This stunning painting is Jean Fouquet’s Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels (c.1450), which I’d never previously come across until Michael White mentioned it in a post on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free blog today.
In the course of his “what I did in my summer holidays” piece, White writes:
In the brilliant Mauritzhaus gallery [in The Hague] the star of the show these days is the Girl with a Pearl Ear Ring by the long-unfashionable Vemeer. How fickle artistic taste can be! But the eye-catcher for me is Jean Fouquet’s (1420-80) Madonna and Child, a striking composition in red, white and blue, severe but sensual. How did that manage to get painted before the 20th century, let alone survive so long? If you know, tell me.
While I can’t answer White’s question, a quick look-up on Wikipedia reveals that the model for the painting was one Agnès Sorel, an “extraordinarily beautiful young woman” (as if we needed telling!) who became the king of France’s mistress and bore him three children before dying at the age of 28. It is believed she was murdered by someone (possibly the king’s son) resentful of her “very strong influence on the king” and “extravagant tastes”.
So a (deliberately?) ironic choice of model for a painting of the Mother of our Lord. But it’s still quite a painting, and quite a story behind it.