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Weyden, Rogier van der

Tournai, 1399 - Brussels, 1464

Roger de le Pasture was born in about 1399 in Tournai, then one of the principal towns of France but an enclave in the territories of the dukes of Burgundy. He lived in Tournai and in Brussels, where his name was translated into Dutch as Rogier van der Weyden, and where he died on 18 June 1464.
His most famous works, enormous panels of "Scenes of Justice" in the Town Hall of Brussels, were destroyed in 1695 during the French bombardment of the city. The municipal archive perished at the same time, while the municipal archive of Tournai was lost during the Second World War. Brussels and Tournai were devastated during the iconoclast troubles of 1566 and afterwards. By then, fortunately, many of Rogier’s most important works had been moved: to Spain ("The Descent from the Cross", "Miraflores Triptych", "The Crucifixion"); to France (the great polyptych of the "Last Judgement", painted for the Hôtel-Dieu at Beaune and still there); or to Germany (the "Triptych with the Adoration of the Magi" for an altar in the church of Saint Columba in Cologne, now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich).
Brussels in 1421 and Tournai between 1423 and 1432 underwent periods of political and social upheaval. There was much violence; but the subsequent years of Rogier’s life were far less turbulent. Brussels, its social, economic and political problems to some extent resolved, was becoming an increasingly important and dominant centre of Burgundian power.
Rogier’s father Henri de le Pasture was a prosperous cutler who died during the winter of 1425-26. The manufacture of knives, many of which were richly decorated, was an important industry in Tournai. Rogier’s mother, demoiselle Agnès de Waterlos, seems to have been of higher social status than Henri; her children did not inherit her status, however, and her two daughters were not called demoiselle.
Rogier became a draughtsman and painter of extraordinary accomplishment and may have developed his skills from early childhood. He would have served his apprenticeship between 1410 and 1420, probably in Tournai and in the workshop of Robert Campin (ca. 1375-1444), evidently the leading painter there. Before 1423, the Tournai crafts had no real power; in 1423-24, the painters and goldsmiths formed a true guild that obtained regulations and began to keep admission registers. Rogier may then have been in Brussels, where, shortly before or in 1426, he married Elisabeth Goffaert (ca. 1405-1477), a young woman with obviously good prospects. To make an advantageous marriage, Rogier must have been settled into a secure and profitable career. In 1426-27, however, he returned to Tournai, probably to protect his widowed mother and his two sisters from the excesses and dangers occurring there. On 5 March 1427, he was apprenticed, perhaps for a second time, to Robert Campin. That cannot have been a true apprenticeship. Rogier was in his late twenties, a married man with at least one child. The 1427 "apprenticeship" may have been an artifice, a response to the peculiar political situation of that moment. Campin, favoured by the regime then in power, would have been contriving for Rogier an opportunity to undertake work in Tournai. Rogier may have divided his time between Tournai and Brussels. On 1 August 1432, he became a master of the Tournai guild, entitled to undertake work there on his own account.
For the rest of his life, Rogier seems to have maintained workshops in both Tournai and Brussels but his principal residence was in Brussels, where by 1436 he was the official town painter. From around 1443, he was occupying two adjoining houses in the "Golden Street": approximately equidistant from the Coudenberg Palace, the residence of the Duke of Burgundy; the Town Hall and the Markt (now the Grand-Place), the centres of civic life and commerce; and the Collegiate Church of Saint Gudula (now the Cathedral), the most important of all the churches. In 1453, a deed was signed in "a dining room" of Rogier’s house. He therefore had more than one dining room. It seems clear that he ran a busy workshop and he may have had to feed a large team. One of his two houses could have been the place where he and his assistants worked, where his apprentices, and perhaps other collaborators, lodged, and where pictures were displayed for sale. Rogier must have had studios big enough to accommodate huge panels like the "Scenes of Justice" and the "Crucifixion".
Rogier’s nephew Louis le Duc was a painter and may have run the Tournai branch of Rogier’s business before moving in 1460-61 to Bruges, perhaps to set up another branch there. Rogier’s second son Pieter (1437-after 1514) was also a painter and, when Rogier died in 1464, took over the houses in Brussels and presumably also the workshop.
As Rogier became increasingly successful, he appears to have taken on many assistants and to have developed strategies for managing teams of artists of varying abilities. Some of his assistants may not have stayed long, while others may have become long-term collaborators and may even have developed their own specialisations. Rogier would have reserved to himself and his most skilful and trusted collaborators the most important and difficult parts of his large paintings (Campbell, L.: Rogier van der Weyden and the Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, 2015, pp. 18-24).

Artworks (4)

The Descent from the Cross
Oil on panel, Before 1443
Weyden, Rogier van der
The Virgin and Child, known as the Durán Virgin
Oil on panel, 1435 - 1438
Weyden, Rogier van der
Pietà
Oil on panel, 1440 - 1450
Weyden, Rogier van der (Workshop of)
The Crucifixion
Oil on panel, Ca. 1510
Weyden, Rogier van der (Seguidor de)

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