The Virgin Mary in the Sun
Medium: oil on panel, with gilding
W 3 3/4" × H 4 1/2"
At the centre sits the portrait miniature of the Virgin Mary, framed by a spiralling brass moulding. The portrait is set on a green velvet laid wooden panel and encased within a nineteenth-century rectangular wooden frame, which is decorated with a painted black and gold floral motif. The portrait at present offers a depiction of the Virgin who is shown in what feels like a profound moment of silent contemplation and reflection as she gracefully gazes to the lower right of the pictorial frame. The work is small in proportion with a composition of powerful simplicity, which emphasises an element of intimacy and perhaps alludes to its original function as a devotional piece.
Meticulous attention to detail is ever so present within this portrait; the Virgin is presented with radiance, as soft pink flesh tones blush the cheeks, and thus contrasts against the green of the velvet on which the portrait is mounted. The drapery of Mary is rendered in brown, modelled in varying shades and further allowing for a sculptural quality that delicately frames her face and serves to emphasise the soft rendering of flesh. The silhouette of the Virgin is surrounded by touches of gilding. The markings of punching and close incisions suggest lines, that gives the overall effect of a radiating sunburst and served for both an aesthetic and practical purpose. This intricate tooling highlights the reflective qualities of the surface, providing a shimmering effect enhanced by a candle-lit location.
This intriguing painting is thought to be Flemish, and whilst the identification of the artist is unknown, it could be possible that they were a follower of Rogier van der Weyden (1400-1464). The type of Virgin Mary that we see here corresponds closely to a Northern European style that was established by Rogier in the fifteenth century. This is an observation that may be inferred by the gesture, pose and sculptural rendering of the drapery that frames the face of the contemplative Mary. With the powerful influence, this has resulted in a rich depiction of the Virgin Mary amongst an intimate setting.