MALOUEL, Jean
(active 1397-1415)

Calvary and the Martyrdom of St Denis

1416
Oil on panel transferred to canvas, 161 x 210 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

A series of scenes make up this picture, all of them painted against a gold background. Although the crucified Christ has been placed in the centre of the composition, the chief subject is St Denis, the first Bishop of Paris and patron saint of France. The court painter of Dijon has painted the scene of his last Communion and his martyrdom in 285, in the company of the deacon Eleutherius and the priest Rusticus. On the left of the crucifix the Bishop, seen behind the bars of a blue prison with a superstructure of red bricks, receives the Host from the haloed figure of Christ in a gold brocade robe and blue mantle, accompanied by angels. On the right, the burly executioner, dressed in green, is beheading the holy Bishop, whose head is half severed from the body. As against the formal representation of Christ and the saints, the faces of the crowd watching the event are markedly individual; especially noteworthy are the bearded figure in a red robe and the man wearing a white turban. The lively group balancing the mass of the prison, the open spaces of the middle distance all go to make up a superb example of French moderation and proportion.

It has been suggested that this painting was begun by Jean Malouel and completed by Henri Bellechose.