Lot 1
  • 1

Follower of Rogier van der Weyden

Estimate
120,000 - 180,000 GBP
Sold
241,250 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Rogier van der Weyden
  • the virgin and child

  • oil on panel
  • 46.8 by 34.5 cm.; 18 3/8 by 13 5/8 in.

Provenance

Fürstenberg Princely Collections;
Baron Joseph Blanckart (1796-1873), Brussels, by whom acquired from the above in 1853;
Thence by descent to his daughter Baroness Marie-Clémentine Blanckart (1869-1960), who married in 1891 Count Frédéric de Borchgrave d'Altena;
Her son, Count Joseph de Borchgrave d'Altena (1895-1985), Conservateur-en-chef des Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire de Belgique, by whom loaned to the Musée du Château de Lexhy, near Liège;
Acquired privately following the dispersal of the contents of the Musée in 1985 by the present collector.

Exhibited

Liège, Musée du Château de Lexhy, on loan.

Catalogue Note

This intimate image of the Virgin and Child was without doubt the most popular and enduring in all early Netherlandish painting. Seated before an open window, the young mother is shown breastfeeding her naked infant son, who lies in her lap, and who smiles and wiggles his hands and his feet in pleasure at her embrace. The design is the invention of Rogier van der Weyden (c.1399-1464), and is taken from his celebrated panel of Saint Luke painting the Virgin painted around 1435-6 and known today in four versions, of which the original is probably that now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Fig.1).1  Here, the painter is faithful to Rogier's basic design, but has taken the embroidered brocade to her left and brought it around so that it is now behind her, and has altered details of the Virgin's robes, her kerchief and the cloth beneath her son. The beautifully detailed landscape background, seen through an open window, is the artist's own invention, and completely different from Rogier's original.

The enormous popularity of Rogier's original design and the fact that it was exposed to other painters in their own Guild Chapel dedicated to Saint Luke meant that it was soon widely copied. In addition to the present work there are several other versions closely derived from the original. Of these, much the closest to the present panel is the left hand wing of a diptych, the right hand wing of which shows a donor, today in the Busch Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. (Fig. 2).2  This too has the embroidered brocade placed behind the Virgin, and an open window to her left. The panel portraying the donor and saint was, however, painted at a later date, perhaps in Bruges, and then added to it to form a diptych. Other single versions also include the feature of an open window, for example that attributed to the Master of the Magdalene Legend now in Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, or that in Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, by an anonymous follower of Rogier.3  The more pinched features of the Virgin and the type of the Christ Child place all of these versions in the artistic milieu of Bruges in the last decade of the 15th century. Like the present work, but unlike the original the Virgin's kerchief is brought around and fastened at the neck, presumably for reasons of modesty. The present panel, however, differs from them in that the features of the Virgin are more closely based upon Rogier's prototype, while the alert and curly-haired Christ Child suggests that the painter had an awareness of earlier Van Eyckian models. The landscape here is of particularly fine quality and recalls those in the paintings of Hans Memling (c.1430-1494), Rogier's principal successor in Bruges. It is possible that the present painting may once have formed part of a diptych akin to that now at Harvard but there is no physical evidence to support such an assertion and in all probability it was always intended as a single devotional image in its own right. Recent dendrochronological examination shows that the baltic oak from which this panel was cut was felled between 1470 and 1482 and its execution can be dated to this period or very shortly thereafter.4  It was most likely painted in Brussels, where Rogier had worked and maintained a large workshop and where his influence was most keenly felt, but the impact of his design was felt in all the studios in the Netherlands in the second half of the 15th century.

The success of Rogier's design and the many copies it inspired bears witness to the impact and enduring appeal of these new type of half-length devotional images dedicated to the Virgin and her son. This type of the Virgin breastfeeding her child, the Virgo Lactans, although not new, had gained considerable popularity in the 15th century in response to theological movements to depict the Virgin as a humble woman. In images such as this or the Madonna of Humility Mary was portrayed as a woman with whom mortal women could identify and her readiness to breastfeed exemplified her 'lowliness'. This idea of an accessible sympathetic model was in some contrast to the preceding medieval tradition of the Regina Coelis or Queen of Heaven in which the Virgin was traditionally enthroned or accompanied by hosts of angels. These ideas were entirely in keeping with the contemporary shift in theology to give more substance to the human history of Mary and Christ, a legacy of the humanist thought and religious protests of John Wycliffe (c.1325-1384) in Oxford and Jan Hus (c.1372-1415) in Prague. The latter was burnt at the stake for his beliefs in 1415, but both his and Wycliffe's teachings effectively foreshadowed the Protestant Reformation and indeed this new philosophical vision of the religious symbol closest to man and his intelligence would become an essential element of the coming Renaissance.

 

1. D. de Vos, Rogier van de Weyden, Antwerp 1999, p. 200, no. 8, reproduced. The others are in St. Petersburg, Munich and Bruges.
2. See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. II, Leyden & Brussels 1967, plate 120, no. 107c, reproduced.
3. Friedländer, op. cit., 1967, plate 120, nos. 107a-b.
4. Examination provided by Ian Tyers, no. 308, October 2009.

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