Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jean Fouquet

Madonna and Child (Virgin with Child and Angels), showing Charles VII's mistress Agnes Sorel  - right panel of the Melun dyptich
circa 1452-1455
oil on panel
94.5 × 85.5 cm
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, Belgium

Jean Fouquet (ca. 1420-ca. 1480) was the leading 15th-century artist in France, the French court painter, a master of both panel painting and manuscript illumination, and the apparent inventor of the portrait miniature. He was the first French artist to travel to Italy and experience first-hand the early Italian Renaissance, though little is known of his early life. He was especially adept in his miniature illustrations for manuscript books.

He was born at Tours, the illegitimate son of a priest. His leap to fame is attested to by the probability that he accompanied a French mission to Rome in 1446. In Rome, he would have seen the frescoes in the Vatican by Fra Angelico, and the style of the famous Florentine had a deep and lasting effect on his own. Upon his return to France, he opened a workshop in Tours and created a new style, combining the experiments of Italian painting with the exquisite precision of characterization and detail of Flemish art.

He received commissions from Charles VII and members of his court and from Louis XI, who made him official court painter in 1474. His work can be associated with the French court's attempt to solidify French national identity in the wake of its long struggle with England in the Hundred Years' War. His work consistently displays clear, dispassionate observation rendered with intricate delicacy and alternates accurate perspective with a flat, non-illusionistic sense of space.