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Work The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Flemish painting

Guillaume Kazerouni

Nicolas Rolin (1376/1380–1462), who was chancellor to Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, is worshiping the Infant Jesus, who blesses him, holding a globe of the world as a sign of his power over Creation. The central role of Mary, mother of Christ, is emphasized by her royal crown, which is carried by angels. There is an imaginary, idealized landscape and architecture symbolic of a basilica.

A picture for the Saint Sebastian chapel in the church of Notre-Dame-du-Châtel, Autun

The painting is from the Saint Sebastian chapel in the church of Autun, from which it was removed in 1793 when the buildings were destroyed. It subsequently entered the Louvre collections and at this point lost its original frame, which must have borne the artist's signature, together with the precise date when it was painted.
Nicolas Rolin commissioned this painting to decorate the chapel and, as the donor, he is portrayed very realistically. Although from a modest family background in Autun, he was a lawyer who was appointed to the position of chancellor in 1422: his advancement was due to the trust placed in him by two dukes of Burgundy of the house of Valois, John the Fearless and Philip the Good. The ancient origin of the work goes back to the foundations of the chancellor in the church of Notre-Dame-du-Châtel in Autun, where his ancestors were buried and where he had been baptized. As an enlightened patron, the chancellor called upon the most renowned artists of the time to carry out his various commissions. Thus his name is linked to such distinguished works as the Polyptych of the Last Judgment by Rogier Van der Weyden (Hospices de Beaune) and the Virgin of the Louvre.

The iconography

Van Eyck depicts the chancellor kneeling before the Virgin and Child. The ostentatious figure cut by the donor, dressed in gold brocade and furs like a prince, betrays his desire to be seen as a high-ranking court dignitary. The composition is designed around an opening made up of three arcades. On one side is the worldly public figure kneeling on a prie-dieu covered with finely worked velvet cloth and, on the other, the sacred figures. The Virgin is seated on a marble throne wearing a full, embroidered cloak adorned with precious stones. The capitals on the left depict scenes from the Old Testament that highlight the errors of humanity: the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the sacrifice of Cain and Abel, God receiving Abel's offering, the murder of Cain, Noah in the ark, and finally Noah covered by one of his sons. The entire picture is composed as a "holy conversation" (a scene that brings saints and donor together)—Van Eyck helped to disseminate this genre, which was to prove very popular in Italy.

Van Eyck and Ars Nova

Robert Campin and Jan Van Eyck were the main representatives of this new type of painting, which saw the light of day in Flanders in 1420–1430. The technique of painting with oil became more widespread, allowing light and naturalistic details to be depicted with greater brilliance. Van Eyck was one of the first artists to use oil paint, but its invention has been wrongly attributed to him. Another innovation is in the composition and the relationship between the figures and the space they occupy. The figures here have a sculptural presence and are set within a room constructed according to the rules of perspective. Depth is suggested by the architecture, the ornamental tiling and also the landscape, which is one of the work's most remarkable features.

Technical description

  • Jan van EYCK (Maaseick, c. 1390-95 - Bruges, 1441)

    The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin

  • H. 0.66 m; W. 0.62 m

  • Painted c. 1430–34 for a chapel founded by Rolin in the church of Notre-Dame-du Châtel in Autun
    Removed during the Revolution and sent to the Louvre, 1800 , 1800

    INV. 1271

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Netherlands, 15th century
    Room 818

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