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Saint Martin partageant son manteau

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo T. Le Mage

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Author(s):
Grollemund Hélène

This picture of St Martin Sharing His Cloak with a Beggar is one of the forty-seven known miniatures from the famous Book of Hours belonging to Etienne Chevalier, Treasurer of France (circa 1410-74). It illustrates one of the suffrages - short intercessory prayers - addressed to the saints. The book was Fouquet's first project after his return from Italy. Entirely in his hand, it reflects both a strong Italian influence and his own northern European origins.

A complex composition

The mounted saint is shown riding through a city traversed by a river lined with houses. Following him are a group of horsemen, crossing a bridge. Upon meeting a beggar who genuflects before him, Martin draws his sword, ready to cut his cloak into two pieces. Beneath this scene is an illuminated capital O, the first letter of the saint's antiphon in Latin: "O Martine, o pie...". Masked by the burning heart - a later addition - the antiphon illustrates Christ's apparition to St Martin, clad in the cloak given to the beggar. Beneath this, an open diptych shows Martin cast down a staircase by the Devil, and the apparition of the Virgin Mary and Saints Agnes and Thecla bringing him balm. The diptych is framed by the name "Maistre Estienne Chevalier" and the latter's initials. Two angels holding up scrolls bearing Latin inscriptions - "Hic Martinus qui nulli nocuit" ("Behold Martin, who did ill to no man") and "Hic Martinus qui cunctis profuit" ('Behold Martin, who was good to all men') - stand before a length of cloth linking the scene to the main subject, in the upper part of the picture.

Technical rigor

For the landscape, Fouquet employs an oblique perspective with two vanishing points, placing the white bridge so as to form an inverted triangle. This type of composition suggests a spatial continuation beyond its outer edges, while causing the center of the image to recede into the distance. Fouquet also uses one of his favorite devices for the depiction of processions on the move: a bend in the road, whose paving-stones reinforce the circular momentum. The device is a pretext for the depiction of men and horses from a succession of different angles, displaying Fouquet's technical virtuosity and creating an impression of continuous movement, unfolding before our eyes.

North and South

The illumination shows Fouquet vacillating between two cultures. His contact with the great Tuscan painters, notably Fra Angelico, is apparent in the harmonious geometry of the composition, the integration of the figures into the pictorial space, and the sharply-defined forms and contours. Fouquet's own northern roots may be seen in his vibrant, luminous skies, the softly-lit figures, architecture and landscapes, and the carefully-recorded topographical detail. Some commentators have identified the city depicted here as Tours, where the relics of St. Martin were transferred in 1454 in a new reliquary commissioned by Charles VII; others have identified the Pont-au-Change in Paris. Fouquet's choice of subject reflects his taste for realism and everyday life: the episode is brought to life in a contemporary setting with numerous characters in "modern" dress. This approach was much admired by other artists of the time, and Fouquet's composition was widely copied, in whole or part.

Bibliography

Reynaud N., Jean Fouquet, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1981, pp. 46-55
Méjanès J.-F., Le paysage en Europe du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1990, no. 3
Reynaud N., Les manuscrits à peintures en France 1440-1520, Paris, 1995, no. 68; published for the exhibitioin "Quand la peinture était dans les livres : Les manuscrits enluminés en France, 1440-1520", Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1993-1994
Avril F., Jean Fouquet : peintre et enlumineur du XVe siècle, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2003, no. 24.38

Technical description

  • Jean Fouquet (Tours circa 1415/20 - 1478/81)

    St. Martin

    Circa 1452-60

  • Illumination heightened with gold, on vellum

    Parchment: H. 20.9 cm; W. 14.3 cmMiniature: H. 16.1 cm; W. 11.7 cm

  • Commissioned by Etienne Chevalier for his Book of Hours (circa 1410-1474); Chevalier family until 1630; book dismembered in the eighteenth century; collection of Baron Feuillet de Conches, Paris; acquired from his heirs 1889.

    401679

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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