10/13/2008

Portrait of the week - Mary Magdalene and Madeleine de Bourgogne


This is a portrait of Mary Magdalene with, in all probability, Madeleine de Bourgogne, painted by Jean Hey (also called 'Maître de Moulins) circa 1490-1495, that is just at the transition from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

More about Mary Magdalene can be read here. Madeleine de Bourgone was not a saint though. She was on the more shady side of the nobility - she was the natural daughter of Philip the Good (Philippe le Bon), that is a daughter he had with a mistress. Phillipe was the duke of Burgundy and he had quite a few children with different women. We know next to nothing about Madeleine, not when she was born or when she died. We do know that she married in 1486 to Bompar Seigneur de l'Aage, Baron d'Ales.

That she is married, and wealthy is very obvious from this portrait, showing the lady in a velvet gown of the latest fashion, adorned with gold and pearls, and trimmed with ermine - a sign of royalty. Ermine were for those at the top of the social hierarchy, not just any rich noble that happened to fancy it. Her hair is covered as any good wife would do. Her forehead is bare, though, because a high forehead was all the latest craze at the time.

The saint is marked by the halo at the back of her head. Her clothing is much more fancy than that of Madeleine, with bright colours - green, red and orange. She also wears quite a lot of jewelery - and she also has her hair completely covered and clearly plucked eye-brows. This was not a fashion that was too fond of showing hair of any kind.

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