Jean Fouquet: The Melun diptych (1452)


(Royal Museum of fine arts, Antwerp, Belgium & Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany)

A set of two paintings made by the French artist Jean Fouquet (1420–1481). This diptych was commissioned by Etienne Chevalier and originally hang in the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame in Melun (hence the name), above the grave of Chevalier's wife, Catherine Bude.

Left Panel: this panel shows Etienne Chevalier (1410 – 1474), secretary and treasurer of France to king Charles VII of France. Next to him stands the Protomartyr saint Stephen. the saint holds book and a jagged rock which is his representational attribute as he was stoned to death. To the left of the head of Etienne is a golden text on the wall which reads "IER ESTIEN" which identifies the kneeling man as Etienne Chevalier.

Right Panel: the virgin Mary and Christ as a baby (notice that the Christ child is pointing to the left to Etienne Chevalier). Mary is sitting on a throne which identifies her as 'Queen of Heaven'. Her exposed breast shows her as the Virgo Lactans - the nursing Madonna (this emphasizes the role of Mary as a mother). Surrounding her are angels: red seraphs (symbol for fire, seraphim means 'burning ones') and blue cherubim (symbol for the sky) - these are 2 types of celestial beings in the hierarchy of angels. It is believed that Mary is an idealized portrait of Agnès Sorel (1422 – 1450), royal mistress of King Charles VII of France. Sorel was in her time famous for her beauty and as royal treasurer Etienne Chevalier was responsible for the execution of her will. The red, white and blue refer to the heraldic colors of the French king.

Painting from 1452.

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