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National Gallery Of Art
National Gallery of Art Brief Guide
This large panel painting by a follower of Robert Campin combines the new interest in nature of the fifteenth-century Netherlandish artists with a long tradition of symbolic religious painting. There is a thoroughly believable quality about the heavy folds of drapery, the delicate leaves of the flowers, and the shallow space within the garden walls. Yet this world is invested with mystical overtones through the figures' quiet poses and the minutely observed details which are painted in glowing oil colors and displayed in a steady light.
John the Baptist holds a lamb, recalling his recognition of Christ as the "Lamb of God." Seated on the left is Catherine of Alexandria with her sword and wheel, the instruments of her martyrdom. Saint Barbara offers Jesus an apple or a quince, an age-old symbol of love. Her special attribute is the impregnable tower, a symbol of her chastity. Half-hidden by Saint Anthony's robe, a pig beside him symbolizes gluttony, recalling his triumph over temptation.
The walled garden refers to a passage from the Song of Solomon where a bridegroom speaks of his beloved as "a garden enclosed ... a fountain sealed." To early Christian and medieval theologians, Mary became associated with this bride, and the enclosed garden symbolized her virginity and also the lost Eden which is regained through Christ's birth. Even the doorway recalls Christ's saying, "I am the door. No man cometh unto the Father but by me."