Bladelin Altar

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Bladelin Altar (Rogier van der Weyden)
Bladelin Altar
Rogier van der Weyden , around 1450
oil on wood
Gemäldegalerie , Berlin

The Bladelin Altar , also Middelburg Altar , is a three-winged altar created around 1450 by the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden . The triptych shows scenes around the birth of Christ and was donated for the church in Middelburg , possibly by the Bruges patrician Peter Bladelin . It has been in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin since 1834 .


The Bladelin altar depicts the arrival of Jesus on earth, the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of a Savior of the world according to Christian beliefs. He combines the central representation of this event in the middle part with two others that are intended to underline the interpretation and meaning of the birth.

The central panel shows the birth in the stable at Bethlehem, according to the Christian gospel at the time of Emperor Augustus. Mary , the mother and the child are represented, you can also see Joseph holding a burning candle, symbol of the arrival of a light in the dark world. In the picture, the kneeling founder is involved in the adoration of the child, in the background the announcement of the birth by angels to the shepherds shows the spread of the "good news".

The left wing shows the interpretation of a dream by Augustus by the Sibyl of Tibur . This legend from the Legenda aurea , popular in the Middle Ages, tells that on the day of Christ's birth a woman and child appeared to the emperor in heaven and that the pagan Sybille could point this to the arrival of a heavenly ruler. Next to his advisors, who did not know how to interpret the vision, Augustus is now shown kneeling, subordinate to his worldly claim to power.

The arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem is depicted on the right wing . These pagan rulers and astrologers from the Far East have also recognized the importance of childbirth and have come to worship the child.

Many medieval altars, especially those of the early Gothic, emphasized the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Almost in contrast to this, the Bladelin Altar deals with the beginning of the new world order predicted by the promise through the connection of the three colorful scenes. One interpretation of the images can be that the entire world, represented in splendid Burgundian fashion, recognizes this new order for the redemption of the world and knows how to understand the primacy of heavenly rule.

The inside of the altar was usually locked, but on Sundays and feast days it could show his message after opening the wings. The altar, a private foundation, confidently shows that leading secular dignitaries like Bladelin want to support its spread and can in a wealthy region like the area around Bruges in the late Middle Ages.


Annunciation. Exterior of the Bladelin Altar

The exterior of the altar was probably decorated with an annunciation scene by an unknown painter after 1480 . The panels painted in grisaille , i.e. in shades of gray, show Maria in her room on the right. She kneels or crouches on the floor and turns to one side, she interrupts her reading because of the arrival of the angel Gabriel , also knowing the meaning of his words. The angel, clad in a garment as rich in fabric as Mary, which is piled up in heavy folds on the floor, greets Mary with a raised hand. A spread banner holds the text of his greeting, AVE GRAZIA PLENA . The only color accent on the grisaille tablets is a red curtain, which apparently covers the window on the back wall of the chamber, and which extends into the angel's table with a narrow strip. In front of the red curtain stands out a mug with a large lily stem , a symbol of the purity and virginity of Mary.


The middle panel measures 93.5 × 92 cm. The left wing is 93.5 × 41.8 cm, the right 93.5 × 41.5 cm.


Bladelin Altar (detail): The founder

Whether the altar was donated by Peter Bladelin (around 1410–1472), Treasurer of Philip the Good of Burgundy and one of the richest men of his time, is disputed in the literature. Bladelin founded the town of Middelburg in Flanders with his wife Margerite van de Vageviere. It is possible that the altar was intended for the town church, which was consecrated in 1460 by Bishop Jean Chevrot. Only one donor is shown on the altar, however, who, following the example of the Duke of Burgundy, is dressed entirely in black, with a fur-trimmed, waisted coat and fashionable pointed wooden sandals, like Rogier van der Weyden the Duke in the Chronique de Hainaut of 1448 who comes from the upper class of Burgundy. The fact that only one donor is depicted on an altar would be unusual, at least for Rogier's time, because according to the custom of the time Bladelin should have portrayed himself with his wife. The representation of a single donor is considered a counter-indication for the foundation by Bladelin.

The representation of Middelburg

An indication of the origin of the altar from Middelburg is the detailed depiction of a fort in the middle panel, which was then used as an illustration for the city of Middelburg in Antonius Sanderus' Flandra illustrata from 1541.

Individual evidence

  1. Kemperdick, Stephan: Rogier van der Weyden. Cologne 1999. p. 61.
  2. Gemäldegalerie Berlin. Catalog of the paintings from the 13th to 18th centuries. Century. Berlin 1975. p. 473.


  • Günter Arnolds (Ed.): Painting of the Occident. A collection of pictures from early Christian to contemporary painting . FA Herbig, Berlin-Grunewald 1955,
  • Stephan Kemperdick: Master of European Art: Rogier Van der Weyden. Ullmann, Cologne 1999, ISBN 978-3833138416
  • Dirk de Vos: Rogier van der Weyden. The complete work. Hirmer Verlag, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-7774-8330-3
  • Felix Thürlemann : Rogier van der Weyden's life and work . CH Beck Wissen 2006, ISBN 3-4065-3592-5

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