Van der Weyden
Northern artists gave the traditional medieval altarpiece a new level of sophistication. Van der Weyden’s exquisitely detailed Last Judgment is filled with symbolism, while others brought Heaven home to the 1400s here-and-now world of Bruges.
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[121, The Last Judgment, 1450, van der Weyden, Beaune, France] In addition to their slice-of-life secular scenes, Northern artists of the Renaissance also gave the traditional medieval altarpiece a new level of sophistication. To those who understood it, the symbolism was obvious: As Jesus presides, the lily means "Mercy"…the sword…"Judgment." He stands on a globe representing the universality of His message. As angels blow horns to wake the dead, Michael the Archangel determines which souls are heavy with sin. The apostles pray for the souls of the dead as they emerge from their graves. A painting could be like a sermon for the illiterate faithful.
 The individual faces are painted to make each a real person with a unique personality. And extraordinarily intricate detail — enhanced by the new technique of oil paints — illustrates the full range of human emotions. In the faces of the damned, you can almost hear the screams and gnashing of teeth. But Jesus is expressionless — at this point, the cries of the wicked are useless.
[123, St John Altarpiece, 1479, Hans Memling, Bruges] This altarpiece in a hospital in Bruges was also painted with an agenda: to comfort dying patients. Gazing at this gathering in Heaven, they could imagine leaving this world of pain and illness, and being at home with Mary, Jesus, and the saints. This Heaven — which echoes wealthy Bruges in the 1400s, complete with familiar details — brought the religious message home to the here and now.