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

Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier

Manuscript (Ms. 71), 201 x 148 mm
Musée Condé, Chantilly

During the Hundred Years' War against the English and beyond, French kings from Charles VII (1422-61) to François I (1515-47) had their court in the Loire valley. It was there that they built many of their finest residences. Jean Fouquet worked there, presumably after having done his apprenticeship as a miniaturist in Paris. A journey he undertook to Rome provided him with further inspiration, which he incorporated into his illustrations with great ingenuity. Most significant are the miniatures for the Book of Hours for Étienne Chevalier (c. 1410-1474), secretary and finance minister to King Charles VII of France (reigned 1422-1461). He was one of those bourgeois court officials who because of their great capabilities and loyalty, had risen in rank and influence in Paris and had as a result acquired considerable wealth. The creator of the miniatures in his Book of Hours was Jean Fouquet, with whom French 15th-century painting attained its undisputed zenith. Here we see landscapes typical of the early Italian Renaissance, along with depictions of palaces and castles typical of the Limbourg brothers or the Parisian School.

Originally this Book of Hours was a sumptuous manuscript rivaling the most beautiful manuscripts of the 15th century. Yet, it has suffered a sad fate. In the 18th century it was divided up into sections, with the loss of all the text pages except two. The illuminated pages were scattered in all directions in the 19th century. From the surviving 47 illuminated folios 40 are kept in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, 2 in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1 each in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, British Library, London, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Wildentein Foundation, London, and a private collection.

The picture shows the miniature Étienne Chevalier and His Patron Saint from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier (folio 5r). Fouquet painted a physiognomically convincing portrait of him in the Melun diptych. A portrait of the patron also appears in the illustrations in the Book of Hours.

The two scenes presented here in succession (Étienne Chevalier and his Patron, and The Madonna before the Cathedral) together make up an organic whole; they are in fact a single composition. On account, however, of limitations of size, the artist was obliged to make them into two pictures, facing each other. The internal space, inspired by Italian Renaissance art, is framed by flat pilasters connected by an elaborate cornice, and the arched niche of a Gothic cathedral. On the left kneels the donor with his patron saint St Stephen the Martyr. Their figures, in red robes, are accompanied by golden-haired angels playing on instruments. Étienne Chevalier is painted in the same position as in his Berlin portrait, but his face has aged by a good ten years. His skin is more wrinkled, his nose more pointed and his lips thinner. Time has left no mark on the features of the patron saint; his left hand tenderly rests on the Chancellor's shoulder. The architecture also reminds us of the earlier diptych.

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