The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden: Early Northern Renaissance

Rogier van der Weyden was one of the foremost artists from the Netherlands. During the Renaissance, religious themes were prevalent. Europe, was predominantly Catholic and the Church was a huge patron of the art that was produced. Northern Europe was different from Italy, the center of Renaissance art, in that it was more ornate the art produced in this area eventually was known as Baroque. The painting The Seven Sacraments by van der Weyden is typical of the art produced in the area.

The subjects of the painting The Seven Sacraments, painted in fourteen forty-five, are baptism, confirmation, and penance on the left; the Eucharist in the center; and ordination, marriage, and extreme unction are on the right. The Catholic Church believes in the seven sacraments while the Protestants believe in only baptism and marriage. The religious subject is what makes this painting characteristic of the artistic period of the Renaissance. However, it is typically Northern in that the colors are bright and vivid and they painting is extremely realistic.

An example would be that the dying man in the right of the painting is realistic in his body. During this time artist studied the human body at great lengths so that they could produce it realistically. They even studied cadavers so that they would be familiar with the inner and outer elements of the body. The setting for The Seven Sacraments is a large open cathedral. The Crucifixion is displayed in the center while there are angels on each side. Christ is hung above the other figures to symbolize his dominance in the lives of mankind. The angels represent the ever present being sent from heaven.

The wedding on the left is not only a literal sacrament, but it also symbolizes the union of Christ and the Church on the day that Christ returns. The dying man on the right symbolizes the guarantee that life will end and man will have to face the unknown. The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden is a good example of the early Renaissance painting from Northern Europe. Weyden’s focus on emotion and grief made him the most famed painter of the time when he died. After his death, many artist went on to make the Renaissance the most popular period of art.

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