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Portraits

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Jean Fouquet: Etienne Chevalier Presented by St. Stephen
Van Eyck's realism soon enjoyed international renown. In Italy, Bartolomco Fazio extolled the Flemish artist in 1455/56 as the "prince of our century's painters". In France, too, where Burgundian art was already well known, the new style quickly won favour, becoming known as "la nou-velle pratique". Traces of its influence can be felt in the work of Enguerrand Charonton, and in the celebrated Pieta of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, painted c. 1470 by an anonymous master of southern France. The donor, whose face is realistically represented, is shown kneeling in an attitude of prayer at the bottom left of the Pieta. His white robe, as well as the attribute of oriental architecture (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem) against a gold background, suggest he has travelled as a pilgrim to Jerusalem. The artist has given powerful dramatic expression to the grief of the mourners, and the intention to introduce the donor into their company seems obvious enough. Nevertheless, the gaze and gestures of the donor have not (yet) made any impression on the holy figures themselves, so that he remains outside their gestural narrative. Although part of the painting, the donor thus seems somewhat isolated within it. His gaze is intended to be directed towards the events taking place, but in order meet his patron's demands, the artist has painted him looking less into the centre of the painting than diagonally out of it.

Etienne Chevalier's gaze is similarly posed by Jean Fouquet in a work, commissioned by Chevalier, that was probably executed in 1451 following the artist's return from Italy to Tours (where he spent much of his life working at one of the French royal residences). Chevalier is portrayed on the left wing of a diptych, now at Berlin, usually known as the "Melun Diptych" after the donor's place of birth.
Chevalier, a high-ranking official at the courts of Charles VII and Louis XI, is shown in a simple, but elegant, red robe. His long, slender hands, whose pale, slightly flaccid skin contrasts so strongly with the brownish complexion of his face, are held together in the act of prayer. His portrait is the pair to the Virgin on the right wing of the diptych. Unlike the donor, she is shown in full-face view, idealised as an archaic object of worship. Etienne Chevalier poses in three-quarters view; thus his gaze, although turned to the Virgin, sees past her. Here, too, the purpose of the portrait - to show the donor - conflicts with the donor's desire to be part of the holy scene in the painting.
According to tradition, the Virgin is here represented with the features of Agnes Sorel, the favourite of Charles VII. Richly dressed in an ermine robe and a crown of pearls, her forehead shaved according to the courtly fashion of the day, the Virgin meekly lowers her eyes and offers the Child her breast. Behind her throne stands a crowd of alternately red and blue, angelic putti.

According to tradition, Fouquet painted the Virgin with the features of Agnes Sorel, the favourite of Charles VII.
Agnes Sorel made Eticnne Chevalier her executor, undoubtedly the sign of a close relationship between them.
The portrait of Etienne Chevalier is similar, in some respects, to van Eyck's portrait of Chancellor Rolin. Fouquet too was commissioned to paint an official who had risen from a non-aristocratic background to a high-ranking position in the feudal absolutist state, and whose desire to create a memorial to himself betrayed his need to compete for social status with the nobility. At the same time, the diptych may have been an ex-voto gift, a token of his gratitude on being appointed Chancellor "Tresorier") of France in 1451. Possibly, it was intended to commemorate the king's respected mistress, who had died on 9 Feb. 1450. Whereas van Eyck had found a "progressive" solution to the problem of integrating into a spatial and narrative unity a donor worshipping the Virgin, Fouquet, who had been leading court artist for many years, although not officially made "peintre du roi" until 1475, shows Chevalier and St. Stephen, the donor's patron saint, in silhouette. The purity of the outlines and trenchant, extensive areas of colour are emphasised by the light background of the marble wall and pilasters, on which the name of the donor is repeated in a frieze-like pattern. Fouquet's novel departure from Netherlandish donor portraiture is the reduction of his subject's complexity to a minimum of clear, expressive components. Van Eyck's compression of numerous allusive details in his compositions contrasts with Fouquet's simple, lapidary symbols: the stone, for example, evidently a sign of the artist's interest in geology, resting on a leather-bound, gilt-edged prayer-book. Like the wound on the saint's tonsure, from which blood drips down into the hood of his dalmatic, the stone signifies the patron saint's martyrdom. In a Book of Hours produced for Chevalier (1452-60), and now at the Musee Conde at Chantilly, Fouquet painted the lapidation of St. Stephen in miniature. Jan van Eyck: Tymotheos (Leal Souvenir)
It is perhaps no accident that Jan van Eyck's earliest surviving portrait carries a date (10th October 1432), for temporality constitutes an important aspect of this work in other ways too. Traces of the passage of time - in the form of cracks, chipped-off or broken pieces of stone and "sgraffito"-like scratchmarks - are visible on a relatively broad, trompe-l'oeil parapet which serves as a repoussoir and suggests a frame, pushing the sitter back - though not very far - from the picture-plane. Even hard, apparently permanent materials do not last - what hope then for the human counterfeited here! An inscription, not unlike an epitaph, and yet evidently referring to a living person, is chiselled on the parapet: LEAL SOUVENIR, "loyal remembrance". The words anticipate that rapid process of change which the sitter, portrayed here on a certain day, will soon experience in his own life. The portrait resembles a record of something which is subject to continual change, and which the painter, or sitter, wishes to commit to memory, or preserve. It is as though images had magical powers, as if appearances could replace reality, or, indeed, be a substitute for life altogether. Yet all that remains is the apparently authentic reproduction of a physical sensation on the retina, in other words, the transmission of optical signs, of perceptions of light, via colour and paint. The portrait is a three-quarters view of a man of about - according to Erwin Panof sky - thirty years, turned slightly to the left before an homogenously dark background. He sports a fashionable green head-dress from which a scarf hangs down onto his right shoulder. He is also wearing a red coat with a thin fur collar. His left arm is folded behind the parapet, his left hand obscured by his right, which is holding a scroll of paper.
The identity of the sitter has been the subject of considerable speculation. It would seem logical to expect the strange name which someone appears to have lettered onto the stone in Greek - TYMПOEOC (Tymotheos) - to provide a clue. In fact, the name did not occur in the Netherlands before the Reformation, a discovery which led Panofsky to see it as a scholarly humanist metonym whose purpose was to link the sitter with an eminent figure in Classical antiquity. As far as Panofsky was concerned, there was only one outstanding person of that name it could have been: Tymotheos of Milet, who revolutionized Greek music during the age of Euripides and Plato. It followed that van Eyck's sitter could only have been a musician, one equally renowned for his innovative contribution to the art. What was more, there had indeed been a radical upheaval in early fifteenth-century music, centred in Burgundy and known as "ars nova". Its leading exponents were the courtly composers Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois. Since Dufay was known to have been abroad when the portrait was painted, the sitter - according to Panofsky - can only have been Binchois.
Wendy Wood's more recent, alternative explanation is based on a similar argument. Rather than the musician mentioned above, Wood traces the antique Tymotheos to a sculptor celebrated for his bas-reliefs. Seeking an analogous sculptor at the Burgundian court, she identifies "Tvmotheos" as Gilles de Blachere.
Jan van Eyck: The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini
This double portrait, dated 1434, is described in the inventories of Margaret of Austria as a painting of "Hernoulle Fin", or "Arnoult Fin", probably French corruptions of the Italian name Arnolfim. Since this early explanation of his identity has never been called into question, it is probably permissable to assume that the man wearing the scapular-like, mink-trimmed coat and tall, broad-brimmed hat is indeed the Italian merchant Arnolfini, who managed the Lucchese company of Marco Guidecon at Bruges, where Jan van Eyck lived and worked. Records show his wife was Jeanne (Giovanna) Cenami, born in Pans and also of Italian extraction. She is consequently the woman in the picture, wearing a heavy, green dress and extending her hand to Arnolfini. Arnolfini has his hand raised in what appears to be a gesture of blessing. He may be about to lay his hand upon the open, outstretched palm of his young wife. Arnolfini faces the spectator, although his gaze itself is averted; Giovanna Cenami's eyes are meekly lowered. She is carrying the fur-lined train of her dress bunched up in front of her. This has caused some critics to see the swelling contours of her belly as a sign that the lady is pregnant. However, this was no more than a ritual gesture, consistent with contemporary conventional attitudes towards the family and marriage and intended to symbolise fertility, for the double portrait was painted on the occasion of the couple's marriage. The painting is a visual record of the event; indeed it even acts as a wedding certificate, since it documents the artist's attendance and consequent witness of the ceremony in the inscription on the far wall ("Johannes de Eyck fuit hic"). Along with a second witness, van Eyck is reflected in a convex mirror on the same wall. The mirror enlarges the room and is framed by ten painted scenes from the Passion. It was still customary in the fifteenth century for bride and bridegroom to promise marriage without the presence of a priest. The "dextrarum junctio" -joining of right hands - and the bridegroom's pledge were considered legally binding. The use of the inscription illustrates a growing tendency to document legal transactions in writing, a development which accompanied the adoption of Roman Law. The inscription should therefore not be understood as functioning here simply as a signature. It had a real testimonial force, as in the signing of a official register.
Van Eyck depicts this early bourgeois interior with its wooden floor as a thalamus, or inner, nuptial chamber, adding, by his faithful rendering of objects in the room, a number of hidden meanings, a theological and moral commentary on the event taking place. Thus the everyday convex mirror is a "speculum sine macula" (an immaculate mirror), signifying the purity of the Virgin and the virgin purity of the bride, who, according to contemporary tracts on marriage, would be expected to remain "chaste" as a married woman. In the foreground, the dogalways a symbol of devotion - stands for conjugal fidelity. The red alcove to the right, an allusion to the Song of Solomon, symbolises the bridal chamber. The cork clogs on the left, evidently removed by the bridegroom and casually left lying on the floor, are a reference to the Book of Exodus ("Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground", Exodus 3, 5). The burning candle in the chandelier, a wedding candle, cites traditional Annunciation iconography. It underlines the Mariological character of the painting. Addressed specifically to women, Mariolatry was a constitutive factor in fifteenth-century conjugal mores. The apples lying on the window-sill are an allusion to the Fall and a warning against sinful behaviour. The switch hung from the wooden paneling is an etymological pun on the Latin words "virga/virgo", and serves to emphasise the motif of virgin purity. Its counterpart in folklore was the "rod of life", a symbol of fertility, strength and health, with which the bridegroom was ritually beaten in order to ensure the couple was blessed with a large number of children.

Together with a second witness, van Eyck is reflected in a convex mirror on the wall. The reflection creates the illusion that the room extends to a point behind the spectator. It was customary in the fifteenth century for bride and bridegroom to promise marriage without the presence of a priest. The joining of hands and the bridegroom's oath were legally binding.

The burning candle in the chandelier is a traditional motif in Annunciation iconography.
The dog, a symbol of devotion since time immemorial, stands for conjugal fidelity, while the apples on the window-sill are an allusion to the Fall and a warning against sin.
Jan van Eyck: The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin The painting shows Chancellor Nicolas Rolin (1376?—1462), born at Autun into bourgeois circumstances, who, entrusted with setting up an early absolutist system of state administration under Philip the Good, had attained the high rank of a Notable. Van Eyck - who had entered the Duke's service as "varlet de chambre" (valet) in 1425, which in fact meant he was court painter — has portrayed him attired in an opulent, brownish, mink-trimmed brocade coat with a raised pomegranate pattern in gold thread. Rolin is viewed from the side, though not in full profile, kneeling at a cushioned table spread with a turquoise cover. His eyes are directed towards the Virgin sitting opposite him with the naked Child on her lap, while the Child is in the act of blessing Rolin. This arrangement is unusual.

On becoming Chancellor, Nicolas Rolin (1376?—1462), a lawyer from Autun, had risen to the highest public office at the Burgundian court. Rolin was elevated to the nobility by the Duke. The "noblesse de robe" to which Rolin belonged distinguished itself from military knighthood in that its members were lawyers, scholars and civil servants. In his Virgin with Canon van der Paele, van Eyck painted a majestic Virgin, enthroned in full-face view, presenting her as the virtual object of his adoration. Here, however, the side view objectifies the Virgin so that the spectator acts as the witness of her meeting with the Chancellor. Van Eyck has minutely recorded the signs of aging in Rolin's face. The folds and wrinkles are no less precisely rendered than the arteries at Rolin's shaved temples, however. Van Eyck, although he was not — despite Vasari's later claim - the actual inventor of oil-painting, brought a previously unparallelled mastery to this new art, revealing, by means of repeated glazing, the throbbing life beneath Rolin's skin. Van Eyck does not present the face as a vehicle for the expression of feelings, but records the quiddity of each object: a visual nominalism, with precise syllabic counterparts for every "thing" that met his gaze. However, his radical empiricism did not preclude use of the kind of allegory found in late scholastic biblical exegesis.

On the contrary, almost every detail of the painting contains a spiritual allusion. This is borne out by the triple-arched loggia through which the interior gives onto a crenellated courtyard-garden. Reliefs decorating architectural features on the right of the loggia show scenes from the Old Testament: the expulsion from Paradise, Cain and Abel and Noah's drunkenness. The scene on the capital at the right depicts the justice of Trajan. These motifs, in other words, refer to the Fall, and to a paragon of virtue. The enclosed garden with its blossoms - roses, irises and lilies traditionally symbolised the Virgin - alludes to the "garden enclosed" (hortus conclusus) in Song of Solomon (4, 12), equated metaphorically in medieval exegesis with the Virgin Mary. The peacocks suggest Paradise. Two men, one of whom seems to be gazing into the receding landscape, are shown looking over the parapet. The one on the right is wearing a red, scarfed headdress, presumably similar to that worn by van Eyck himself - a hypothesis prompted by van Eyck's Man in a Red Turban (London), thought to be a self-portrait, and by the metallic reflection on St. George's armour in his Paele-panel. Although the landscape is realistic in the Chancellor Rolin painting, it is not, in fact, an authentic scene. Instead, van Eyck has used various sketches to construct an ideal "panoramic landscape" with an alpine massif disappearing into the distant, atmospheric blue. Emil Kieser has shown convincingly that the bridge over the river, on which a tiny cross may be made out, should be seen in connection with the murder of Philip the Good's father, John the Fearless, on the bridge at Montereau on 10 Sept. 1419. The Treaty of Arras, concluded by Rolin on 21 Sept. 1435, contained a decree to the effect that a cross in memory of the assassination be erected on the bridge. The years between the murder and the recently concluded Treaty can be read in the number of floor-tiles between the arcade and the picture-plane.

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