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date: 29 September 2023

Campin, Robert or Campain; called Master of the Mérode Altar, Master Of Flémallefree

Campin, Robert or Campain; called Master of the Mérode Altar, Master Of Flémallefree

Flemish School, 15th century, male.

Born between 1375 and 1378, in Valenciennes; died 26 April 1444, in Tournai.


Tournai School.

Like many fifteenth-century Flemish artists, Robert Campin remains a somewhat obscure figure. On the one hand there is considerable evidence for the existence of the painter Robert Campin, and on the other, we have a comparatively consistent body of works that have been quite reasonably attributed to a variety of artists. These painters were all working at the start of the 15th century, a turning-point in art history in that, especially in Flanders, painting was moving on from what is called the 'International Gothic' style to a more realistic and less formal depiction of the life of men and the world they lived in. This development in Flemish painting was to play an important role in the rise of a specifically French style in the 15th century, since it acted as a counterbalance to the influence of Italian painting, which tended to be more decorative. We know that a Robert Campin lived in Tournai, was a Master there in 1406 and a burgher in 1410. His life seems to have been a rather troubled one. Most importantly, however, we know that among his pupils were Rogier van der Weyden, probably in 1426, and Jacques Daret in 1427. Some sources state that he drew the cartoons for a Life of Saint Peter that Henri de Beaumehel painted. Along with the date of his death, that is all we know of him. In connection with the works now attributed to him we have to go back to the start of what was, and still is, one of the great debates of art history, which has, of course, no shortage of disputes about attribution. At the end of the 19th century it was customary to exclude from the work of Rogier van der Weyden the Mérode Triptych, so-called because it had long been in the possession of the princes of Mérode before going to the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and which was sometimes attributed to the 'Master of the Mérode Altar'. Also excluded were some other panels painted over a period of about 20 years with characteristics that distinguish them from the rest of Rogier van der Weyden's output. These works could have been inspired by earlier works of Broederlam that are now lost. Some seem to show the influence of Van Eyck, though it is more probable that Van Eyck was himself influenced by what was new in these painters. This group of paintings was attributed to a Master of Flémalle, named after an abbey that never existed, and for whom the name Master of Mérode is more suitable. Attempts were made to identify the Master of Mérode with Nabur Martins, Witz, Daret, and then, in 1909, with Campin. In 1928 the question blew up into a case of traditional Belgian rivalry between Flemings and Walloons, though it then concerned only the attribution of this group of paintings either to Robert Campin or to the young Rogier van der Weyden. Works attributed to Campin and dated between 1420 and 1430 include the Marriage of the Virgin, with reverse in grisaille of St James the Great and St Claire (Prado); the Nativity (Dijon), a painting still Gothic in its elegance and lacking perspective, but characterised by the appearance, although somewhat timid, of a rural landscape taken from life, with a number of precise and picturesque details painted in a dawn light, and showing a degree of observation that marks an important date in the expressive aims of this period; the Annunciation, known as the Mérode Altarpiece, Campin's most important work, in which familiar details take on an exceptional importance, especially in the wing where the carpenter Joseph is busy with his tools making mousetraps, standing in front of a window that overlooks an entirely Flemish town, even if this is less complete than those we find later in Van Eyck; and a Madonna (Hermitage). Dated between 1430 and 1435 are Virgin in Glory (Aix); The Trinity; two panels depicting Madonna and Saint Veronica, and a Crucified Thief (Frankfurt), in which the figures have a sculptural presence that indicates the important influence of Claus Sluter from the court of the dukes of Burgundy and the idea of realism associated with him; the portrait of a Young Woman (London). Dated between 1435 and 1440 are Crucifixion (Berlin) and St Barbara, St John the Baptist and a Donor (Prado).

In all these works the drawing is sharp, the contours are clear, the colours are bright and the light cheerful. The artist who painted them achieves effects of pathos, and, in his portraits, a truthfulness to everyday life and the character of his sitters. In a Socratic movement of the spirit, his painting descends from heaven and concerns itself with human life; which describes quite well the movement from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The influence of these works can be seen not only in the works of artists from the same region, such as Rogier van der Weyden, but also, even more interestingly, in altarpieces by the Master of the Aix Annunciation.

Group Exhibitions

2002, Jan van Eyck, the Flemish Primitives and the South (1430-1530). When the Great Masters Meet (Jan Van Eyck, les Primitifs flamands et le Sud (1430-1530). Quand les grands maîtres se rencontrent), Groeningemuseum, Bruges

2008, The Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden, Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Aix-en-Provence: Virgin in Glory

Berlin: Crucifixion

Dijon: Nativity

Frankfurt am Main: Crucified Thief

London (NG): A Man; A Woman (c. 1435, oil and tempera/wood, two panels probably from a diptych); The Virgin and Child in an Apse with Two Angels (c. 1500?, oil/wood); The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen (c. 1440, oil and tempera/wood, work of a disciple)

Madrid (Prado): The Marriage of the Virgin (recto); St James the Greater; St Barbara, St John the Baptist and a Donor

Marseilles (Mus. Grobet-Labadié): Virgin and Child (attributed)

New York (Metropolitan Mus. of Art): Merode Altarpiece

St Petersburg (Hermitage): Madonna

Auction Records

London, 23 Feb 1923: Christ in the House of Martha; Christ and St John the Baptist (on the same panel) GBP 1,470

Paris, 10-11 May 1926: The Annunciation (pen) FRF 17,000

Paris, 15 Nov 1928: The Annunciation (pen) FRF 23,000


  • Davies, Martin: Rogier Van der Weyden: an essay, with a critical catalogue of paintings assigned to him and to Robert Campin, Arcade, Brussels, London, 1972 (German edition, Beck, Munich, 1972).
  • Châtelet, Albert: Robert Campin, le Maître de Flémalle: la fascination du quotidien, Fonds Mercantor, Antwerp, 1996.
  • Kemperdick, Stephan: Der Meister von Flemalle: die Werkstatt Robert Campins und Rogier van der Weyden, dissertation, Freie Universtät, Berlin, Brepols, Turnhout, 1996.
  • Foister, Susan/Nash, Susie: Robert Campin: new directions in scholarship, Brepols, London, 1996.
  • Borchert, T.: The Age of Jan Van Eyck: the Mediterranean world of early Netherlandish painting, exhibition catalogue, Groeningemuseum, Bruges, Thames & Hudson, London, 2002.
  • Thürlemann, Felix: Robert Campin: a Monographic Study with Critical Catalogue, Prestel, Munich, New York, 2002.
  • Campin in Context: Peinture et société dans la vallée de l'Escaut à l'époque de Robert Campin, symposium proceedings, Presses Universitaires de Valenciennes, Valenciennes, 2007.
  • Kemperdick, Stephan/Sander, Jochen (eds.): The Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden, exhibition catalogue, Städel Museum, Frankfurt/Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, 2008.