Medieval art is important because it is what society has as a picture into the lives of those who lived during that time. Many could not read or write during that time and because life was hard, those who could read and write did not have the time to record what daily life was like. One of the artists that represent the period and one of the first to portray a uniquely French style was Enguerrand Quarton and he did so with his painting Coronation of the Virgin.
The subject of the painting Coronation of the Virgin is the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was chosen as the subject because like much of the art produced during medieval times had religious themes. Quarton lived in Provence which was the area of the Papal Palace in France so the Church was an important part of the daily lives of the citizens of the area. Not only was the Church an important part of their lives, but it was also a huge patron of the arts. However, Quarton’s work is different from the paintings produced in Italy because his subjects were more realistic and he was willing to use vivid colors.
Much can be learned about Medieval life from the painting Coronation of the Virgin. Since life was hard and the life span was short, religion and the afterlife was a constant in people’s thoughts. They needed to be reassured that there was something better in which to look forward and that there was more than just a few short years of existence for the human soul. The Virgin Mary was a poor girl who was of the lowest society. This fact gave the people of the time that their lives could have a purpose if this lowly woman could end up being the mother of God.
In the painting, she is the center which makes her the focal point. She is flanked by the Savior and God who appear identical which symbolizes that they are one. Size is also used by Quarton as symbolism of the importance of figures. Mary, Jesus, and God are the largest, while they are surrounded by the host of heaven and the royal family who are smaller and signifies that they are not as important as the larger three. The two cities on earth, Rome and Jerusalem, are smaller than the heavenly host and those under the earth in purgatory and hell are the smallest to symbolize the fact that they are not important. This shows that the people of the medieval period felt that if a person did not make it to heaven then their life had been lived in vain.
Quarton uses bright vivid colors to portray his message to the world. Bright reds are used to capture the attention of the viewer, while the blue lends a majestic tone to the work. There are rich gold undertones to remind the viewer of the wealth of heaven. Coronation of the Virgin is painted with tempera paint which is made of an egg base. By Medieval times in Europe painting on gesso prepared panels with egg tempera was normal. Oil paint existed but tempera was the preferred method. (Paintmaking.com)
Enguerrand Quarton has few surviving paintings left in today’s society, but his Coronation of the Virgin is a wonderful example of medieval art. Through this painting, one can understand the culture and the beliefs of France during this time.
- Paintmaking.com. Retrieved July 29, 2008 from http://www.paintmaking.com/eggs.htm
- Quarton, E. Coronation of the Virgin. 1454.