The daughter of Emperor Maximilian I, Margaret of Austria was betrothed at the age of three to the infant dauphin Charles, the future Charles VIII, and served briefly as "queen of France" from 1483 to 1491. She is shown here around the age of ten, one year before she was repudiated by her intended husband. The initials C and M within the border of Margaret's collar (backwards C in the left border) probably signify their union. The chain of gold shells on her headdress may be part of the armorial insignia of the Bourbon dynasty with which she was then associated. The elaborate pendant of a pelican piercing its breast to draw blood with which to feed its young (the blood represented by the large hanging ruby), a symbol of Christian charity, alludes to the sitter's piety. These elements are mounted on a gold fleur-de-lis. Demonstrably showing her faith, Margaret holds a large gold filagree Paternoster bead of her rosary and looks to the right, presumably toward (what was originally) the object of her devotion. This panel likely formed the left of a diptych, whose right wing, now lost, may have represented a subject from Christ's Passion.
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Title:Margaret of Austria
Artist:Jean Hey (called Master of Moulins) (Netherlandish, active fourth quarter 15th century)
Medium:Oil on oak panel
Dimensions:12 7/8 x 9 1/8 in. (32.7 x 23 cm)
Credit Line:Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
This portrait of the ten-year-old Margaret of Austria (1480-1530) depicts the young princess in the regal attire befitting her status as the future Queen of France, and poignantly evokes her role in the complex web of political conflict and marital alliances between the Hapsburg dynasty and the French crown. Margaret was the daughter of Mary of Burgundy and Emperor Maximilian I. Under the Treaty of Arras of 1482, Maximilian was forced to concede by giving Margaret’s hand in marriage to the son of Louis XI of France - the future king Charles VIII - and relinquishing the significant Burgundian territories in her dowry. When Charles and Margaret were betrothed in 1483, the three-year-old princess was sent to the French court in preparation for her role as queen. However, in 1491, Charles renounced Margaret in favor of Anne of Brittany (whom Maximilian had married by proxy the prior year).
In late 1490 or early 1491, shortly before Charles dissolved his engagement to Margaret, the present portrait was painted when the young couple visited the Bourbon court in Moulins (central France).(1) During this period, the Netherlandish-born artist Jean Hey worked as painter to the thriving Bourbon court, beginning in the service of Pierre II Bourbon and his wife Anne of France in 1488. Hey produced portraits of several members of the dynasty, which reveal the strong influence of the French master Fouquet, and possess the sensibility of marble sculpture.(2) Conceived within this artistic and political milieu, Margaret’s portrait could have been commissioned by Anne de Beaujeu, Charles’s sister, who served as regent during his youth and was responsible for the education of his intended bride.
In a loggia overlooking the Loire valley, Margaret is poised before a large column, lending the young girl an air of monumentality and authority. The artist’s virtuosity in rendering the luxurious material quality of Margaret’s garment and jewels – the textures of velvet and fur, and the iridescent pearls – enhances the splendor of her courtly attire. Furthermore, the "little queen," as she was known, is bedecked in symbols evoking her affiliation with the Bourbon dynasty and the French crown. Her ermine-trimmed red velvet gown is embellished at the collar with the initials C and M, signifying her union with Charles, while the shells along the edge of her headdress are emblems of the Bourbon.
Margaret’s elaborate jeweled necklace (a gold, ruby, and enamel pendant hung with a pearl) celebrates her royal status in its fleur-de-lis form -- a symbol also associated with the Virgin Mary. The white enameled pelican mounted on top was a traditional reference to Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection because the bird was believed to pierce its own breast, so as to feed its young with its blood (symbolized by the large ruby).(3) Such accoutrements were listed in the 1493 inventory of Margaret’s possessions and may have been bridal gifts from Charles.(4)
The pearl rosary in her hand is a self-referential symbol of her piety given that the Latin word for pearl is ‘margarita.’(5) Signifying her rank and purity, the iridescent pearls are rendered in meticulous detail, varying slightly in size and shape. Rosaries made of precious materials were popular at the French courts. Reciting her prayers, Margaret pauses on the large gold filigree pater noster bead while gazing to the right, presumably toward (what was originally) the object of her devotion: a missing panel that would have formed the right hand wing of a diptych, and likely represented a subject from Christ's Passion, given the emphasis on sacrifice and resurrection evoked by her jewels.(6)
The Lehman panel is among several images of the young Margaret that illustrate her role, and that of portraiture, in matrimonial politics, including one painted at age three, around the time of her betrothal to Charles, and another at age fifteen, in anticipation of her marriage into the Spanish dynasty in 1496.(7) As regent of the Burgundian Low Countries beginning in 1507, Margaret became a notable ruler and patron in her own right, assembling a significant collection of dynastic portraits at her court in Mechelen.
Alison Manges Nogueira 2019
1. Charles Sterling and Maryan Ainsworth. The Robert Lehman Collection: Fifteenth- to Eighteenth-Century European Paintings, Vol. II, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, cat. pp. 12-14.
2. Jean Hey is generally believed to be the so-called Master of Moulins, who was named after the triptych (ca. 1498-1500) in Moulins Cathedral, depicting the Virgin in Glory, whose lateral wings depict saints and portraits of the presumed donors, Pierre II Duke of Bourbon, his wife Anne de France, and their daughter Suzanne.
3. For a discussion of the themes of sacrifice and resurrection, see Maryan Ainsworth in From Van Eyck to Brueghel: Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Edited by Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, cat. 35, p. 181; Sterling and Ainsworth, p. 15.
4. Dagmar Eichberger. Leben mit Kunst. Wirken durch Kunst: Sammelwesen und Hofkunst unter Margarete von Österreich, Regentin der Niederlande, Belgium, 2002, pp. 29-32.
5. Till-Holger Borchert, ed. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting: 1430-1530, Bruges, 2002, cat. no. 73, p. 251.
6. Maryan Ainsworth in From Van Eyck to Brueghel: Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Edited by Maryan Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, cat. 35, p. 181.
7. The 1483 portrait by the Master of the Magdalen Legend (Musée National du Château de Versailles, MV 4026) and the double portrait of Margaret and Philip the Fair painted in 1493–95 by Pieter van Coninxloo (National Gallery, London, NG 2613.2).
Charles Sterling and Maryan Ainsworth. The Robert Lehman Collection: Fifteenth- to Eighteenth-Century European Paintings, Vol. II, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, cat. no. 3, pp. 11-18.
Maryan Ainsworth in From Van Eyck to Brueghel: Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Edited by Maryan Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, cat. 35, p. 181.
Till-Holger Borchert, ed. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting: 1430-1530, Bruges, 2002, cat. no. 73, p. 251.
Philippe Lorentz. "Children’s Portraits: Between Politics and Family Memories," in Women of Distinction: Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria. Exh. Cat., Mechelen, Dienst Musea, Lamot, 2005, p. 118, 120-121, fig. 19.
Martha Wolff, ed. Kings, Queens, and Courtiers: Art in Early Renaissance France. Exh. Cat, Art Institute of Chicago, 2011, cat. 57, p. 126.
Martha Wolff. "Anne de France et les artistes: princess et commanditaire." In Anne de France: Art et pouvoire en 1500, eds. Thierry Crépin-Leblond and Monique Chatenet. Picard, 2014, pp. 139-40.
Don Sebastián Gabriel de Beaujeu, Braganza y Borbón, infante of Spain and Portugal; his son, Prince Pierre de Bourbon et Bourbon, duke of Dúrcal, Paris; his sale, American Art Association, Chickering Hall, New York, 10-11 April 1889, lot 24 (as "Doña Juana La Loca" by Hans Holbein the Elder; not sold); his sale, Haro Frères et Bloche, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 3, 1890, lot 23 (as Jean La Folle by Holbein); sold to Prince Manuel de Yturbe, Paris; his granddaughter, Princess Yturbe, Paris; sold to [F. Kleinberger Galleries, New York], 1926. Acquired by Philip Lehman from Kleinberger in March 1926.
Till-Holger Borchert. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting 1430–1530. Exh. cat., Groeningemuseum, Bruges. Ghent, 2002, pp. 195, 251, no. 73.
Dagmar Eichberger. Women of distinction: Margaret of York / Margaret of Austria. Leuven, 2005, pp. 118, 121, no. 19.
Kathleen Wilson-Chevalier. Patronnes et mécènes en France à la renaissance. Saint-Etienne, 2007, pp. 137-138, no. 11.
Julien Chapuis. Invention: northern Renaissance studies in honor of Molly Faries. Turnhout, Belgium, 2008, pp. 138-139, nos. 3-4.
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