Meditating with...Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441)

Meditating with…Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441)

In this opulent Flemish interior, the painter Jan Van Eyck represents this very ordinary scene: a mother breastfeeding her child. But which nevertheless evokes the most unthinkable of events: the divine incarnation. The Virgin Mary who gives birth to the Savior is represented here as a beautiful woman with long red hair. These features are perhaps those of Margareta, the painter's wife, whose portrait the latter has just painted in another painting.

This idealized woman, her forehead surrounded by a diadem, here has all the royal authority. She is covered in an immense coat with embroidered festoons, the large red mass of which almost becomes the heart of Van Eyck's pictorial statement. This heavy carmine velvet fabric thus offers a striking, almost tragic contrast with the whiteness of the plump child. Because the mystery of the Incarnation is also the entry into a bloody drama: when grown up, the newborn will have to assume, until the end of human experience, the violence of the world. The hieratic gentleness of the pose is all the more touching, because if the woman holds the naked child on her right knee with her right hand, she holds out her breast to him with her left hand to breastfeed him. A maternal communion which expresses the greatness that the incarnation of the Savior confers on his mother. And through it, to each of us. She is this “throne of wisdom” announced by the prophets.

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