The Virgin and Christ Child are seen as if at an open window, with the infant perched on the sill. Mary gazes lovingly at her son and offers him her breast; images of the Virgin breastfeeding emphasised Christ’s humanity and vulnerability.
Small religious panels like this were used as an aid to private prayer in people’s homes. Images of the Virgin and Child reminded medieval viewers of the Virgin’s role as mother of God, and also of the Incarnation, by which God became fully human.
Although they are biblical figures the Virgin and Child are shown in a fifteenth-century room, as if they have entered our world. The white cloth around the Child may have continued over the original frame, which is now missing, strengthening the illusion.
The Virgin and Christ Child are seen as if at an open window. Mary gazes lovingly at her son and offers him her breast. Images of the Virgin breastfeeding emphasised Christ’s humanity and vulnerability, while showing her at a window recalls how medieval princes presented themselves to their subjects. A sumptuous gold cloth hangs behind the pair. It is a cloth of honour, often displayed behind medieval royalty, reminding viewers that the Virgin was Queen of Heaven.
Although they are biblical figures Bouts shows the Virgin and Child in a fifteenth-century room, as if they have entered our world. Christ is perched on the window sill and the opulent cushion under him appears to jut out over the edge of the sill, a deep shadow falling beneath it. The white cloth around him may have continued over the original frame, which is now missing, strengthening the illusion. Bouts also played with spatial effects in a way characteristic of Netherlandish painting at this period: we look into the room through one window and then out again through a second, to see a landscape and the blue spires of a medieval city, providing another link to the contemporary world.
The warm, glowing colours are characteristic of the technique of applying layers of transparent oil glazes over opaque underpainting. Like many early Netherlandish painters, Bouts used cheaper pigments for the underlayers. Here, for example, the Virgin’s robe is painted with azurite beneath the more expensive ultramarine.
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