The enthusiasts of the Louvre Museum are all familiar with this exquisite work, as remarkable for the beauty of the composition as for the charm of detail, for the truth of the attitudes, and for the freshness of a color that the action of five centuries could tarnish.
The scene is set in a rich house in Bruges, with its small lead-studded windows, whose door to columns opens onto the Flemish countryside. On a seat raised by a cushion, the Virgin sits holding the Baby Jesus on her knees. She is draped in a beautiful purple coat whose folds, very ample, are spread over the rich mosaic tile. The painter attributed to him the blond beauty of the Flemings, a regular beauty but without much expression. His hair is well drawn on each side of the forehead, in the fashion of the time, and fall in abundant and silky loops on the shoulders; Above his head, a little angel, wings outstretched, supports a massive golden crown. His lowered eyes follow the movements of the Divine Child who, with one hand, holds a crystal globe surmounted by a cross, while the other is stretched towards Chancellor Rolin. The latter, dressed in an ample robe of brown and gold brocade, is kneeling before the august group, hands clasped, in front of a place to kneel covered with a cushion, and on which is placed a prayer book. However beautiful the Virgin may be, the character of the Chancellor is the essential piece of this precious work; his attitude of adoration and ecstasy is translated with an eloquence the equivalent of which can not be found in any other painting, except perhaps in the Madeleine of Correggio, in the Parma Museum.
To the interest of this august head-to-head, the art of Van Eyck has added another, that of a marvelous landscape that extends to the horizon between the columns of the door. “Here are the gardens of the palace with the beds of lilies, gladioli and roses, where peacocks and rare birds roam. A terrace covered with battlements dominates them on the side of the country, and little characters of astonishing truth animate this rampart. Beyond, extend as far as the eye can see the bright prospects: a river from which emerges an island commanded by a castle; on one of the banks, a city with its quays, its streets, its church and its fortified port; and to close the horizon, a chain of mountains, whose peaks are lost in the pale light of a morning dawn. All this abounding with microscopic details, which are astonishingly truthful and blend into an almost mystical overall harmony. “(A. Gruyer.)
In its small size, the Virgin of chancellor Rolin is a priceless jewel. She is the most perfect sample of the first way of the master, all the qualities of this brilliant artist are summed up and flourish there. “The tone,“ writes Eugène Fromentin, “is serious, dull and rich, extraordinarily harmonious and strong. The color flows at full edges. It is whole, but very skilfully composed and connected more cleverly by subtle values. In truth, when we focus on it, it is a painting that makes us forget everything that is not it and would suggest that the art of painting has said its last word, and that from the first hour.“
“Nothing finer, more chaste, more delicate,” added Théophile Gautier, “than this Notre-Dame, still a little embarrassed by the Gothic symmetry, but already of an incredible truth and delicacy of drawing. As for its color, instead of charring itself with time, it has become agatised and has taken on the immutable brilliancy of hard stones.”
Many of Jean Van Eyck’s works have been attributed to his older brother Hubert, a great painter too. But it seems today that the latter can really claim only the famous triptych of the Adoration of the Lamb, a marvel without equal that amply suffices to his glory. He died before finishing it, and it was his brother Jean who put the finishing touches to it.
Jean Van Eyck did not limit his work to religious painting; he was also an incomparable portraitist. During his lifetime he enjoyed a European reputation, and the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, the most enlightened prince of his time, attached him as a painter of his court. He always showed him a special favor, employing him several times in diplomatic missions abroad. When Van Eyck settled in Bruges, the duke came to visit him several times. He was also called Jean de Bruges.
We know that Jean Van Eyck is credited with discovering oil painting. It is now accepted that this process was known well before him. From the thirteenth century, the monk Theophilus had given the formula with a minute precision. It is none the less true that the two brothers, Hubert and Jean Van Eyck, were the first to employ it, and they used it with surprising knowledge, to judge by the admirable degree of preservation of their works.
Executed by Van Eyck for the college of Autun, according to the orders of Chancellor Rolin, advisor to the Duke of Burgundy, the Virgin of chancellor Rolin was transported to the Louvre by Napoleon I. It also bears the title of Virgin of Rolin and that of Virgin to the donor.
Height: 0.66 – Width: 0.62 – Figures: 0.60.