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Prado unveils early French Masterpiece

February 15, 2013
The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis d’Orléans, Colart de Laon? Egg tempera, 56.5 x 42 cm, 1405 -07 – 1408, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis d’Orléans, Colart de Laon? Egg tempera, 56.5 x 42 cm, 1405 -07 – 1408, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The Prado continues on its streak of brilliant acquisitions with the addition of an early French panel painting to their permanent collection.  French paintings from this period, according to the museum’s Web site, are extremely rare; and all the more so is the exceptional quality of this work which may be by  Colart de Laon (documented 1377-1411).

When purchased, the panel had substantial passages of overpaint the covered the donor and Saint Agnes (lower left) and other portions of the work.  X-radiography and Infra-red reflectography revealed the overpainted figures, and nettles on the donor’s sleeves allow “this figure to be identified as Louis d’Orléans.” The attribution to Colart is made because he was …

painter and valet de chambre to Louis d’Orléans from 1391 until the Duke’s death in 1407 then maintained this position in the service of Louis’ son, Charles d’Orléans. Although his paintings are now lost, documentary research confirms Colart de Laon as one of the most important painters working in early 15th-century France and the creator of numerous works for the 1st Duke of Orléans.

Pre-restoration. The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis d’Orléans, Colart de Laon? Egg tempera, 56.5 x 42 cm, 1405 -07 – 1408, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Pre-restoration. The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis d’Orléans, Colart de Laon? Egg tempera, 56.5 x 42 cm, 1405 -07 – 1408, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

According to the Web site:

The panel’s small size indicates that it may have been intended for a private devotional space rather than a public one such as a church or cathedral, perhaps for the chapel of one of the Duke’s residences. The fact that Louis d’Orléans is not accompanied by his wife or children, as would be expected if this were a single panel, must be for a particular reason. The subject of The Agony in the Garden and the inclusion of the opening words of the Psalm Miserere mei on the scroll that Louis holds are to be found in works of art with a funerary context. Such a context would explain why Louis is depicted without his wife or children. If this were the case, the panel would not have been commissioned by the Duke but by his wife or eldest son Charles d’Orléans. They commissioned the Duke’s tomb after he was murdered on the orders of John the Fearless in November 1407 and also retained in their service the artists who had worked for Louis.

Left: Lower left corner of the painting pre-restoration. Right: Lower left corner of the painting with X-radiography showing overpainted images of donor and Saint Agnes.

Left: Lower left corner of the painting pre-restoration. Right: Lower left corner of the painting with X-radiography showing overpainted images of donor and Saint Agnes.

Post-restoration detail showing Saint Agnes and the donor holding a scroll with the opening words of the Psalm Miserere mei.

Post-restoration detail showing Saint Agnes and the donor holding a scroll with the opening words of the Psalm Miserere mei.

The key to discovering the identity of the donor lay in the gold nettle leaves on the sleeves of his long, fur-lined houppelande, which was a very fashionable garment from around 1400. Nettle leaves were one of the emblems of Louis d’Orléans (1372-1407), son of Charles V of France and brother of Charles VI, whose periods of madness meant that Louis acted as Regent for his brother, competing and collaborating with his uncle the Duke of Berry and his uncle the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold. The latter died in 1404 and was succeeded by his son John the Fearless.

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