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Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim

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Jean Fouquet
Tours 1420 - Tours 1471
1452
oil on panel
94.5 x 85.5 x 1.2 cm
Inventory number 132

This painting is the jewel in the crown of the Royal Museum's collection. Although it has a strikingly modern feel, it was produced by French court painter Jean Fouquet as long ago as 1452. It was commissioned by Etienne Chevalier, treasurer to the French King Charles VII. The Virgin Mary is depicted here as the Queen of Heaven, with the infant Jesus on her lap. The blue and red angels behind her richly decorated throne contrast strongly with the paleness of Mary and her child.
It is believed that Agnes Sorel, the mistress of Charles VII, modelled for the Virgin. She is dressed according to the fashion of the day. Her cloak and depilated hair line emphasise her eminence. The laced waist accentuates her bared breast and gives the composition an almost erotic quality. However, this was certainly not Fouquet's intention when he produced the painting several centuries ago. It was quite simply a rendering of the Virgo Lactans, or the lactating virgin. She was supposed to highlight the worldly status of Jesus by showing that he, like all other children, was breastfed by his mother.

Red and blue

The colours of the angels are most likely not coincidental. The three blue cherubs are believed to represent purity and air, while the six red seraphs are thought to symbolise love and fire. On closer scrutiny, it appears that just one group of angels actually touches Mary's throne.

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