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Campin, Christ and the Virgin

Robert Campin (also called the Master of Flémalle), Christ and the Virgin, c. 1430-35, oil and gold on panel, 11-1/4 x 17-15/16 inches / 28.6 x 45.6 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

I don't know if I've actually come this close to Christ it seems as if we're standing directly face-to-face well look at what campaign did he's got Christ's hand appearing to sit on the ledge of the frame of this painting so that it really feels as though Christ is in our space and that we might be as close as the Virgin Mary is and I think that that idea of being this close to Christ expresses a real spiritual longing to come close to God well we don't know what God looked like we don't know what Christ look like we have no idea what any biblical figures look like there are no descriptions like that in the Bible and so this longing this ability for the artists who create the sense of veracity is really important and is probably linked back to the legend of Veronica this woman who offered Christ a cloth in order to wipe his face just before the crucifixion and that cloth by legend then miraculously' they appeared with his likeness and so that notion of the true image of Christ which is often by the way painted this directly in this kind of frontal way seems to speak to the Renaissance interest in recovering that image in reestablishing that kind of intimacy and although this painting has a flat gold background that suggests a heavenly space that's contradicted by that Northern Renaissance realism that we see here where we've got finger nails and cuticles and wrinkles and knuckles and almost every little hair painted separately in Christ's beer the attention to detail and the sense of clarity is almost frightening and it's not just the physical beings that are represented with this kind of minut detail but even the representations of the spiritual are look at their halos for instance it is the shallow ground that seems very solid actually an embedded in those halos are fabulous jewels for the Virgin Mary you have this circle of pearls and look each one casts a kind of perfect shadow each is luminous and Christ of course with rubies and sapphires and if we look at the jewel that Christ wears on his chest we can actually see in it a reflection of a window and in that window shape of a cross what's wild about that brooch is the way that it feels so solid and yet is absolutely transparent price raises his right hand in blessing although he doesn't seem to be looking directly at us he looks past us although we feel that we've come very close to Christ at the same time we're not allowed to make any direct connection with him right that eye contact is missing and perhaps Mary's here as an intercessory for human kind with her son with price it's one of the most intimate and most extraordinary renderings of Christ and Mary that I've ever seen