LA TOUR, Georges de
(b. 1593, Vic-sur-Seille, d. 1652, Luneville)

The New-born

Oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes

The subject is ambigious because the spectator is uncertain whether it is a simple genre scene or whether it represents the Virgin, St Anne and the Christ Child.

By common consent La Tour's best picture is the New-born. At first sight this now-famous work seems starkly simple, a refinement of the already-familiar mannerisms and abbreviations, and only close inspection of the relatively small-scale picture reveals its complexity. The technique is almost pointiliste: the intense red of the mother's dress is achieved by minute dots of colour of varying hue, and the same is true of the lilac garment of the servant (or St Anne, if the subject is the Christ Child). The whole surface is thus the product of an intensely concentrated effort, and a large amount of detail is concealed in the stark simplicity of the forms. The collar of the mother's dress is elaborately decorated, and the profiles are painted with an exceptional delicacy of line.

A total calm pervades the picture, in which the faces have been described as almost Buddha-like in their serenity. The sentiments which characterize almost all the rest of seventeenth-century painting are avoided, and this picture alone justifies La Tour's reputation. Just as Vermeeer's View of Delft is exceptional, even for Vermeer, so the New-born rises above all the conventions of its time.