts as they meditated on the images. Ruusbroec, however, is just one of the sources that informed Rogier and Campin's oeuvres. Their compositions are by no means "illustrations" of his texts, and their allusions and tropes are distinct from his and also distinct from each other. Even so, Ruusbroec's Middle Dutch treatises offer an important and largely overlooked methodology for plumbing unprecedented devotional depth in northern Renaissance painting, a depth that extends well beyond formalism and iconography.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

1. The Escorial Crucifixion: Reading, Rending, and Re-Fashioning Ruusbroec's "Twice-Dyed" Veil of Blood. 41

2. Mysticism and Marian Meditation in the Miraflores Triptych of the Virgin. 118

3. The Philadelphia Crucifixion Panels: Spiritual Death and Compassionate Intervention. 191

4. "Living Mirrors," the Window of the Eye, and Figurations of the Soul in the MÃcrode Triptych. 226

Conclusion. 319

Illustrations. 329

Works Cited. 455

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