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Follower of Robert Campin, The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen
Artist Follower of Robert Campin
Artist dates 1378/9 - 1444
Date made about 1440
Medium and support Oil with egg tempera on oak with walnut additions
Dimensions 63.4 × 48.5 cm
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2609
Location Room 28
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen
Follower of Robert Campin

This puzzling picture of the Virgin and Child is often called the ‘Firescreen Madonna’, after the large wicker firescreen behind the Virgin’s head. We do not know who it was made for, or where or how it was used. We are not even sure how it originally looked: it was extensively restored in the nineteenth century.

Although they are biblical figures, the artist has placed the Virgin and Christ inside a wealthy, even palatial, Netherlandish home. The Virgin is dressed as a queen. She wears a blue overdress over a linen shift, open at the neck to show her blue-veined breasts. Wisely, she has spread a white cloth over her knees to protect her clothes from the naked, wriggling child. A tiny hook at its corner would have allowed it to be hung up to dry.

Christ’s genitals are clearly visible under the Virgin’s left hand. They were perhaps meant to remind viewers that Christ was fully human, and shared humanity’s vulnerability.

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