Melchior Broederlam
Biography of Flemish International Gothic Painter.

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Dijon Altarpiece (1394-99) Left Panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon.

Melchior Broederlam (c.1350-1411)


Broederlam's Painting
International Gothic Art
The Dijon Altarpiece (1394-99)
Famous International Gothic Painters

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Broederlam's Painting

One of the earliest Old Masters of the school of Flemish Painting, who spent much of his career as court painter to Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1342-1404), Broederlam also produced a number of works for his native city of Ypres. Documents indicate that he was involved in a variety of media, including oil painting and illuminated manuscripts, although only two surviving panel paintings can be confidently attributed to him: these are the left and right hand panels of the Dijon Altarpiece (1394-99, Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon). This was a seminal work that heralded the rise of the large-scale panel painter, and the corresponding decline of miniature painting and manuscript illumination. Another work associated with him is The Divine Breath (1395-99, also in Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon). This particular example of altarpiece art is one of the finest exemplars of International Gothic, the defining style of the French court. According to Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968), one of the leading art critics and historians of this period, Broederlam ranks with Robert Campin (1378-1444) as one of the finest of all Flemish painters before the emergence of Jan van Eyck (1390-1441).




Born in Ypres, Melchior Broederlam would have learned the rudiments of painting as an apprentice in one of the local workshops. In addition, he is believed to have spent several years in Italy, studying Florentine proto-Renaissance art, such as the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel Frescoes (c.1303-10) by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) - and the works of the Sienese School of painting. In addition, he absorbed important modelling skills from the Italians as well as from Andre Beauneveu (1335-1400), sculptor to the French King Charles V, and Claus Sluter (1340-1406), who worked for Philip the Bold.

In 1369, Philip the Bold (1342-1404), Duke of Burgundy married Margaret, daughter of the Count of Flanders, and in 1384 he inherited the whole of Flanders. Flemish goldsmiths, sculptors and painters flocked to Philip's court at Dijon. Broederlam himself started off in service to Louis of Male (1330-84), Duke of Brabant, then, after Louis's death in 1384, he worked for Louis's son-in-law and successor, Philip the Bold, although Broederlam remained in Ypres, producing decorative art at Philip's chateau at Hesdin. In 1391 he was promoted to court painter. After Philip's death in 1404, Broederlam continued painting for his successor John of Valois, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419).

International Gothic Art

The dominant style of courtly art in Western Europe was the International Gothic style, exemplified by small-scale International Gothic Illuminations and miniature painting, as well as larger scale altarpiece panels, such as Maesta Altarpiece (1311) by the Sienese master Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319) and the Melun Diptych (c.1452, Koninklijk Museum/Gemaldegalerie, Berlin) by the Tours-born Jean Fouquet (1420-81). The tradition of panel painting was continued by Melchior Broederlam with his Dijon Altarpiece (1394-99) and by the great Enguerrand de Quarton (c.1410-61) with his famous Avignon Pieta (c.1460, Louvre). In addition, Broederlam's employment of oil paint had a deep impact on the next generation of Flemish artists, including Jan van Eyck.

The Dijon Altarpiece (1394-99)

Commissioned by Philip the Bold for the charterhouse of Champmol near Dijon, this altarpiece was carved in wood by the Flemish sculptor Jacques de Baerze (1340-1405). The two panels, each containing two Biblical scenes, were painted by Broederlam in tempera: the left-hand panel features the Annunciation and the Visitation; the right-hand panel features the Presentation of Jesus and the Flight into Egypt. The first three scenes are taken from St Luke's Gospel, and the fourth from that of St Matthew. Broederlam, however, has made alterations to the biblical narrative, and introduced symbols to his religious art, some of which are quite obscure. The exact meaning of this symbolism - notably the emblematic use of flowers - continues to puzzle art historians.

The Dijon Altarpiece has a gold background - a standard convention derived from Byzantine art, which symbolizes paradise, the realm of the soul - but while the skies are gold, a flying hawk demonstrates that they are real space. A more distinctive feature of the Dijon Altarpiece panels is the arrangement of sacred architectural settings which occupy almost all of two of the four scenes. In each case the building opens onto the world outside, as if the artist were trying to show us both the inside and outside simultaneously. This seeming contradiction is a convention which Broederlam has borrowed from works of the Italian Trecento, by Giotto and Ambrogio Lorenzetti (active 1319-48) and others. Although the linear perspective is not developed, light and shadow are combined to create a sense of depth in a very advanced fashion The details of Broederlam's landscape background are also inspired by 14th century religious paintings produced in Italy, notably in works by the school of Siena, and in Giotto's frescos for the Upper Church at Assisi.

Overall, the altarpiece signalled the end of small-scale works and the advent of larger scale panel painting. Henceforth, the miniaturist was no longer the leading figure. In his place was a new breed of artist - the painter.


Broederlam's contribution to Flemish painting was to unite the decoration and symbolism of Christian Byzantine art, with the naturalism of the Italian trecento. This combination was to be refined further in the works of his successors in Flanders, including Roger Van der Weyden (1400-64), Petrus Christus (c.1410-75), Dieric Bouts (c.1410-75), Hans Memling (c.1433-94), and Hugo Van Der Goes (1440–1482), whose works made a significant contribution to early Northern Renaissance art (c.1430-1580). Broederlam also influenced the Cologne School of painting in North Germany, into switching from murals and small scale altarpieces to larger polyptychs and other large scale panel paintings.

Famous International Gothic Painters

In addition to those listed above, here is a short list of the most important painters working in the the International Gothic idiom.

Simone Martini (1285-1344)
Gothic painter, Siena School.
Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45)
Siena School artist influenced by Florentine art.
Jacquemart de Hesdin (c.1355-1414)
French miniature painter.
Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425)
Siena-born painter.
Gentile da Fabriano (c.1370-1427)
Italian artist from the Marches.
Limbourg Brothers (fl.1390-1416)
Flemish Book painters, manuscript illuminators.
Pisanello (c.1394-1455)
Pisa-born Italian painter.
Sassetta (c.1395-1450)
Painter of Sienese School.


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