(b. ca. 1365, Nijmegen, d. 1415, Dijon)
Virgin and Childc. 1410
Tempera on wood, 10 x 15 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The half length figure of the Virgin, with the Child supported by her right arm, is shown within the three-dimensional representation of a window-frame. It was due to the influence of Sienese painting that this Byzantine type of picture found its way to the North. In the Burgundian (and French) painting this is the very first half figure representation of the Madonna and as such has remained unique for many years. This small picture (which is only as big as a Book of Hours) may have stood on the altar of a domestic chapel or on a prie-dieu in the corner of a room.
The motif of the window-frame provides the reason why the Virgin is represented as a half length figure. In this way the Madonna comes close to the praying person, but, at the same time, the frame emphasizes the majesty of the Mother of God. (Because rulers generally appeared at a window to show themselves to the people, the window became a symbol of royalty.) The painter may have had in mind the medieval hymns in which the Virgin was praised as "the Window of Heaven" (fenestra coeli), as it was through her that the Lord endowed the world with genuine light.
The Child's delicate body is also depicted from the waist upwards, emerging from Mary's wide and velvety soft cloak. It is not the primary purpose of the drapery to convey the structure of the underlying figure, for the drapery forms an independent element of the composition, which can be modelled as the artist wishes. (See, for example, the protruding form at the Madonna's right shoulder.) The arrangement whereby the folds of the mantle spread out radially from the Madonna's left wrist is most refined and so is the narrowing down of the blue area of the whole drapery at the bottom part of the picture.
The two figures are almost fused together by love, and yet are surrounded by a melancholy mood, the austere premonition of the Passion. The Virgin is absorbed in her thoughts, the Child opens His big, round eyes and looks at the spectator. His forefinger may enjoin silence upon the approaching worshipper. We can see the same motif in Stefano da Verona's Madonna in the Rosary, whose style as well as that of Michelino da Besozzo's The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine were directly influenced by the painting which originated from the Malouel workshop.