DARET, Jacques
(b. ca. 1404, Tournai, d. 1470)

Altarpiece of the Virgin

Oil on wood, 57 x 52 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The principal patron of Daret over a period of twenty years was the abbot of St Vaart, Jean de Clercq.

Out of all of Daret's works that are recorded in Jean de Clercq's account books, only four panels have survived to the present day. They come from an Altarpiece of the Virgin (St Vaast Altarpiece) painted for the abbot between 1433 and 1435. Two of them, the Visitation and the Adoration of the Magi, are in the State Collections in Berlin; the third, the Nativity, is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, and the fourth, the Presentation in the Temple, is in the Petit Palais museum, in Paris.

One of these four panels, The Visitation is reminiscent in its composition of paintings by Rogier Van der Weyden on the same theme. But the three others are closer - strikingly close to the art of Robert Campin, especially the Nativity which should be compared with Campin's Nativity in Dijon. The two compositions are essentially analogous: the Virgin kneels before the Infant who is lying on the ground, while Joseph holds up a lighted candle. They also share the small group of angels and the scene of the two midwives taken from an apocryphal Gospel, which Daret treats as a separate episode. Daret is less inventive than Campin, and his ambition seems limited to creating a simple tranquil atmosphere. The clothes worn by the midwives are less exotic, and the angels are holding a single phylactery. Above all, Daret's Nativity has been substantially simplified: it has fewer characters, and materials and textures are rendered with less attention than in Campin's. One has only to look at the ageing skeleton of the stable to measure the distance that separates the two artists. Certain elements have also been modified, so that, for instance, the ass and the ox in Daret's picture face towards the scene of the Birth, rather than turning their backs on it.

The other three panels show that Daret was a talented painter of the human figure and a sensitive landscape artist.