me and mr campin

When we were in Madrid, James and I went to visit the Prado. Little did I know, when I rolled my eyes at the 14 Euro entry fee, that I was about to experience something life-changing.

I mentioned briefly before that my visit to the Cloister and a glimpse of the new restoration labs above was the trigger which caused me to finally see the light: what I want, more than anything, in fact all I want, is to work in art preservation and restoration. To this point, I’m trying to get into a course in cultural materials conservation.

That wasn’t the only magical moment in store for me at the Prado though. I fell in love with a gentleman named Robert Campin. Somehow, despite studying art history for so many years, his name was unfamiliar to me — but I immediately took to his artworks.

The Annunciation
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One of the greatest pleasures I had as a child was building and furnishing dolls-houses. I had laughingly discussed with Juan and Ally the possibility of becoming a professional dolls-house designer, and whilst the career prospects are hardly inspiring, my friends were both very encouraging and I kept it at the back of my mind. When I saw these paintings by Campin, something in me immediately wanted to start reproducing them on a miniature, 3D scale. There’s a flatness in medieval painting, which Flemish masters were just beginning to evolve from, and Campin’s fantastic perspective scenes combined with their minutely furnished rooms just inspire me so much. And he has such an affinity for ladies reading on the couch…

St Barbara — this is the painting I want to reproduce
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I had this somewhat silly idea in May, but it’s now September and I am still thinking about it. Plus, I am going crazy with this job of mine and I need, need, a personal project to get me through the next few months. Doing this in Sri Lanka is probably going to be seriously challenging, but for now I am at least working on parsing the composition of this scene and identifying the individual elements that I will need to build.

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The internet is of course fabulous research tool, and I am having so much fun. But what has spurred me into writing this post is the number of coincidental references to Campin and his work that keep coming up!

First I was reading about medieval settles — the long bench upon which St Barbara is sitting. Immediately another painting by Campin pops up as a reference image:
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Then I was browsing medieval statuary on Google image, looking for something similar to the small statue above the chimney. I saw this fragment and was impressed at how similar it looked. I click through and read the text to discover it is not only contemporary to my painting, they even name-drop Campin! “The image was carved at about the time that the workshop of Robert Campin […] was producing seminal works in Tournai”.

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It took me a bit of googling to discover that the irons in the fireplace are specifically referred to as “andirons”. I then set about using the (fantastic, by the way) Met website to find some 15th century andirons. Whilst they had some decent ones, I decide to poke around elsewhere in the hopes of finding something better. A blog post entitled A Quick History of Andirons caught my attention (the kind of topic I wonder who else is drawn to) and low and behold… they use a Robert Campin painting as an illustration of medieval andirons.
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There’s something so invigorating and exciting about working on something you really, really care about, even when it’s utterly dull to everyone else in the world. I love that Campin, a stranger to me for almost 29 years, is suddenly appearing over and over (even if it is in the context of a project about him, I still feel like these are curious coincidences!). My heart beats so fast when I’m reading and researching all the elements and I can’t wait till I have time to visit the three art supplies shops in Colombo and start attempting to bring this together. The degree I’m applying for suggests that a portfolio displaying manual dexterity will be useful, and I would love to produce something I can use in that context…

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