This work is highly typical of Jan van Eyck with each and every part of the canvas (in this case, panel) filled with detail and interest. In other examples of his work this detail would be more subtle, perhaps light features on a wall in the background. The Rolin Madonna (La Vierge au Chancelier Rolin) however grabs your attention immediately with the stunning backdrop to this carefully composed double portrait.
Many artists from the Baroque and Renaissance periods would be requested to include their donor within the composition, normally alongside a religious or mythological theme. It was as if they hoped art could promote them to the position of saint or similar and keep their reputation in the limelight for centuries to come. In the case of this painting it is the donor, Nicolas Rolin, who can be seen in the left hand side of the work, sat opposite the Virgin Mary.
The combination and quality of portraiture and landscape within this piece have led some to place it amongst his finest achievements, alonside the likes of the Ghent Altarpiece and The Arnolfini Wedding. In truth, the photograph of the painting to the left does not do justice to this fine artwork and, as such, we have included a much larger image of it at the bottom of this page.
The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin painting, as it is titled by its owners, would typically be one of the main highlights of any collection but as part of the extraordinary permanent display of the Louvre in Paris, it is just one of hundreds of notable works for art fans to enjoy. That said, the role of Van Eyck in pushing onwards the Northern Renaissance as well as promoting the use of oil painting rather than egg tempera ensures that any of his work will immediately receive respect and interest.
Nicolas Rolin, the donor, was the Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy at the time of this commission and intended this work to be displayed in his parish church, Notre-Dame-du-Chastel in Autun. It was then moved to the Louvre in 1805, where it has remained ever since. Rolin is presented in this portrait by the baby Jesus whilst an angel hovers above the Virgin Mary. A powerful scene, indeed, and one that the donor must have had some involvement in its planning.