(b. ca. 1420, Tours, d. 1480, Tours)

Melun Diptych: Estienne Chevalier with St Stephen

c. 1450
Wood, 93 x 85 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

This is the leftt wing of a diptych, originally located in Melun. The right wing showing the Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels is in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp.

Estienne Chevalier, who came from Melun, was French Ambassador to England in 1445 and six years later became Treasurer to Charles VII of France. He presented the diptych of which this panel forms the left wing, to his native town; on this wing he had himself painted next to his patron saint, Stephen. The saint, wearing a deacon's robe, is holding a book, on which a jagged stone is lying, as a symbol of his martyrdom. The formal architecture in the background is in the Italian Renaissance style showing pilasters with coloured inlaid marble panels between them. On the wall, receding in perspective, the name Estienne Chevalier is inscribed several times. Originally the donor and the saint were looking towards the Madonna, who occupied the right wing of the diptych; this panel found its way into the Antwerp Museum.

According to a description of the paintings by Denis Godefroy in 1661, the original frames were covered in blue velvet. Round each picture were strands of gold and silver thread, in which the donor's initials were woven in pearls. There were also gilded medallions on which stories of the saints were represented.

Tradition has it - and there is considerable supporting evidence - that the Madonna's features are those of Agnes Sorel, the beautiful and influential mistress of Charles VII. Known portraits of her certainly do not conflict with this hypothesis. Her relationship with Estienne Chevalier was not entirely political, and an eighteenth-century inscription on the back of the Antwerp panel tells us that the diptych of Melun was endowed by Estienne following a vow he made on her death in 1450. The diptych was in the chancel of the Church of Notre-Dame at Melun, south of Paris, from 1461 until about 1775, when the two halves became separated.

The date of Agnes Sorel's death is not the only reason for assuming that the diptych was painted around 1450. At any later period the cut of Estienne's robe would no longer have been in fashion. A few years earlier, between 1443 and 1447, Fouquet had been in Italy and the background of the Berlin panel is clearly the result of what he saw there. After returning from the south, he settled in his birthplace, Tours. From then on he worked for Charles VII and the court and became the leading exponent of the French Court style.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.