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Oil painting - Virgin and Child
  • Virgin and Child
    Master of Flémalle Robert Campin ?
  • Enlarge image

Virgin and Child

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1500
    15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Master of Flémalle Robert Campin ? (painted by)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on oak panel

  • Museum number:

    769:1-1865

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 3

The Virgin, wearing a red mantle over a blue robe and translucent white underdress, looks down at the Christ Child whom she cradles in her arms while he playfully fingers the (coral?) beaded necklace about her neck. The so-called Master of Flémalle ( fl c. 1420–c. 1440) was a South Netherlandish painter who, together with Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, determined the course of Netherlandish and thence much of European painting in the 15th century. There is good reason for identifying him with Robert Campin of Tournai. This composition of the Virgin and Child appears to be a reduced version of what is sometimes called 'The Virgin in the Apse' or 'The Virgin of Salamanca' type which is known in many versions. This type derives from a presumed lost original by Robert Campin and depicts the Virgin holding the Child in her arms while he suckles at her breast and grasps at her clothing. Here the composition has been altered somewhat so that the Child does not suckle but rather plays with a necklace at the Virgin's neck. She wears a red mantle (rather than a blue one) according to Eastern or Byzantine iconography of the Theotokos, a practice visible in other works by Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck among others. The necklace appears to be made of coral, an ususual detail as more commonly it is the Christ Child who wears coral or toys with a rosary to which is a piece of coral attached, as these were traditionally worn by children as a protection against evil.

Physical description

The Virgin, wearing a red mantle over a blue robe and translucent white underdress, looks down at the Christ Child whom she cradles in her arms while he playfully fingers the (coral?) beaded necklace about her neck

Place of Origin

Netherlands (probably, painted)

Date

ca. 1500
15th century (made)

Artist/maker

Master of Flémalle Robert Campin ? (painted by)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on oak panel

Dimensions

Height: 237 mm, Width: 173 mm, Depth: 13 mm

Object history note

Purchased, 1865
Formerly part of the Collection of Jules Soulages (1803-1857), Toulouse, whose entire collection was bought by a body of English subscribers in 1856 and subsequently acquired in stages by the South Kensington Museum.
Soulages practised as a lawyer in Paris and was founding member of the Société Archéologique du Midi de la France. He created an extensive collection of French and Italian Renaissance decorative art from 1825. Between 1859 and 1865, the collection was purchased in instalments for £11,000 with the assistance of 73 subscribers.

Historical context note

Representations of the Virgin and Child include a wide variety of well-established types. Pose and gesture are used to suggest numerous relationships between mother and child, or between image and the spectator. Other objects such as fruit or flowers are introduced with specific symbolic meanings.The simple effigy of the Virgin holding the Child entered the West through Byzantine art. The formal eastern type with the mother full-face holding a siffly erect, fully clothed Child whose hand is raised in blessing gives way to a more intimate version in which the Child turns away from the worshipper and towards his mother. The image appears commonly in Catholic countries and is found both in public builidings and used in private devotions. The typical form, sometimes known as the 'Mater Amabilis' show sthe Virgin half-length in robe and cloak supporting the Child in her arms in any one of a numbert of conventionalized postures.

The so-called Master of Flémalle ( fl c. 1420–c. 1440) was a South Netherlandish painter who, together with Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, determined the course of Netherlandish and thence much of European painting in the 15th century. There is good reason for identifying him with Robert Campin of Tournai.

This composition of the Virgin and Child appears to be a reduced version of what is sometimes called 'The Virgin in the Apse' or 'The Virgin of Salamanca' type which is known in many versions. This type derives from a presumed lost original by Robert Campin and depicts the Virgin holding the Child in her arms while he suckles at her breast and grasps at her clothing. Here the composition has been altered somewhat so that the Child does not suckle but rather plays with a necklace at the Virgin's neck.

The Virgin wears a red mantle (rather than a blue one) according to Eastern or Byzantine iconography of the Theotokos, a practice visible in other works by Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck among others. The necklace appears to be made of coral, an ususual detail as more commonly it is the Christ Child who wears coral or toys with a rosary to which is a piece of coral attached, as these were traditionally worn by children as a protection against evil.

This panel was recently x-rayed (June 2010) revealing substantial overpainting. The x-ray image reveals elements in the painting that are not visible to the naked eye including three figures, probably angels flanking the Virgin (two on the left and one angel’s head on the right) The angel on the left appears to play the flute. An arch window was observed in the x-ray image around the angels, Virgin and Child.

It appears that the painting was probably originally also framed inside an arch window shape. The elements currently extending outside of the original arch window, including the top of the head of the Virgin, the ear of the angel on the left, the forehead of the right angel, the hair of the Virgin and the drapery, are latter additions.

Recent examination also revealed that the necklace around the neck of the Virgin is not visible in the x-ray image and is painted over age cracks confirming that it is a later addition. Similarly, the Virgin's long hair appears to have been painted over earlier drapery and her right breast was originally exposed, confirming that she originally suckled the Christ Child according to the Virgo Lactans tradition.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Virgin and Child', Follower of Master of Flémalle (Robert Campin ?), ca. 1500

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 204-205.

cat. no. 253
J. C. Robinson, Catalogue of the Soulages Collection : being a descriptive inventory of a collection of works of decorative art, formerly in the possession of M. Jules Soulages of Toulouse; now, by permission of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, exhibited to the public at the Museum of Ornamental Art, Marlborough House. (London : Chapman & Hall, 1856), p. 162, no. 584.

Production Note

The Robinson Catalogue of the Soulages Collection, 1856 describes this work as School of Jan van Eyck. Kauffmann suggested instead that the work was of the 18-19th century in the manner of the 15th century Flemish School, stating that the face of the Virgin appears to be derived from Dirk Bouts. The work appears to be a near contemporary work in the manner of the Master of Flémalle (Robert Campin?) from the mid 15th century onwards.

Materials

Oil paint; Oak

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Necklace; Coral

Categories

Paintings; Christianity

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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