FEATURE image: DETAIL, Henri Bellechose (1415-1440), École de Bourgogne, Retable de saint Denis, 1416, https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010063178
Retable de Saint Denis, (above), was completed in 1416 for the church of the Charterhouse of Champmol that is adjacent to Dijon. The artwork’s attribution has long been debated between Bellechose and Jean Malouel (1370-1415). Written evidence points to Bellechose possibly only completing the painting started by Malouel who was Bellechose’s predecessor at the head of the ducal workshop. However, recent connoisseurship does not see two different styles that would indicate two painters and the artwork in the Louvre is not the same size as the artwork mentioned in the early 15th century document that supports the dual attribution.
The angel Gabriel’s wings resemble peacock feathers. The panel painting was once joined to another panel to form a diptych. Its opulent ornate style and small size allowing for easy mobility points to its use as a devotional artwork for an aristocratic patron around 1400.
In Christian Biblical tradition, the Virgin Mary was the only human person to be received into heaven after her death as a physical body prior to the Last Judgment. By the Middle Ages, the event’s narrative was elaborated so that the Virgin in Heaven came to be understood as a royal court where angels acted as court pages. In Heaven’s throne room, Mary is crowned as Queen by her son, Jesus Christ.
In the French tondo, Christ wears a red cloak symbolizing his Resurrection and a violet robe symbolizing his Passion. He sits on a stone throne and sets the crown on his mother Mary’s head as she kneels on a splendid cushion.
Strewn on the green-tiled floor of the celestial throne room are a variety of cut flowers which point to Mary’s purity and love for humanity. One angel carries her dress’s train and is himself dressed in a liturgical-type costume.
The tiny panel is remarkable for its delicate execution, lovely colors, and precise articulation of details such as the angels’ multi-colored wings. Its overall imagery was 14th century Italian in origin and arrived into Paris in the 15th century. Like the Annunciation panel in the Cleveland Museum of Art (above), this panel was likely produced as a private devotional image for a patron of high rank who dwelt among the milieu of the Parisian court.
Not much more is known of the Maître des heures de Rohan than if he were anonymous. The artist had ties to Troyes, a Burgundian market town, and settled in Paris between 1415 and 1420. He was a commercial illuminator and is found in the service of the Dukes of Anjou around 1420. In addition to the Grandes Heures de Rohan, c.1430-1435, he produced other exceptional books, including the Hours of René d’Anjou (Bibliothèque nationale de France), the Hours of Isabelle Stuart (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK) and the Hours for the Use of Angers (former Martin Le Roy collection).
Artwork by Maître des heures de Rohan reflects a highly personal vision. The artist was completely unconcerned with his contemporaries’ preoccupation to introduce Renaissance realism into painting. The artist ignored perspective and chiaroscuro through concrete depictions and continued to develop his artistic meditations on faith and death using highly original invention of forms. In this way, the Maître des heures de Rohan is an enduring artist from early 15th century France as some of his more fashionably progressive contemporaries are not as he stayed true to his vision to create some of the most expressive pages of medieval Christian mysticism.
The precise identification of the artist called the Maître of the Aix Annunciation is unknown. The artist is believed to be male and French, and could be Jean Chapus who lived in Aix and was working for King Réne of Anjou in the 1430s and 1440s. The Annunciation which was placed in the church in 1445 and has been there since, was part of a triptych. The other wings have been split off and are in Brussels, Amsterdam, and a private Dutch collection (one wing was also split). The style shows influence from Italy (Naples) and Flemish art.
Jean Fouquet was a major French painter of the 15th century. He was in Rome in the mid-1440s and is presumed to have painted portraits. Under what circumstances the twenty-something Fouquet traveled to Rome is unknown. In any event Fouquet returned to Tours in 1448 and was working in the court of Charles VII. Louis XI appointed him official painter to the king in 1475. A handful of miniatures are documented artworks by Fouquet though other pictures, such as the Melun diptych and others, are attributed to him.
Philippe de Mazerolles was a French painter and illuminator who was active in Paris and in Bruges. The artist is identified in several contemporary documents. Trained in Paris, his style was directly inspired by the Maître de Bedford, an anonymous illuminator active in Paris in the first third of the 15th century.
Also known as Charonton, the French painter worked in Avignon in southern France. His large Coronation of the Virgin is a documented artwork that was completed in 1454. It is one of the most important surviving 15th century French paintings.
Nicolas Froment worked in the south of France and was painter to Réne d’Anjou. The triptych is a documented artwork by the artist.
The Master of Moulins is one of the great French painters of the 15th century. He was influenced by Hugo van der Goes (died 1482) and takes his name from the triptych painting of the Madonna and Child with angels and Donors (above) in Moulins Cathedral dated from 1498/99. Other works attributed to the Master of Moulins are in Autun, Paris, Chicago, Brussels, London, Munich, and Glasgow.
Jean Bourdichon served as official court painter to four successive French kings: Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII, and François I. Bourdichon was almost certainly a pupil of Jean Fouquet, the previous court painter.
Simon Marmion (died 1489) who worked in Amiens and Valenciennes and temporarily in Tournai was a painter and illuminator where his miniatures were admired for their rich decoration and landscape details. In the mid1440s the artist moved from Amiens to Valenciennes where he became a leading painter. His most important painting is the Saint Bertin Altarpiece in Berlin and London.
The Soul of Saint Bertin carried up to God was the upper section of a wing for an altarpiece for the high altar of the abbey church of St Bertin at Saint-Omer in northern France. It was commissioned by the influential Guillaume Fillastre, Abbot of St Bertin (1450-73), Bishop of Verdun (1437-49), Bishop of Toul (1449-60), Bishop of Tournai (1460–73), Chancellor of the Order of the Golden Fleece and a close confidant of the powerful Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good. The artwork, whose main parts are in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, was consecrated in 1459. The altarpiece was intact in the abbey until 1791 when, as with many church goods, it fell victim to the French Revolution. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/simon-marmion-the-soul-of-saint-bertin-carried-up-to-god
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
La Peinture Française: XVe et XVIe Siècles, Albert Châtelet, Skira, Genève Suisse, 1992.
French Painting: From Fouquet to Poussin, Albert Châtelet and Jacques Thuillier, Skira, 1963.