melun-diptych

The right panel of the Melun Diptych. This diptych created by French court painter Jean Fouquet around 1452 consists of two oil paintings. The the right panel (shown) depicts the Virgin mother and Christ child. The left panel (x) depicts Étienne Chevalier and St. Stephen. The wooden panels measure about 93 by 85 centimeters. Diptychs consist of two flat panels or plates that are hinged together in the middle. The panels originally connected as a diptych, remain separated. The the right panel is located at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Belgium while the left panel now resides in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.  

“Virgin and Child”, Melun Diptych (~1450, Jean Fouquet)

“Most modern scholars writing about images of the nursing Virgin seem to resist connecting the display of the breast to erotic desire, although the polished white breasts of Jean Fouquet’s Virgin in the Melun Diptych, with Etienne Chevalier and his patron saint looking on in the adjacent space, seem to thwart the connection with food in their practically nipple-less, fetishized appearance.

The chain of gazes only enhances this effect – the Christ Child does not look at the viewer, while Saint Stephen seems to look quite pointedly at the buxom breast that has seemingly burst forth from the confines of the Virgin’s blue dress; she herself looks down upon it with an air of cool self-appraisal. Perhaps because this image of the Virgin is so problematic, with a further layer of complication in that it is said to be an image of Agnes Sorel, the king’s mistress, the Melun Diptych is typically ignored in discussions about the meaning of the breast-feeding Virgin.” (from: “Was It Good For You, Too?” Medieval Erotic Art and Its Audiences, by Martha Easton)

Tempera on panel (93 × 85 cm); Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.