04 December 2010

Melun Diptych: Jean Fouquet, Agnès Sorel and Étienne Chevalier

The Melun diptych by French court painter Jean Fouquet (1420-1481) features a right wing showing a Virgin and Child surrounded by shiny, chubby red and blue cherubs. The pale, beautiful Madonna is a portrait of Agnès Sorel (1421-1450). Known as Dame de beauté, she was the favorite mistress of King Charles VII of France. The left wing of the Melun diptych portrays Étienne Chevalier, treasurer to the king being presented to the Virgin and Child by his patron saint, Stephen. Fouquet, the illegitimate son of a priest was trained in Paris and Rome. He was a master of panel panting, illuminated manuscripts and the apparent inventor of the portrait miniature. His own self-portrait medallion may be the earliest example of the genre. Chevalier commissioned the Melun diptych for the church of his birthplace in 1452. Sorel, who he loved had died two years previously at the age of twenty-eight from mercury poisoning. Fouquet immortalized the Dame de beauté and Chevalier's unrequited love for her.


  1. This particular Virgin and Child has long been a favorite, the blue and red cherubs I have always found curious and deeply satisfying visually.
    Sorel must have been ( a well endowed) beauty. I'm happy we have this record of the passion she stirred.
    Take care,

  2. Hi Leonard, Imagine how scandalous the painting must have been at the time! Best, Kendra

  3. This painting has been a fascination for me, but I did not know the background. Thank you for sharing this. Sorel was so young only 28 to die, and of mercury poisoning! Wonderful post.

  4. Thanks for this Kendra. I have a copy of the Madonna portrait, but did not realize that there was a love story behind it. It's a masterpiece.


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