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The Virgin Mary, the smiling Christ Child on her lap, sits under a fanciful framework of architecture, sculpture and metalwork which forms the back and canopy for her throne. Stone columns rest on green cushions, which seem to be carved and coloured in a deceptive imitation of reality. Stone branches sprout from the column tops and are entwined in stone acanthus leaves. In the upper corners, two babies, carved from whitish stone, grasp the stems which meet over the Virgin’s head.
The Virgin holds an open book in one hand but glances sideways at her son. He is playing with the Renaissance equivalent of a bubble maker. The bubble is a reference to an ancient proverb, homo bulla (‘man is a bubble’), which was used by artists as a reminder of mortality.
The Virgin holds an open book in one hand but glances sideways at her son. He is playing with the Renaissance equivalent of a bubble maker. He holds what appears to be a mussel shell with a twig through its base for a handle. The shell has evidently been filled with soapy water, and Christ has blown through the yellow pipe or straw in his left hand to make the bubble. He has then withdrawn it, taking care not to burst the bubble. The bubble is a reference to an ancient proverb, homo bulla (‘man is a bubble’), which was used by artists as a reminder of mortality.
There are many parallels with the style and content of the paintings of Jean Bellegambe, who seems to have had a taste for images of babies and bubbles: both appear on his Anchin polyptych (Musée de la Chartreuse, Douai). The execution of our painting seems less refined than his work, however. Perhaps he delegated much of this panel to assistants.
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