Jean Fouquet  

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"Jean Foucquet came later; and a picture is still left us from which his manner may be judged. It is the portrait of Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII., in the garb of the Virgin Mary, and surrounded by angels with red wings. This, after all, is a repulsive picture, hung up high in the Gallery of Antwerp, where the name of the master is not known, but is unmistakeably Flemish in tone and execution. It is a panel which gives us an imitation of Van der Weyden, and a foretaste of Memling; but is far below the works of these masters."--Early Flemish Painters (1856) is a book by Joseph A. Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle

Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels (detail, c. 1450) Jean Fouquet
Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels (detail, c. 1450) Jean Fouquet

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Jean Fouquet or Jehan Fouquet (1420 - 1481) was the most important French painter of the 15th century, a master of both panel painting and manuscript illumination, and the apparent inventor of the portrait miniature. His best known work, Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, is in the collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.


Jean Fouquet was born in Tours. Little is known of his life, but it is certain that he was in Italy about 1437, where he executed a portrait of Pope Eugene IV (now surviving only in much later copies), and that upon his return to France, while retaining his purely French sentiment, he grafted the elements of the Tuscan style, which he had acquired during his period in Italy, upon the style of the Van Eycks, which was the basis of early 15th-century French art, and thus became the founder of an important new school. He was court painter to Louis XI.


Also referred to as Souquet, Jean's supreme excellence as an illuminator, the exquisite precision in the rendering of the finest detail, and his power of clear characterization in work on this minute scale, have long since procured him an eminent position in the art of his country; his importance as a painter was fully realized when his portraits and altarpieces were for the first time brought together from various parts of Europe, at the exhibition of the "French Primitives" held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

One of Fouquet's most important paintings is "Melun diptych" (c. 1450), formerly in Melun cathedral. The left wing depicts Etienne Chevalier with his patron saint St. Stephen (now in in Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) while the right wing shows a pale Virgin and Child surrounded by red and blue angels (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp). Since at least the seventeenth century, the Virgin has been recognized as a portrait of Agnès Sorel. The Louvre has his oil portraits of Charles VII, of Count Wilczek, and of Guillaume Jouvenal des Ursins, as well as a portrait drawing in crayon; while an authentic portrait from his brush is in the Liechtenstein collection.

His self-portrait miniature would be the earliest sole self-portrait surviving in Western art, if the portrait in the National Gallery, London by Jan van Eyck were not in fact a self-portrait, as most art historians believe it to be.

Far more numerous are his illuminated books and miniatures that have come down to us. The Musée Condé in Chantilly, Oise contains forty miniatures from a Book of Hours, painted in 1461 for Etienne Chevalier, already seen on the Berlin wing of the Melun altarpiece. From Fouquet's hand again are eleven out of the fourteen miniatures illustrating a translation of Josephus at the Bibliothèque Nationale. The second volume of this manuscript, unfortunately with only one of the original thirteen miniatures, was discovered and bought in 1903 by Mr Henry Yates Thompson at a London sale, and restored by him to France.

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