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Master with the Parrot

Madonna and Child in a Panoramic Landscape

Panel: 62 x 40 cm

introduction

Parrots were exotic in mediaeval Europe and therefore highly prized in princely courts, but only rarely depicted by artists. Generally green and not clearly distinguished from the parakeet, parrots symbolise young love. However, due to the parrot's ability, according to virtually all mediaeval zoological treatises and encyclopaedia, to utter the word ave in greeting, the first word spoken by the archangel Gabriel to Mary during the Annunciation, they were also associated with the Virgin as an allegorical symbol of her purity and virginity.

The iconography produced by the Master with the Parrot forms a veritable repertoire of variations on the themes of Mary Magdalene and the Madonna with Child. However, the Master with the Parrot stands apart from his contemporaries for his particularly elegant handling of landscapes, offering magnificent views into the distance. In this version, the viewer's gaze is drawn into a fascinating world of mountains and valleys. The background of the composition shows a prosperous village surrounded by rocky outcroppings. With a meticulous attention to detail, the artist delicately composes the scene of small houses and winding roads, using a palette of green and blue tones to create a peaceful, dreamlike atmosphere.

This panel combines multiple characteristics found in the works by this master. For example, the hairstyle of the Virgin, with curls framing her face adorned by a string of beads with a pearl at its centre appears in the Madonna with Child at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg. Also, according to mediaeval tradition, the Virgin's cape is embroidered with a border of golden motifs, a detail which recurs, along with the thick grapevine bearing two tones of fruit, and the detail in the collar of the dress with a gathered, transparent yoke, in the Madonna with Child at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

The work that this Madonna with Child most closely resembles is held in a private collection: it too is a composition with a panoramic view, in which the seated Child makes the same gesture as in this panel: looking down at the parrot that he holds in his left hand and offering him a grape with his right. However, the Baby Jesus may also be shown standing, as in this panel, supported by his mother's right hand, with her left resting over his heart. Similarly, the clothing of the Virgin is characteristic of the representations painted by this master. Although it is conventional to show her in a blue dress and red cape, the fur trimmed sleeves consistently appear in the representations of the Virgin by the Master with the Parrot.

The quality of this triptych is exceptional: the treatment of the volumes and the space, the modelling, the panoramic landscape in the background, the still life in the left-hand foreground, and on the right behind the Virgin composed of carnations recognisable by their nail-head shape, are stunning in the precision of the brushwork and the meticulous touch. The true meaning of this work lies in the still life in the foreground. Grapes and carnations are both symbols of the Passion of Christ and of the Redemption made possible by his sacrifice, whilst the bouquet of violets symbolises modesty, humility and submission to divine will. The velvety hues, the finesse and the smooth draping of the cloth, and the Virgin's delicate veil combine to make this devotional panel a captivating image that invites a dreamlike contemplation.

Provenance :
Private collection, France

Littérature :
Max J. Friedlander, Early Netherlandish Painting, "Jan Van Scorel and Pieter Coeck Van Aelst", Brussels, 1975, vol. XII, pl. 210.