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Self-portrait

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
Renaissance

Author(s):
Dorota Giovannoni

This enamel-painted copper medallion is a self-portrait of painter and miniaturist Jean Fouquet (Tours, 1415/20–1477/81). It was painted around 1452–1455 for Etienne Chevalier, member of the Council of King Charles VII and Treasurer of France, and once adorned the frame of a diptych in the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame de Melun. The diptych itself is now divided between the museums of Berlin (Etienne Chevalier presented by St. Stephen) and Antwerp (Virgin and Child surrounded by angels).

A splendid frame

According to past descriptions, the Melun Diptych once boasted a broad blue velvet surround decorated with medallions and embroidered true-love knots embellished with pearls. This frame appears to have featured a second medallion of the same size; it was destroyed in Berlin in 1945, and is known only from old photographs.
The great enthroned Virgins by late 13th-century Tuscan artists may have inspired the idea of medallions set into a frame. When Fouquet visited Tuscany (from 1445–1448), he may have seen the splendid frame of the Madonna Rucellai (commissioned from Duccio in 1285 for Santa Maria Novella in Florence), its wood adorned with painted medallions.

An illusionist technique

Fouquet's self-portrait was executed on a plate of copper with shiny, dark blue enamel about 3 millimeters thick. He used two tones of gold (yellow and red) for the face and the letters of his signature, which he painted directly onto the enamel in long hatched strokes, creating a subtle monochrome effect. To create the relief of the face, Fouquet used a fine needlepoint to remove a layer of enamel at the eyebrows, eyelids, pupils, nose, mouth, inside the ear, and also at the neckline. These two techniques herald the Renaissance art of painted enamels.

The first signed self-portrait

Although the medallion in the Louvre belonged to the frame of a diptych, it is the first self-portrait by a painter which was not composed as part of a scene. Fouquet was undoubtedly influenced by Italian artists such as the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose sculpted self-portraits adorn the edges of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery. Fouquet's innovation with regard to the Italian artists of the time, however, was his awareness of his status as an artist; he demonstrated this by adding his signature to his work, thereby claiming its authorship.

Technical description

  • Jean FOUQUET (Tours, c. 1415-20 - Tours, between 1478 and 1481)

    Self-portrait

    C. 1450

  • Painted enamel on copper

    Diam. 0.06 m

  • Gift of H. de Janzé, 1861

    OA 56

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Anne de Bretagne
    Room 6

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Additional information about the work

Joh(ann)es Fouquet