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The Last Judgement

Rogier van der Weyden

The Last Judgement

Rogier van der Weyden
  • Date: 1445 - 1450
  • Style: Northern Renaissance
  • Series: Polyptych
  • Genre: religious painting
  • Media: oil, panel
  • Tag: Christianity, saints-and-apostles, Jesus-Christ, Last-Judgment, angels-and-archangels
  • Dimensions: 220 x 546 cm
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The Beaune Altarpiece (c. 1445–50), often called The Last Judgement, is a large polyptych altarpiece by the Early Netherlandish artist Rogier van der Weyden. It was painted in oil on oak panels, with parts later transferred to canvas. It consists of fifteen paintings on nine panels; six are painted on both sides. It retains some of its original frames.

Six outer panels (or shutters) are hinged; when folded they show an exterior view of saints and the donors. The inner panels contain scenes from the Last Judgement arranged across two registers. The large central panel that spans both registers shows Christ seated on a rainbow in judgment, with his feet resting on a golden globe. Below him the Archangel Michael holds scales as he weighs souls. The panel on Christ's far right shows the gates of Heaven, that to his far left the entrance to Hell. The panels of the lower register form a continuous landscape, with figures depicted moving from the central panel to their final destinations after receiving judgement.

The altarpiece was commissioned in 1443 for the Hospices de Beaune by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins, who is buried in front of the altarpiece's original location in the hospice. It is one of van der Weyden's most ambitious works, equal to his Prado Deposition and lost Justice of Trajan and Herkinbald. It remains in the hospice today, although not in its original position. It is in poor condition and was moved in the 20th century to shield it from sunlight and better protect it from the almost 300,000 visitors it receives annually. It has suffered from extensive paint loss, the wearing and darkening of its colours, and an accumulation of dirt. In addition, a heavy layer of over-paint was applied during restoration. The two painted sides of the outer panels have been separated so both can be shown simultaneously; traditionally, the shutters would have been opened only on selected Sundays or church holidays.

Nicolas Rolin was appointed Chancellor of Burgundy by Philip the Good in 1422, a position he held for the next 33 years. His tenure with the duke made him a wealthy man, and he donated a large portion of his fortune for the foundation of the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune. It is not known why he decided to build in Beaune rather than in his birthplace of Autun. He may have chosen Beaune because it lacked a hospital and an outbreak of the plague decimated the population between 1438 and 1440. Furthermore, when in 1435 the Treaty of Arras failed to bring a cessation to the longstanding hostility and animosity between Burgundy and France, the town suffered brutal ravages and famine from écorcheurs (marauding bands) who roamed the countryside during the late 1430s and early 1440s. The hospice was built after Rolin gained permission from Pope Eugene IV in 1441, and it was eventually consecrated on 31 December 1452. In conjunction, Rolin established the religious order of "Les sœurs hospitalières de Beaune". Rolin dedicated the hospice to St Anthony Abbot, who was commonly associated with sickness and healing during the Middle Ages.

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