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Circle of Dieric Bouts (active c. 1448-d. 1475)
Circle of Dieric Bouts (active c. 1448-d. 1475)

The Virgin and Child before a gold brocaded cloth of honor

Circle of Dieric Bouts (active c. 1448-d. 1475)
The Virgin and Child before a gold brocaded cloth of honor
oil on oak panel
10¾ x 8½ in. (27.2 x 21.5 cm.) including a 0.6cm. strip added at the right
Stephenson Clarke (1824-1891), Hayward's Heath, London, by 1891, and by descent to Robert Clarke; (†), Christie's, London, 3 December 1997, lot 45 (£95,000).
M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederländische Malerei, III, Leyden, 1934, p. 125, no. 86, pl. LXXII, as Follower of Bouts.
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, III, ed. N. Veronée-Verhaegen, Leyden and Brussels, 1968, p. 71, no. 86, pl. 95, as Follower of Dieric Bouts.
London, Royal Academy, Works by the Old Masters, January-March 1891, no. 160, as Hugo van der Goes.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of Pictures by Masters of the Netherlandish and Allied Schools of XV and Early XI Centuries, 1892, no. 16, as early Flemish school.
London, New Gallery, Winter Exhibition, 1899-1900, no. 65, as Hugo van der Goes.
Bruges, Hotel Gruuthuuse, Les Primitifs flamands, 15 June-15 September 1902, no. 54, as Hugo van der Goes.
London, Guildhall, Exhibition of Works by Flemish and Modern Belgian Painters, 1906, no. 31, as Hugo van der Goes.
London, Royal Academy, Flemish Art 1300-1700, 5 December 1953-6 March 1954, no. 22, as Attributed to Hugo van der Goes.
Bruges, Musée Communal Groeninge, L'Art flamand dans les Collections britanniques et de la Galerie Nationale de Victoria, 1 August-16 September 1956, no. 17, as Albert Bouts.
Eastbourne, Treasures of Sussex, 1959.
Ghent, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Fleurs et Jardins dans l'Art Flamand, 10 April-26 June 1960, no. 24, as Aelbrecht Bouts.

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Nicholas H. J. Hall
Nicholas H. J. Hall

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Lot Essay

Previously attributed to Hugo van der Goes, this tender image of the Virgin and Child was painted by a highly skilled artist active in the circle of Dieric Bouts I, one of the most prolific and influential painters in the Netherlands in the 15th century. Bouts was based in Leuven, where he was named official painter to the city in 1468, and built a large and productive workshop that, later in life, he ran alongside his two sons. Though deeply influenced by the work of the great Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464), Bouts developed a stylistic idiom all his own, emphasizing strongly-modeled facial types with wide, heart-shaped foreheads and firm bone structures; highly detailed landscape backgrounds; and an attention to texture and soft atmospheric tonalities. These are the essential characteristics of the present panel, painted by an as-yet-unnamed artist influenced by – and perhaps close to – Dieric Bouts. The exceptional attention to detail in rendering texture, as seen in the elegant gilt brocaded Cloth of Honor behind the Virgin, her exquisite robes and hair, and the vegetation along the low wall that serves as her seat, are also all typical of the work of Bouts and his immediate followers.

In this sweet and intimate scene, the Christ Child leans forward in his mother’s lap to grasp the small flower she has picked for him. Possibly identifiable as a carnation, or “pink”, this flower is of a type known in medieval Flemish as a nagelbloem, or “nail flower”. As such, it refers directly to the nails used to crucify Christ, and alludes to his future sacrifice for mankind. Also visible on the ledge are wild strawberries, frequently used as a symbol of Christ, who bore five wounds during the Passion that are paralleled by the five points of the strawberry cap. It also sometimes represents the Trinity, since leaves on the stems of wild strawberry plants are grouped in sets of three. Both wild strawberries and carnations often appear among the vegetation in painted depictions of Heaven. The implication that the Virgin and Child are seated in an earthly representation of Paradise is underscored by their separation from the expansive world behind them, and by the luxuriant robes of the Virgin and the Cloth of Honor against which the pair is seated, which would have reminded contemporary viewers of Mary’s status as Queen of Heaven.

Stephenson Clarke, who is the earliest recorded owner of this painting, assembled a prestigious collection in the late 19th century, having made a fortune expanding his father’s Northumberland coal business – which he inherited in 1849 – such that it became the largest in the United Kingdom. His collection was formed largely under the careful guidance and supervision of the dealer and collector Martin Colnaghi, and was amassed almost entirely in the 1880s. The present work was certainly in his collection by 1891, when Clarke was listed as its lender to an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

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