2012: Advent Art History: The Naked Baby Jesus Advent Calendar, December 06

by on December 6, 2012

Virgin and Child from the Melun Diptych

Jean Fouquet

c.1453-4

This is the right panel from a private devotional work called the Melun Diptych, named after Melun Cathedral, where it used to be kept.

It was painted in France, where they worked in a tradition similar to that in Flanders (like Jan van Eyck and Robert Campin), but also influenced by Italy. Below is the left panel; the classical architecture in the background is a very Italian feature.

It shows the patron (also known as donor), Etienne Chevalier, treasurer to King Charles VII of France, with St Stephen.

This format of patron saint presenting donor on the left and Virgin and Child on the right was very popular – remember Canon George van der Paele being presented to the Virgin and Child by St George. It was mainly used for private devotion, although paintings like this would have been on display to friends and visitors.

While the Etienne Chevalier/donor panel is standard in its representation of the donor with his patron saint (being presented to the Virgin by his patron saint), the Virgin and Child panel is unusual. The Virgin is generally depicted as far softer in works of this time, but here we have a very stiff, iconic and formal Virgin, with an incredibly fashionable plucked forehead and high hairline.

It was suggested in the seventeenth century that the Virgin is a portrait of Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII. I haven’t seen any evidence for this, so I’d advise taking it with a pinch of salt, but Agnes is a fascinating person, so here’s a few links.

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