Rogier de le Pasture (1399/1400 – June 18, 1464) is, with Jan van Eyck, considered one of the greatest exponents of the school of the Early Netherlandish painting (The Flemish Primitives). Rogier van der Weyden was born in Tournai as 'Rogier de le Pasture' (Roger of the 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 'maître-coutelier' (knife manufacturer). In 1426 Rogier married Elisabeth, the daughter of the Brussels shoemaker Jan Goffaert and his wife Cathelyne van Stockem. Rogier and Elisabeth had four children: Cornelius, who became a Carthusian monk, was born in 1427, a daughter Margaretha in 1432. Before 21 October 1435 the family settled in Brussels where the two younger children were born: Pieter in 1437 and Jan the next year. From the second of March 1436 onwards held the title of 'painter to the town of Brussels' (stadsschilder) 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'. He was a generous man and a devout Catholic.
Little is known about Rogier's training as a painter. The archival sources from Tournai (completely destroyed during World War II, but luckily partly transcribed in the 19th and early 20th century) are somewhat confusing and have led to different interpretations by scholars. From a document it is known that the city council of Tournai offered wine in honour of a certain 'Maistre Rogier de le Pasture' on March the 17th 1427. However, on the 5th of March of the following year the records of the painters' guild show a certain 'Rogelet de le Pasture' entered the workshop of Robert Campin together with Jacques Daret. Only five years later, on the first of August 1432, Rogier de le Pasture obtains the title of 'Master' (Maistre) as a painter. Many have doubted whether Campin's apprentice 'Rogelet' was the same as the master 'Rogier' that was offered the wine back in 1426. The fact that in 1426-1427 Rogier was a married man in his late twenties, and well over the normal age of apprenticeship has been used as an argument to consider 'Rogelet' as a younger painter with the same name. In the 1420's however the city of Tournai was in crisis and as a result the guilds were not functioning normally. The late apprenticeship of Rogier/Rogelet may have been a legal formality. Also Jacques Daret was then in his twenties and had been living and working in Campin's household for at least a decade.
It is possible that Rogier obtained an academic title (Master) before he became a painter and that he was awarded the wine of honour on the occasion of his graduation. The sophisticated and 'learned' iconographical and compositional qualities of the paintings attributed to him are sometimes used as an argument in favour of this supposition. The social and intellectual status of Rogier in his later life surpassed that of a mere craftsman at that time. In general the close stylistical link between the documented works of Jacques Daret, and the paintings attributed to Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden is considered as the main argument to consider Rogier van der Weyden as a pupil of Robert Campin.
The last mention of Rogier de la Pasture in the financial records of Tournai, on October 21, 1435, lists him as demeurrant à Brouxielles ('living in Brussels'). At the same time, the first mention of Rogier de Weyden is made as the official painter of Brussels. Therefore Rogier de la Pasture and Rogier Van der Weyden are thought to be one and the same painter. The post of city painter was created especially for Van der Weyden and was meant to lapse on his death. It was linked to a huge commission to paint four justice scenes for the 'Golden Chamber' of Brussels City Hall. Different properties and investments are documented and witness his material prosperity. The portraits he painted of the Burgundian Dukes, their relatives and courtiers, demonstrate a close relationship with the elite of the Netherlands.
The Miraflores Altarpiece was probably commissioned by King Juan II of Castile, since Juan II donated it to the monastery of Miraflores in 1445. In the holy year 1450 Rogier quite possibly made a pilgrimage to Rome which brought him in contact with Italian artists and patrons. The Este and Medici family commissioned paintings from him. The Duchess of Milan, Bianca Maria Visconti, sent her court painter Zanetto Bugatto to Brussels to become an apprentice in Rogier's workshop. Rogier's international reputation had increased progressively. In the 1450s and 1460s scholars such as Cusanus, Filarete and Facius referred to him in superlatives: 'the greatest', 'the most noble' of painters. Van der Weyden died on June 18, 1464, and was buried in the Chapel of St Catherine in the Cathedral of St Gudulphe
No single work can be attributed with certainty to Rogier van der Weyden on the basis of 15th century documentary evidence. However, Lorne Campbell has stated that three well-authenticated paintings are known, but, at various times, each has been doubted or underestimated. The best documented is the The Descent from the Cross in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. Campbell points out that this painting's history can be reconstructed in some detail from 16th century and later records. The 'Triptych of the Virgin' or 'Miraflores altarpiece', now in Berlin, was given in 1445 to the Charterhouse of Miraflores near Burgos by John II of Castile; it was described in the deed of gift as the work of great and famous Flandresco Rogel. The 'Crucifixion', now in the Escorial Palace, was given by Rogier himself to the Charterhouse of Scheut outside Brussels. In his catalogue raisonné of Van der Weyden's work, the Belgian art historian Dirk de Vos agrees with Campbell about the authenticity of these three paintings.
The fragment of 'The Magdalen Reading' in the National Gallery (London) has been described by Campbell as "one of the great masterpieces of fifteenth-century art and among Rogier's most important early works". Since the 1970s, this painting has been linked to two small heads in the collection of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Lisbon), of Saint Catherine and of St Joseph. It is now widely believed that these three fragments came from the same large altarpiece depicting the 'Virgin and Child with Saints', partly recorded in a later drawing now in Stockholm. At some unknown date before 1811, this altarpiece was carved up into these three fragments.
Rogier's most famous paintings, which survived until the seventeenth century, were four large panels representing 'Justice of Trajan' and the 'Justice of Herkenbald'. These were commissioned by the City of Brussels 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. The paintings probably measured ca. 4,5 m. each, which was an enormous scale for a painting on panel at that time. They served as 'examples of justice' for the aldermen of the city who had to speak justice in this room. The paintings were praised or described by a series of commentators until their destruction, including Dürer (1520), Vasari (1568), Molanus (c.1570-1580), and Baldinucci (1688). The paintings made a strong emotional impact on the spectator. As can be seen in existing paintings attributed to him, Rogier van der Weyden was a master in the depiction of emotions and grief.
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. Hans Memling was his greatest follower, although it is not proven that he was a direct pupil of Rogier. Van der Weyden had also great influence on the German painter and engraver Martin Schongauer whose prints were distributed all over Europe since the last decades of the 15th century. Indirectly Schongauer's prints helped to disseminate Van der Weyden's style.