In the upper part of the polyptych there are two pictures depicting angels singing and playing music. Their ornamental clothes, painted with painstaking detail, and their natural appearence increase the power of this tremendous vision. Such a realistic rendering of the angelic choir means that in the fifteenth century there was a close proximity between popular view and actual lithurgical practice in the Netherlands, which played a leading role in the musical life of the period.
Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 4 minutes):César Franck: Panis angelicus
This painting probably came from the collection of Rudolph II. Dürer returned to Nuremberg in the spring of 1507, after his second sojourn in Venice. Opinions differ as to the whereabouts of the painting of this portrait, which demonstrates, on the one hand, all the pictorial characteristics of the Venetian tradition (following in the steps of Giovanni Bellini, or Vicenzo Catena), and shows the depiction of a youth wearing a typically Venetian beret, which would mean it was Venice; on the other hand, the type of wood used for the panel, lindenwood, would have its execution in Nuremberg, upon his return. It should be recalled that Dürer only used panels of poplar while in Venice, or, rarely, elm. The alternative, regarding the setting and brightness of the portrait being typically Venetian, in fact, is purely speculative.
The portrait almost aggressively approaches the spectator. It is dominated by a light, slightly reddish face, an intense, far-off gaze, a short and robust nose, a wide mouth, and turgid lips surmounted by a hint of downy hair. Even the beard under the chin is delicate and contrasts with the almost frizzy hair, painted with an extremely thin brush. Despite the fact that the painting is not completely preserved in this area, one can still appreciate the extraordinary skill of execution. One appreciates above all the difference between the stroke used for the hair and the one, just as skillful though different, adopted for the hairs of the fur collar, giving a showy trim to the coat. His talent drew praise from the Venetians and particular admiration from Giovanni Bellini. The snow-white of the shirt represents the third note of colour of the painting, next to the delicate pink of the flesh and to the black, found in the elegantly worn beret and in the clothing, silhouetted against the similarly black background.
He employs what he learned from Venetian painting and his special talent for painting, with very fine strokes for hair and fur - a talent that markedly distinguishes him from his Venetian colleagues. Dürer thus manages to vivify even a face like this one, that except for the mouth, has rigid and immobile features, and for that, on the whole, is not very expressive.
On the reverse side, without a preparatory drawing and with light brush strokes, an ugly old woman is painted, who winks rather obscenely. She reveals her nude breast and holds a bag of coins. With the original frame lost, it is unfortunately impossible to know if this small painting was to be part of a diptych, as some have put forward.
Jeanne Samary (1857-1890) was a French actress who also worked as model. She came from a strong musical and theatrical background: her father was a cellist, and two of her maternal aunts, as well as her grandmother, had been actresses.
Renoir became acquainted with the 20-year-old actress Jeanne Samary, who had already made her mark on the Parisian stage, at the home of his patron, Madame Charpentier. This large portrait in a ball dress - one of many Renoir painted - was intended for the 1879 Salon and reflected his pursuit of official recognition.
Jeanne Samary featured in Renoirs 1876 work The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette and was the main subject of The Swing, also done that summer. At some point around 1877, she became Renoirs lover, a move commemorated in the The Dreaming Woman (La Reverie). Renoir painted two other portraits of her.
The figure of the Madonna, represented in supernatural size standing in the nave of a Gothic church, alludes to the fact that the mother of Christ has often been described as a 'templum' or 'domus dei' since Christ, during his incarnation, lived in her as in a temple.
The asymmetric composition, unusual at Van Eyck, is explained by the fact that this panel was the left wing of a diptych. The other wing is lost but contemporary copies prove the correctness of this assumption.