Dieric Bouts has based this small, exquisite image on the ancient Byzantine formula for the affectionate Virgin (glykophilousa)—a type popular in the Netherlands. However, he has dispensed with the gold background and halo of Byzantine practice and has endowed the painting with a human tenderness and simplicity not found in icons. With his subtle and tactile modeling of the flesh, the artist heightened the illusion of living, breathing beings. Focusing on the loving relationship of a mother and her son, his portrayal emphasized human emotions and enhanced the intense inner experience of private devotion.
According to Karel van Mander, whose Schilder-boeck of 1604 described the life and works of 250 European painters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Dieric Bouts was one of the founders of the Haarlem School of painting. It is not known when he left the north Netherlands to settle in Leuven, where he became the official city painter in 1468 and produced major works for the Sint-Peterskerk (the Holy Sacrament Altarpiece, 1467–68) and the Town Hall (the Justice of Emperor Otto III, 1473, and completed after his death). After Dieric died in 1475, his sons, Dieric the Younger (ca. 1448–1490) and Aelbert (1451/55–1549), inherited their father’s workshop and its contents. While Dieric the Younger continued in his father’s style, Aelbert embraced an increasingly more descriptive style with strong physical types echoing contemporary Antwerp Mannerism. Aelbert’s major work is the Assumption of the Virgin Triptych (about 1495–1500).
This emotionally affecting image of the Virgin and Child is from the early stages of Bouts's career, about 1455–60. It shows his youthful sensibility and an emphasis on the more robust corporeal aspects of the figures rather than the refined, more elegant description of form that Bouts adopted in his later works under the influence of Rogier van der Weyden. Here the subtle modeling of the flesh and the special attention given to the tactile qualities of plump fingers, knuckles, and depressions of the Child’s pudgy thigh by the Virgin’s fingers heightens the illusion of living, breathing beings. The popular composition exists in two other known variants (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Carrand Collection, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence) that presumably were produced in Bouts’s workshop. Study of all three paintings with infrared reflectography shows a similar cursory underdrawing that suggests a common workshop pattern. X-radiography, however, reveals significant differences in the build-up of lead white paint to establish the volume of forms, the Metropolitan Museum painting being the only one closely associated with the technique apparent in Bouts’s autograph paintings.
The pose of the Virgin and Child—embracing cheek-to-cheek with their lips about to meet in a kiss—is derived from Byzantine models, particularly that known as the Virgin Eleousa (Ainsworth 2004; see MMA 2008.352). Such models were known in the Netherlands as they were brought back from Crusader expeditions that engaged the Valois dukes, Louis IX of France, and the dukes of Burgundy with the East from 1096 to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. Many Byzantine icons, and copies of them by Italian painters, reached the North by well-traveled routes through Italy. However, beginning in the fourteenth century there was also an economic exchange between Crete and Flanders that first developed over precious metals and continued in the fifteenth century with the export of wine from Greece and spices from India. Flanders, in return, sent cloth to Crete. The exact source of Bouts’s image is not known, but it may have been inspired by copies of the Virgin of Vladimir, one of the most famous of the icons that was renowned for its miracle-working powers.
Bouts’s portrayal was equally dependent upon changes that were taking place in devotional practice and literature in the fifteenth century in the Netherlands, especially with the exegesis on the Song of Songs. This Old Testament book describes in poetry the sensual relationship between the bride and the bridegroom and, as a result of the explanations of Rupert of Deutz (before 1070–1129), it increasingly was interpreted in terms of Marian piety. This interpretation held that the Incarnation of Christ in the Virgin Mary represented the love union between God and humankind. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) preached on this theological notion in many sermons that helped to spread the popularity of the Song of Songs throughout northern Europe. Such diminutive and precious paintings as Bouts’s Virgin and Child, represented as the loving relationship of a mother and her son, emphasized human emotions and enhanced the intense inner experience of private devotion.
[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2011; updated Maryan W. Ainsworth 2015]
?Luigi Bonomi, Milan; Signora Cereda-Rovelli, Milan; Bonomi-Cereda, Milan (by 1872–95; sold to Davis in May 1895); Theodore M. Davis, Newport, R.I. (1895–d. 1915; his estate, on loan to the MMA, 1915–30)
Milan. Palazzo di Brera. "Esposizione delle opere d'arte antica," August 26–October 7, 1872, no. 70 (as Flemish School, lent by Mme Cereda-Rovelli).
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Winter 1903–4, no catalogue? (as by Memling, lent by Theodore M. Davis) [see Chalfin 1903].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, no. 206.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gerard David: Flanders's Last Medieval Master," April 1–May 9, 1972, no catalogue?
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Facsimile in Early Netherlandish Painting: Dieric Bouts's 'Virgin and Child'," April 6, 1993–April 6, 1995, unnumbered cat. (only this painting and the version in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco were in this exhibition).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 6.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557)," March 23–July 4, 2004, no. 345.
Paul Mantz. "Exposition rétrospective de Milan." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 6 (1872), p. 459, tentatively suggests attribution to Memling.
Robert Stiassny. "Altdeutsche und altniederländer in oberitalienischen Sammlungen." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1888), p. 383, as by an artist dependent on Hugo van der Goes.
Ludwig Kämmerer. Memling. Bielefeld, 1899, p. 40, fig. 25, as by an artist in Memling's circle, related in style to van der Goes; calls the Bargello picture a repetition of ours.
P. C[halfin]. "Pictures in the Fourth Gallery." Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin 1 (November 1903), p. 30, as by Memling.
E. Gerspach. "La collection Carrand au musée national de Florence." Les arts 3 (1904), pp. 10ff., attributes Bargello example to Van der Goes, formerly attributed to Rogier van der Weyden.
Gaston Migeon. "La collection de M. G. Chalandon." Les arts 4 (June 1905), p. 24, attributes the Bargello and Chalandon examples to Bouts.
Karl Voll. Die altniederländische Malerei von Jan van Eyck bis Memling. Leipzig, 1906, p. 117, as not by Bouts, but dependent on two other works by him.
Joseph Destrée. Hugo van der Goes. Brussels, 1914, pp. 165–66, ill. opp. p. 92, as close to Van der Goes, but not by him.
Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, pp. 166–67, as superior to the version in the Bargello; close to Bouts, but with resemblances to other artists.
Georges Hulin de Loo. "A Mysterious 'Our Lady' by Dieric Bouts." Burlington Magazine 45 (1924), pp. 59–60, as by Bouts.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 3, Dierick Bouts und Joos van Gent. Berlin, 1925, pp. 47, 107, no. 9a, attributes the Bargello version to Bouts, and calls ours a repetition of it.
[Hippolyte] Fierens-Gevaert and Paul Fierens. Histoire de la peinture flamande des origines à la fin du XVe siècle. Vol. 3, La maturité de l'art flamand. Paris, 1929, p. 28, ascribe the Bargello version to Bouts and date it before 1460.
Bryson Burroughs. "The Theodore M. Davis Bequest: The Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26, section 2 (March 1931), pp. 15, 19, ill.
J[acques]. Lavalleye in "De vlaamsche schilderkunst tot ongeveer 1480." Geschiedenis van de vlaamsche kunst. Ed. Stan Leurs. Antwerp, 1936, p. 202.
Wolfgang Schöne. Dieric Bouts und seine Schule. Berlin, 1938, pp. 5, 7, 26, 30, 77–78, 133, 139, pl. 7.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 44–45, ill.
Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, pp. 317, 481 n. 6 (to p. 296), p. 492 n. 2 (to p. 317); vol. 2, pl. 268, fig. 425, discusses the emotional relationship of the Madonna and Child; states that our painting and Memling's Madonna in the collection of Lady Ludlow are based on the Straus Houston Madonna by Rogier van der Weyden, which in turn derives from the Cambrai "Nôtre Dame de Grâces"; gives reasons for dating the MMA picture slightly earlier than about 1465.
Marguerite Northrup, ed. The Christmas Story. New York, 1966, ill. opp. p. 31 (color).
Charles D. Cuttler. Northern Painting from Pucelle to Bruegel. New York, 1968, p. 136, states that the picture is one of several versions of this composition, and that there is a nearly exact replica in the Bargello, dating both of them to the late 1440s.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 3, Dieric Bouts and Joos van Gent. New York, 1968, pp. 29, 60, no. 9, pl. 17.
Nicole Veronée-Verhaegen. "La Vierge embrassant l'Enfant Jésus par Dieric Bouts." Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts Bulletin 17 (1968), pp. 6, 9, fig. 1, publishes a version in a private collection in Geneva, calling it better than the MMA or Bargello versions, which are probably replicas.
Dirk De Vos. "De Madonna-en-Kindtypologie bij Rogier van der Weyden en enkele minder gekende Flemalleske Voorlopers." Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 30 (1971), pp. 137, 146–47, 159, fig. 82, calls it the only known variant of Rogier's lost Madonna with Standing Child.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 192–93, fig. 354.
Elisa Bermejo. La Pintura de los primitivos flamencos en España. Vol. 2, Madrid, 1982, p. 30, describes the version of this subject formerly in the Loygorri collection, Madrid, as the one of the highest quality.
Liana Castelfranchi Vegas. Italia e Fiandra nella pittura del quattrocento. Milan, 1983, p. 257, pl. 152.
H. Mund. "Approche d'une terminologie relative à l'étude de la copie." Annales d'histoire de l'art et d'archéologie 5 (1983), pp. 24–25, ill., describes this work and the versions in San Francisco and Florence as replicas, all of which can be attributed to Dieric Bouts.
Larry Silver. The Paintings of Quinten Massys with Catalogue Raisonné. Montclair, N.J., 1984, p. 78, pl. 60, cites it in connection with Massys's lost Madonna of the Cherries as an example of the "local Louvain tradition" of the "motherly gesture of the Madonna".
James Snyder. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. New York, 1985, p. 145, fig. 141, notes that it "displays the sturdier Dutch qualities of [Bouts's] early style"; dates it about 1450.
Guy Bauman. "Early Flemish Portraits, 1425–1525." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 43 (Spring 1986), pp. 6–8, 16, ill. (color), notes its compositional dependence on the icon, Notre-Dame de Grâce, in the cathedral of Cambrai, considered during the fifteenth century to be a portrait of the Virgin made by Saint Luke.
Introduction by James Snyder inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Renaissance in the North. New York, 1987, pp. 10–11, ill.
Martha Wolff. "An Image of Compassion: Dieric Bouts's Sorrowing Madonna." Museum Studies 15, no. 2 (1989), p. 125.
Joel M. Upton. Petrus Christus: His Place in Fifteenth-Century Flemish Painting. University Park, Pa., 1990, pp. 53–54, fig. 51, dates it about 1460.
Hans J. van Miegroet, Selected by Guy C. Bauman, and Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 67–69, no. 13, ill. (color), dates it sometime between 1454 and 1475, observing that it is not clear whether this was an independent work or one wing of a devotional diptych or triptych.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Facsimile in Early Netherlandish Painting: Dieric Bouts's "Virgin and Child". Exh. cat.New York, 1993, pp. 2, 5–6, 9–12, 14–16 nn. 3, 16, 23–25, 28, fig. 1 and detail on front cover (both in color), fig. 6 (infrared reflectogram), and fig. 9 (x-radiograph), observes that infrared reflectography reveals a schematic underdrawing restricted to the contours of the figures in our painting and the version in San Francisco, and a somewhat more developed sketch in the panel in Florence; comments that this suggests the designs were transferred by tracing or pouncing, and notes that the closeness in size of the MMA and Florence paintings suggests that they came from the same workshop pattern; also notes that the infrared reflectogram of our painting shows "brushwork of plants and flowers to the right and left of the Virgin's head, the beginnings of a tapestry or brocade background abandoned at an early stage"; on the basis of different uses of lead white revealed in x-rays, concludes that three artists were at work: "Dieric Bouts, himself, about 1455-60, on the Metropolitan painting, and two gifted workshop followers, who produced the San Francisco and Bargello copies".
Jochen Sander. Niederländische Gemälde im Städel, 1400–1550. Mainz, 1993, p. 55 n. 35.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1994, p. 53, fig. 74.
James Snyder inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 4, New York, 1996, p. 590, refers to it as a replica of the "Virgin and Child" in the Bargello, Florence.
Otto Pächt. Early Netherlandish Painting from Rogier van der Weyden to Gerard David. Ed. Monika Rosenauer. London, 1997, pp. 143–44, ill.
Mary Sprinson de Jesús inFrom Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 46, 68–69, 85, 103–104, 139, 143, 232, 342, no. 6, ill. (color), dates it about 1455–60.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition. New York, 1998, pp. 272, 274, 311 n. 99, ill.
Martha Wolff inThe Robert Lehman Collection. Vol. 2, Fifteenth- to Eighteenth-Century European Paintings. New York, 1998, p. 114 n. 5.
Hélène Mund inDirk Bouts (ca. 1410–1475): Een Vlaams primitief te Leuven. Ed. Maurits Smeyers. Exh. cat., Sint-Pieterskerk en Predikherenkerk, Leuven. Louvain, 1998, pp. 242–43, 561–62, no. 271, ill. pp. 232 (color), 561.
Maurits Smeyers. Dirk Bouts: Peintre du silence. Tournai, 1998, pp. 112–14, ill. in color (p. 113 and on front cover).
Cyriel Stroo et al. The Flemish Primitives II: Catalogue of Early Netherlandish Painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Vol. 2, The Dirk Bouts, Petrus Christus, Hans Memling and Hugo van der Goes Groups. Brussels, 1999, pp. 53, 243 n. 30.
Michael Rohlmann. "Flanders and Italy, Flanders and Florence. Early Netherlandish Painting in Italy and its Particular Influence on Florentine Art: An Overview." Italy and the Low Countries—Artistic Relations: The Fifteenth Century. Florence, 1999, p. 56 n. 2, includes it in a list of Flemish works that came from Italy, "of which the precise origins are unknown".
Molly Faries. "Reshaping the Field: The Contribution of Technical Studies." Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critical Look at Current Methodologies. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth. New York, 2001, p. 92
Maryan W. Ainsworth inByzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557). Ed. Helen C. Evans. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, pp. 578–79, no. 345, ill. (color), suggests that this image "may have been more directly inspired by copies derived from the Virgin of Vladimir" (twelth-century icon; State Tret'iakov Gallery, Moscow) than it is from the Cambrai Madonna.
Catheline Périer-d'Ieteren. Dieric Bouts: The Complete Works. Brussels, 2006, pp. 28, 91, 101, 127, 129–132, 134, 156, 158, 202, 232, 251, 307, 323 n. 10, p. 370, no. 7, ill. p. 251 and figs. 65, 121, 124 (color, overall and detail, and x-radiograph), based on its closeness to the Virgin and Child in the National Gallery, London, considers our panel the prototype for the other closely related examples in the Bargello and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Lisa Monnas. Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings, 1300–1550. New Haven, 2008, pp. 143, 355 n. 81.
Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges. London, 2009, pp. 75, 287–88 n. 3, fig. 234.