Detail of Saint Peter

Among the very few surviving French panel paintings from the period around 1400 to 1410, or indeed from a broader period between 1380 and 1420, there are no other works by the creator of this panel, whether a named artist or an anonymous one. Nor can his hand be identified in illuminated manuscripts. This is not surprising given the very large proportion of such works that are now lost.

The fact that it is not possible to securely attribute this panel due to a lack of any documentary references does not in any way detract from its merit. The artist must have worked in Paris, very probably in court circles to judge from the identity of the donor, while his style shows no trace of the Flemish and Burgundian art that influenced Parisian painting at this period due to the arrival in the capital of artists from those regions. While it cannot be proved at the present time, one possible hypothesis is that this panel is by Colart de Laon, documented between 1377 and 1411. Colart was painter and valet de chambre to Louis d’Orléans from 1391 until the Duke’s death in 1407 then held the same position with his son Charles until 1411. One of the most important painters of the day to judge from the documentary evidence, Colart produced a large number of works of a varied type for Louis and later for his son. Many are of the ephemeral kind normally produced by court painters such as painting on shields, carriages, and decorations for celebrations such as triumphal entries and tournaments, etc., but it can certainly be assumed that Colart produced works of other types, including easel paintings, for the Duke. Although these are all now lost, it is feasible to suggest that he could have produced a painting such as the present Agony in the Garden, in which Louis d’Orléans appears as the donor, whether directly commissioned from him by the Duke or by his wife and son immediately after his murder.

Stylistically, this panel is a fine example of the International Gothic characteristic of the Paris region to which Colart de Laon could well have adhered. The manner of representing the figures with their slender bodies differs from the broader forms of Burgundian and Flemish painting, nor do we find an interest here in the inclusion of details from the natural world such as birds and flowers that is characteristic of those schools. A comparison of the way the space is depicted in this panel (particularly the background) and in other surviving panel paintings reveals a considerable difference. While most of them have a gold background or a landscape with sky, here the artist paints the sky with gold stars of the type found in illuminated manuscripts of the period, including works by the Boucicaut Master (1390-1430). Furthermore, the rediscovery of this work reveals that French panel painters had an interest in space and in achieving an effect of three-dimensionality comparable to that found in manuscript illumination of this period.

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