Virgin and Child in a Niche

Netherlandish Painter (ca. 1500)
ca. 1500
Oil on wood
23 x 12 1/8 in. (58.4 x 30.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889
Accession Number:
Not on view
Like David’s Virgin and Child with Four Angels (displayed nearby), this picture reflects the popularity of Van Eyck’s Virgin and Child at the Fountain. Formerly attributed to Jan van Eyck and Petrus Christus, it is now known to have been painted about 1500, at a moment of renewed interest in Van Eyck’s art. The anonymous artist adopted the standing figure of the Virgin, who is lovingly embracing her Child, but placed her within a flamboyant Gothic niche adorned with statuettes of the Old Testament figures of Moses and Isaiah (above) and of the personifications of the Church and Synagogue (below).
The Virgin and Child appear like a living sculpture within a flamboyant Gothic niche. Behind the Virgin, a brocade cloth of honor hangs from a canopy suspended from the buttresses. Upon the canopy is a text from Genesis (28:17) which translates as, "[This is none other than] the house of God, and [this is] the gate of heaven." On the step upon which the Virgin stands is another text from Genesis (24:44), which translates as, "Let the same be [the woman] whom the Lord hath appointed out for my master’s son." Both texts come from the story of Rebekah and her son, Jacob, indicating their individual roles as one chosen by God. Genesis 24:44 refers to God’s choice of Rebekah as the wife of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham, a leader of the Israelites, and in Christian belief, a precursor of Christ. Genesis 28:17 refers to the divine selection of Jacob to be the head of the tribes of Israel. They are shown as a prefiguring of God’s choice of Mary to be the Mother and Bride of Christ (the latter role is signified by the ring she wears on her left hand; see Ainsworth 1998). The texts also refer to Mary as an embodiment of the Church, an association which is further supported by the Virgin’s placement within an architectural structure that evokes ecclesiastical buildings. The sculpted niches to either side of the mother and infant contain statuettes of the Old Testament prophets Moses and Isaiah, on the top left and top right respectively. On the lower left an allegorical figure of the Church, holding a cross and a chalice as identifying characteristics, peers out from a niche, while on the lower right a similar figure of the Synagogue is shown, blindfolded and carrying the tablets of the Law.

The affectionate position of the mother and child can be found in many fifteenth-century Netherlandish paintings, such as the copy after Robert Campin’s Virgin and Child in an Apse (The Met, 05.39.2) and Dieric Bouts’s Virgin and Child (The Met, 30.95.280). Devotion to the Virgin was strong in Flanders during this period, due in part to the region’s many Marian relics. Except for the position of the child’s left arm, the central figures in this painting are identical to those in the 1439 Virgin and Child at the Fountain by Jan van Eyck (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp). The MMA version differs from the prototype in the placement of the figures within a Gothic niche rather than the garden setting of the original. Several other copies and variations of Van Eyck’s image were painted, including Gerard David’s Virgin and Child with Four Angels (The Met, 1977.1.1).

This painting was first attributed to Jan van Eyck in 1843 because of the near-identical figures of the Virgin and Child (Nieuwenhuys 1843). By the end of the nineteenth century it was believed to be by Petrus Christus (Kaemmerer 1898), although Friedländer (1924) regarded it as falling stylistically between Christus and Van Eyck. The authorship of this painting remains uncertain, but a dendrochronological analysis performed in 1991 proved that the wood panel dates from around 1500 (Klein 1991).
Inscription: Inscribed: (on canopy) DOMVS.dEI.EST.ET.PORTA.C[O]ELI ([This is none other than] the house of God and [this is] the gate of heaven [Genesis 28:17].); (on step) IPSA EST [MVLIER] QVAM PR[A]EPARAVIT DOM[INV]S FILIO D[OMI]NI MEI (Let the same be [the woman] whom the Lord hath appointed out for my master's son [Genesis 24:44].)
[Lambert Jean Nieuwenhuys, Brussels, until 1823; said to have come from an old monk in Ghent; sold along with 22 other "tableaux gottiques" on April 23, 1823 for Fr 40,000 to William II]; William II, King of the Netherlands, Brussels (1823–50; sale, de Vries, Roos, and Brondgeest, The Hague, August 12, 1850, no. 3, for fl. 600 to Nieuwenhuys); [Charles J. Nieuwenhuys, London, from 1850]; Alexander James Beresford Hope, London (by 1857–86; sale, Christie's, London, May 15, 1886, no. 30, as by Jan van Eyck, for £315 to Lesser); [Lesser, London, from 1886]; [Sedelmeyer, Paris, 1886]; Henry G. Marquand, New York (1886–89)
Manchester. Art Treasures Palace. "Art Treasures of the United Kingdom," May 5–October 17, 1857, no. 384 (as by Jan van Eyck, lent by A. J. B. Beresford Hope).

London. South Kensington Museum. "Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Mediaeval, Renaissance, and More Recent Periods," June–October 1862, no. 1051 (as by Jan van Eyck, lent by A. J. B. Beresford Hope).

Leeds City Museum. "National Exhibition of Works of Art," 1868, no. 521 (as by Jan van Eyck, lent by A. J. Beresford Hope).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1871, no. 273 (as by Jan van Eyck, lent by A. J. Beresford Hope).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Collection of Dutch and Flemish Paintings by Old Masters, Owned by Mr. Charles Sedelmeyer," Winter 1886–87, no. 30 (as by Jan van Eyck, lent by Henry G. Marquand).

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. 48.

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. "Hans Holbein d. Ä.: Die Graue Passion in ihrer Zeit," November 27, 2010–March 20, 2011, no. 119.

C. J. Nieuwenhuys. Description de la galerie des tableaux des S.M. le roi de Pays–Bas. Brussels, 1843, p. 5, no. 3, catalogues this painting as a work of Jan van Eyck.

W. Burger [Théophile Thoré]. Trésors d'art exposés à Manchester en 1857. Paris, 1857, pp. 152–53, no. 1, comments on the beautiful drapery and excellent architecture but finds the [Virgin's] head "not decisive for the attribution" to Jan van Eyck.

[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 190, considers it an early work of Jan van Eyck.

H. G. Hotho. Die Malerschule Hubert's van Eyck nebst deutschen Vorgängern und Zeitgenossen. Vol. 2, Die flandrische Malerei des fünfzehnten Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1858, pp. 200–201, ascribes it to Jan van Eyck, incorrectly placing it in the collection of the Czar in Saint Petersburg.

W. Bürger [Théophile Thoré]. Trésors d'art en Angleterre. Brussels, 1860, p. 153.

W. Bürger [Théophile Thoré]. Musée d'Anvers. Brussels, 1862, p. 25, mentions it in connection with the Van Eyck Madonna in Antwerp ["Virgin and Child by the Fountain," Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten].

Alfred Michiels. Histoire de la peinture flamande depuis ses débuts jusqu'en 1864. Vol. 2, 2nd ed. Paris, 1866, pp. 318–19, mentions it in his discussion of works by Jan van Eyck.

G. F. Waagen. "Notizen." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 3 (1868), p. 127, attributes our picture and a Madonna and Child in the Suermondt collection (now Berlin–Dahlem) to Jan van Eyck and considers ours the earlier of the two.

W. Bürger [Théophile Thoré]. "Nouvelles études sur la Galerie Suermondt à Aix-la-Chapelle." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 1 (1869), p. 11, calls this perhaps a doubtful attribution.

J. A. Crowe and G. B. Cavalcaselle. The Early Flemish Painters. 2nd ed. London, 1872, pp. 114–15, observe that if it really is a work of Jan van Eyck, it is one of his poorest.

Alfred Woltmann. "Die Galerie Suermondt." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 9 (1874), p. 195, refers to it in connection with the Suermondt picture as an early work of Jan van Eyck.

William Martin Conway. Early Flemish Artists and their Predecessors on the Lower Rhine. London, 1887, pp. 114–15.

W. Bode. "Alte Kunstwerke in den Sammlungen der Vereinigten Staaten." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, n.s., 6, no. 1 (1895), p. 17, calls it probably not autograph.

foreword by [Wilhelm von] Bode. Königliche Museen zu Berlin: Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der Gemälde. 4th ed. Berlin, 1898, p. 100, refers to it as a work probably correctly ascribed to Jan van Eyck.

Ludwig Kaemmerer. Hubert und Jan van Eyck. Bielefeld, 1898, pp. 107–9, fig. 83, ascribes it to Petrus Christus, noting that beyond the differences in handling and conception, the late style of the architecture makes it unlikely that Jan could have made this picture.

Karl Voll. Die Werke des Jan van Eyck. Strasbourg, 1900, p. 127 n. 20, rejects the attribution to Jan, calling it unrefined and weak.

[Hippolyte] Fierens-Gevaert. La Renaissance septentrionale et les premiers maîtres des Flandres. Brussels, 1905, p. 164 n. 2, as dryly painted and perhaps by Petrus Christus.

Salomon Reinach. Répertoire de peintures du moyen age et de la renaissance (1280–1580). Vol. 2, Paris, 1907, p. 360, ill. (engraving).

W. H. James Weale. Hubert and John van Eyck, their Life and Work. London, 1908, pp. 160–61, 202, no. 31 ill. opp. p. 160, rejects the attribution to Jan van Eyck calling it certainly the work of an imitator; notes that the architecture represented could not be dated before the middle of the fifteenth century and dates the picture about 1460.

Émile Durand-Gréville. Hubert et Jean van Eyck. Brussels, 1910, pp. 100–1, ill., 2nd pl. after p. 100, considers it the finest and most faithful copy of an [apparently lost] original which he ascribes to Hubert van Eyck; based on a photograph, tentatively ascribes it to Petrus Christus.

E. Durand-Gréville. "Les deux Petrus Christus." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 30 (July–December 1911), p. 141–42, 203, 206, ill., based on reproductions, ascribes it to the father of Petrus Christus, "Petrus Christus le Vieux," and dates it tentatively about 1415–20; believes it is based on a lost original by Hubert van Eyck.

Morton H. Bernath. New York und Boston. Leipzig, 1912, p. 52, as by Christus.

W. H. James Weale and Maurice W. Brockwell. The Van Eycks and their Art. London, 1912, pp. 174–75, 207, no. 39, call it a "mere imitation" and date it probably about 1460; mention a "copy or imitation" of this picture in the collection of David Sellar [now Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, as Petrus Christus].

Walter Cohen in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme. Vol. 8, Leipzig, 1913, pp. 125–26, lists it as a work of Petrus Christus.

Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, p. 69, observes that "it may have been Petrus Chistus who so carefully copied this Madonna group" after Jan's "Virgin and Child" in Antwerp.

Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 1, Die Van Eyck, Petrus Christus. Berlin, 1924, p. 164, places this picture between Jan and Christus in style and quality.

L. Maeterlinck. Une école préeyckienne inconnue. Paris, 1925, p. 28, fig. 58, observes that the manifest inferiority of the picture does not permit an attribution to either Jan or Hubert.

Malcolm Vaughan. "Paintings by Petrus Christus in America (part 1)." International Studio 89 (January 1928), ill. p. 31, as by Christus.

G. H. Edgell. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. September 26, 1933, [Edgell was Dean of Harvard University School of Architecture] guesses a date between 1460 and 1470 on the basis of the architecture.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 20–23, ill., attribute it to Petrus Christus, perhaps copying a work of Jan van Eyck; record and translate the inscription and identify the statuettes in the architecture.

Ludwig Baldass. Jan van Eyck. New York, 1952, p. 275 n. 2, attributes it to Christus, calling it a free rendering of Jan's "Virgin and Child by the Fountain".

Germain Bazin. "Petrus Christus et les rapports entre l'Italie et la Flandre au milieu du XVe siècle." Revue des arts 4 (December 1952), p. 199, mentions it as a painting recently added to Christus' oeuvre.

Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, pp. 350, 416 n. 5, calls it "Madonna in the Aedicula," a copy of about 1460 after Jan's "Virgin and Child by the Fountain;" reads DO[MI]N[V]S, not DOM[U]S in the footpace inscription [see Ref. Wehle and Salinger 1947].

Josua Bruyn. Van Eyck problemen. Utrecht, 1957, pp. 43, 104 n. 2, pp. 123–28, 132, 134, 150, fig. 56, considers it the work of an unknown pupil of Jan van Eyck, possibly the master responsible for the Prado "Fountain of Life," noting that our Virgin's cloth of honor has the same pattern as the cloth behind John the Evangelist in the Prado picture; observes that the architecture resembles that in a drawing of the Annunciation at Wolfenbüttel (fig. 57).

Mirella Levi d'Ancona. The Iconography of the Immaculate Conception in the Middle Ages and Early Rennaissance. [New York], 1957, p. 35 n. 86, p. 70 n. 162.

Pierre Quarré. "Fragment d'un primitif de la Chartreuse de Champmol." Revue des Arts 7 (March–April 1957), pp. 62–63, ill., publishes a fragment (now in Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris) of an Eyckian panel which hung in the Chartreuse de Champmol, on which are depicted portions of an aedicula similar to the one in our picture; states that these architectural elements originally framed a Madonna and Child which must have been comparable to the figures in our panel.

Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 38–39, 109–10, fig. 4, believes it is a sketch by Jan van Eyck which was abandoned and later finished by Christus.

R. H. Wilenski. Flemish Painters, 1430–1830. New York, 1960, vol. 1, pp. 12, 30, 73; vol. 2, pl. 125.

Raymond Bouyer Giorgio T. Faggin in L'opera completa dei Van Eyck. Milan, 1968, p. 97, ill., disusses it as a copy of the Antwerp panel (no. 29) which may date from about 1450.

Lola B. Malkis Gellman. "Petrus Christus." PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1970, pp. 497–99, no. 30, fig. 81, rejects the attribution to Christus.

Charles Sterling. Letter. February 20, 1971, says that he would call it "Follower of Jan van Eyck close to Petrus Christus," and adds that the architecture depends on Rogier's Granada–Miraflores altarpiece, probably painted about 1438–40.

Joel M. Upton. "Petrus Christus." PhD diss., Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., 1972, pp. 420–21, no. 44, rejects the attribution to Christus and finds it close in style to the dry rendering of the Frick Madonna, also underservedly attributed to Christus.

Lino Moretti. G. B. Cavalcaselle: disegni da antichi maestri. Exh. cat., Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice. [Vicenza], 1973, p. 73, ascribes our panel to an imitator of Jan van Eyck; publishes the sketch Cavalcaselle made after it at the 1857 Manchester exhibition and notes that he queried its attribution to Jan in the margin of his catalogue.

Susan Urbach. "Domus Dei Est et Porta Coeli: Megjegyzések Petrus Christus Madonna-Képének Ikonográfiájához." Építésépítészettudomány 3–4 (1974), pp. 349–51, ill.

Francis Haskell. Rediscoveries in Art: Some Aspects of Taste, Fashion and Collecting in England and France. Ithaca, N.Y., 1976, p. 69, pl. 160.

David Robertson. Sir Charles Eastlake and the Victorian Art World. Princeton, 1978, p. 185, refers to it as by Petrus Christus.

J. W. Niemeijer. "A Conversation Piece by Aert Schouman and the Founders of the Hope Collection." Apollo, n.s., 108 (September 1978), p. 187.

Elisabeth Dhanens. Hubert and Jan van Eyck. New York, 1980, p. 365, ill., with the works of "Anonymous Epigones and Imitators".

Larry Silver. "Fountain and Source: A Rediscovered Eyckian Icon." Pantheon 41 (April–May–June 1983), pp. 95–96, 102 n. 4, ill., calls it "After Jan van Eyck" and dates it mid–15th century.

John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 231.

Erik Hinterding and Femy Horsch. "Reconstruction of the Collection of Old Master Paintings of King Willem II." Simiolus 19, no.1–2 (1989), p. 56, as style of Jan van Eyck.

Erik Hinterding and Femy Horsch. "'A small but choice collection': The Art Gallery of King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792–1849)." Simiolus 19, no.1–2 (1989), p. 10 n. 19.

Peter Klein. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. April 15, 1991, dates the panel from 1503 upwards through dendrochronological analysis.

Craig Harbison. Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism. London, 1991, p. 163, dates it to the mid-15th century and calls it one of at least eight very exact copies of van Eyck's Antwerp Virgin and Child; suggests that with such careful copying Netherlandish artists were—in the manner of earlier artists who laboriously copied Byzantine icons—attempting to preserve the "magic formula" of van Eyck's "icons".

Jos Koldeweij. "Book Reviews: Maryan Ainsworth with contributions by Maximiliaan P. J. Martens, 'Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges'." Simiolus 23, no. 4 (1995), pp. 269, 271–72, finds it odd that Ainsworth does not discuss this picture.

Christian Heck. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. April 15, 1996, finds this panel a good example of the identification in western medieval art of the Virgin with Jacob's ladder, as shown by the upper inscription.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From 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. 65, 81, 211, 220, 222–23, no. 48, ill. (color), as "Netherlandish" about 1500.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition. New York, 1998, p. 265, ill. p. 266, discusses possible early sources in Byzantine art for Jan van Eyck's prototype; gives earliest felling date for panel as 1427.

Elizabeth A. Pergam. "From Manchester to Manhattan: The Transatlantic Art Trade After 1857." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 87, no. 2 (2005), pp. 66–67, 86, 88, reproduces a sketch by George Scharf recording the placement of this work at the Manchester exhibition of 1857.

Jenny Graham. Inventing Van Eyck: The Remaking of an Artist for the Modern Age. Oxford, 2007, pp. 151, 227 n. 97, fig. 55.

Elsbeth Wiemann in Hans Holbein d. Ä.: Die Graue Passion in ihrer Zeit. Ed. Elsbeth Wiemann. Exh. cat., Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Stuttgart, 2010, pp. 366–69, no. 119, ill. (color).

Susan Urbach. Early Netherlandish Paintings. London, 2015, vol. 1, pp. 75, 77 n. 28, under no. 4.