The biography of Rogier van der Weyden (1400 - 1464)

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464) is the leading Netherlandish painter of the mid-15th century. On a par with Jan van Eyck, he considered as the greatest exponent of the school of Early Netherlandish painting.

Rogier van der Weyden was born in Tournai as ‘Rogier de le Pasture’ in 1399 or 1400. His parents were Henri de le Pasture and Agnes de Watrélos. The family had settled before in the city of Tournai where Rogiers’ father worked as a knife manufacturer.

Less is certain about Rogiers’ training as a painter. His early life is still somewhat problematic. On the August 1, 1432 Rogier de le Pasture obtains the title of ‘Master’ (Maistre) as a painter. By 1435 Rogier settled in Brussels, the native city of his wife Elizabeth Goffaert. Rogier and Elizabeth had married in 1426 and they had four children.

By 1436 Rogier had moved to Brussels and been appointed official painter to the city. From that time he held the title of ‘painter to the town of Brussels’ a very prestigious post because Brussels was at that time the most important residence of the splendid court of the Dukes of Burgundy. It was at the occasion of his move to the Dutch-speaking town of Brussels that Rogier began using the Dutch version of his name: ‘Rogier van der Weyden’.

Though most of his work was religious, Rogier van der Weyden produced secular paintings (now lost) and some sensitive portraits. Rogier took as his starting point the three-dimensional figures of Campin and Jan van Eyck and proceeded to clarify their anatomical structure. At the same time Rogier van der Weyden perfected the depiction of interiors and landscapes in proper perspective.

His vigorous, subtle, expressive painting and popular religious conceptions had considerable influence on European painting, not only in France and Germany but also in Italy and in Spain. His influence was strong and widespread. In his lifetime his paintings were sent all over Europe and his emotional and dramatic style found more followers than the quiet perfection of van Eyck.

The last 15 years of his life brought Rogier van der Weyden the rewards due an internationally famous painter and exemplary citizen. He received numerous commissions, which he carried out with the assistance of a large workshop that included his own son Peter and his successor as city painter Vranck van der Stockt, a mediocre imitator.

His most famous paintings were the four vast panels with the ‘Justice of Trajan’ and the ‘Justice of Herkenbald’, painted for the ‘Gulden Camere’ (Golden Chamber) of the Brussels Town Hall. The first and third panels were signed and the first dated 1439. All four were finished before 1450. They were destroyed in the French bombardment of Brussels in 1695, but are known from many old descriptions, from a free partial copy in tapestry (Bern, Historisches Museum) and from other free and partial copies in drawing and painting.

Rogier van der Weyden died in Brussels on June 18, 1464 as the best known and most sought after painter in the Netherlands, a standard for the majority of artists north of the Alps.