The Virgin and Child are shown as an affectionate mother and laughing infant. Christ holds an apple, alluding to the fruit with which Eve tempted Adam in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, leading to the Fall of Man.
Devotion to Mary was an important part of a great flowering of private religious activity in the fifteenth century: as a human mother she was seen as more approachable than Christ or God the Father. Small devotional panels like this were used for private prayer and meditation.
This painting’s condition makes it difficult to judge accurately its relationship to Dirk Bouts. The drawing is good and the draperies and patterned textile are very similar to those in pictures attributed to Bouts himself. It was probably made in his workshop.
The Virgin Mary, holding a laughing Christ Child, stands in front of a folded green and gold drapery (a cloth of honour of the type hung behind medieval royalty). Christ holds an apple, a reference to the fruit with which Eve tempted Adam in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, and brought about the Fall of Man. The incarnation, and Christ’s subsequent suffering and death on the Cross, was believed to bring about the humankind’s redemption, and so Christ became the new Adam and the Virgin the new Eve.
This painting’s condition makes it difficult to judge accurately its relationship to Dirk Bouts. The drawing is good and the pattern of the cloth of gold is found in other paintings by Bouts, and the technique of the draperies is very similar to that used in The Virgin and Child. Both were probably made in Bouts’s workshop around the same time.
Although Netherlandish paintings were much admired all over Europe in the fifteenth century, by the eighteenth century they were out of fashion. Interest in early Netherlandish paintings – the so-called ‘primitives’ – was revived in the nineteenth century, especially in Germany. This painting belonged to Prince Ludwig Kraft Ernst of Oettingen-Wallerstein, and later passed to his cousin Albert, husband and consort of Queen Victoria. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria gave 25 of his paintings to the National Gallery.
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