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Work The Vision of Saint Bernard

Department of Paintings: Dutch painting

The Vision of Saint Bernard

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
Dutch painting

Author(s):
Guillaume Kazerouni

Saint Bernard

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) was a monk who reformed the order of Cistercian monks in the 12th century. He was canonized in 1170, and became patron saint of his place of birth, Burgundy. He is notable for founding the abbey of Clairvaux, a place of authority at the service of the pope and an important development in the Marian cult of the virgin birth, which he fervently promulgated in his writings. It was under his influence that the Cistercians placed all of their churches under the name of Notre Dame. The iconography of the Louvre painting precisely recalls this aspect of the saint's personality. He is shown from the waist up praying before the Virgin and Child who, seated on a cushion, plays with beads. The Virgin holds her hand over an exposed breast, a probable reference to the miracle of lactation. During the Virgin's appearance to the saint, the latter's lips were wetted with a few drops of the milk that nourished Jesus.

The question of style

The painting contains a wealth of references, demonstrating the depth of Joos van Cleve's erudition. The subject was a favorite among artists from Cologne and elsewhere in northern Germany in the late 15th century, and the painter may have been inspired by their paintings. The figure of the Infant and the treatment of the landscape also recall the art of Memling, who at the time exerted an influence that extended well beyond his native town of Bruges.

The landscape

The scene opens out onto a landscape, seen through a window. In the distance stands a medieval church. The landscape adds depth to the picture and creates a vanishing point. A similar composition is found in numerous Flemish paintings, such as the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin by van Eyck. The landscape genre became popular in the 15th century in northern countries, and spread to the rest of Europe with the work of painters like Patinir.

Technical description

  • Joos van CLEVE

    The Vision of Saint Bernard

    1505-10

  • Oil on panel

    H. 29 cm; W. 29 cm

  • Gift of Felix Doistau, 1919

    R.F. 2230

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Netherlands, first half of the 16th century
    Room 9

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