MASTER of Moulins
(active 1480-1500)

Madonna and Child Adored by Angels

c. 1490
Oak, 38,5 x 29,5 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Clothed in a blue robe edged with gold and lined with ermine, from which a delicate chemisette appears, and wearing a red veil, the Virgin is contemplating the infant Jesus resting on a cushion covered with an immaculately white cloth. A sense of great gentleness emanates from her person, from her face which is at once serene and serious, and from her hands which appear hardly to touch each other. She is surrounded by four angels, one of which is holding the cushion upright. The delicate play of light underlines the charm of the faces and the expressive hands, either joined in prayer or separated in delight. The Child himself presents certain features that confer on him a special physical presence: a small, bulbous stomach, chubby thighs and, in particular, the tuned-in toes so typical of all babies, show the artist's interest in the particular features of babies' bodies. A certain contrast exists between the solid volumes of the figures and the abstract, shallow space evoked by the gilded background.

Stylistic affinities with certain works from the artist's early career enable us to date the painting at around 1490. The iconography of the Virgin surrounded by angels is fairly rare in northern countries, but appears more frequently in Italy. The Master of Moulins treated this theme at least three times. Apart from the present painting, we find it again in the central panel of the great Moulins triptych, also in a small painting in the Bacri collection.

The Master of Moulins owes his name to the small town of Moulins, the old capital of the Bourbonnais region, the cathedral of which conserves the Triptych of the Virgin in Glory Surrounded by Angels, around which are grouped works attributed to him: fourteen paintings, one miniature, one sketch and a stained glass window. From his style, it is thought that he might have been a pupil of Hugo van der Goes before developing an elegant and refined style, which proved popular at the Bourbon court where he appears to have been the painter in residence. Certain authors suggest that the artist can be identified with Jean Hey, a painter originally from the Netherlands, whose name is known to us from an inscription on the back of an Ecce Homo. This painting, also preserved at the Brussels museum, was painted at Moulins in 1494 for Jean Cueillette, the notary and secretary of Pierre II of Bourbon.