What did Jan van Eyck want to express here?
Jan van Eyck - The Madonna of the chancellor Rolin
An older man kneels down with a serious face, his hands folded in a prayer position, seen on the left side of the picture. In front of him lies an open book of hours on a stool. On the right side of the picture sits the Queen of Heaven, Maria, with a red cloak. On her lap sits the Christ Child, who is blessing the kneeling man. An angel with a gold crown is hovering over Madonna.
This scene plays in a highly perched palace. This exposed location opens a wide view over the landscape in the background. There have been numerous attempts to identify this detailed and with over 2000 figures lively region. All attempts have failed since it is not an actual area but the synthesis of different travel impressions.
This work painted by Jan van Eyck around 1437 which has been a commissioned work by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor under duke Herzog Philipp the Good. Rolin who was born in 1376 in Autun was not a liked man during his term of office for 40 years. He was very unrelenting in his collection of duty and he accepted ruthlessly bribes. He skillfully put a part of the royal income in his own pockets. X-ray images show that van Eyck has presented Rolin originally with a big purse. Why van Eyck has painted over it again is unclear.
Rolin was able to sextuple the sphere of influence of the Province Burgund with the help of his diplomatic and strategic skills. The Great Empire Burund spread out from the Swiss border to the North Sea, from Dijon to Brügge. This spatial extension of Burgund is being portrayed by the extensive landscape.
The aging Rolin tried to buy his souls salvation through benevolence. In his testament he donated in 1461 the church „Unserer lieben Frau“ zu Autun a over seven kilo, silver statue of Madonna with a golden crown, manufactured in La-Motte-Les-Arras.
The erected large cross on the bridge in the middle of the picture indicates that the canvas shall be a reminder of the treaty of Arras - Rolins lifework. To this day it is still unknown under which circumstances the duke of Burgunder Johann Ohnefurcht has been killed in 1419 on a bridge by the French crown prince or his friends. One of the negotiated ignition performances of the French was the erection of the cross on the scene of the murder, the bridge of Montreau.
© the artinspector / enrico krause