2012: Advent Art History: Naked Baby Jesus Advent Calendar – December 18

by on December 18, 2012

The Virgin and Child, from the Diptych of Maarten van Nieuwenhove


Hans Memling

And here’s the whole diptych:

This is one of my favourite late fifteenth-century images.

Maarten van Nieuwenhove is shown in his own home, or an artistic reimagining of his home. His coat of arms is in the stained glass behind the Virgin.

In paintings where there is a donor, the donor is usually being presented to the Virgin and Child by a saint (we’ve seen that in a lot of the images I’ve posted this month). In this image, the saint is in stained glass to the right of Maarten’s head.

Maarten himself isn’t looking directly at the Virgin and Child, because they are not actually present in his house, he is imagining them.

The background in each panel is full of the optical devices that are the hallmarks of Northern painting of the time: the convex mirror, the domestic interior, the views from the windows, the detailed landscape and the way that it gets bluer with distance (aerial perspective).

I remember talking to someone about the way that ledges were sometimes used to blur the distinction between the painted space and real space. The Virgin and Child panel is a good example of that. The Christ Child sits on a cushion on a little ledge in front of the viewer, and the shadow of the cushion spills over onto the frame.

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