The Virgin Nursing the Christ Child, Follower of Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1500

The Virgin Nursing the Christ Child

Follower of Rogier van der Weyden
The Virgin Nursing the Christ Child

Oil and gold on Baltic oak panel, in an integral frame
c. 1500


29.2 cm; 11½ in.
20.3 cm; 8 in.


Private noble collection, Europe
Sotheby’s, London, 8 December 2005, lot 207
Private collection, United States


P. Syfer-d’Olne, et al., Catalogue of Early Netherlandish Painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. The Flemish Primitives: Masters with Provisional Names (Brepols Publishers nv, Brussels, 2006), Vol. IV, p. 151, fig. 101 (as location unknown)

This half-length figure of the Virgin nursing the Christ Child appears before a speckled gilt background, against which Mary’s golden halo is silhouetted. She is clothed in a red garment and a blue gold-trimmed veil. Her bared breast is partially covered with a diaphanous scarf. She cradles the child in both arms, while gazing downwards with a dreamy expression. The tiny, naked infant is loosely wrapped in a white cloth. In one hand he holds a wild pansy, or heartsease, a symbol – owing to its three colours: white, yellow and blue – of the Trinity. The painting, which has an arched top and is contained within an integral frame, is made from a single panel of Baltic oak.

With its small format and intimate character, this work was undoubtedly intended for private devotion. Devotional images of the breastfeeding Virgin, the ‘Virgo lactans’, became extremely popular in 15th century Netherlandish painting. While the motif is derived in general terms from a Byzantine icon type (Galaktotrophousa), the Virgin and Child in our painting are based loosely on Rogier van der Weyden’s painting of Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Inv. no. 93.153).

The most important Netherlandish painter of his time, van der Weyden (1400 – 1464) was apprenticed to Robert Campin in Tournai from 1427 to 1432. In 1435 he moved to Brussels, where he became the Town Painter. He travelled to Italy in 1450, visiting Rome and working for Lionello d’Este in Ferrara, before returning to Brussels. Rogier ran a busy workshop and had a great number of followers. His fame spread throughout Europe and his influence was far reaching, not only in his own time, but for generations to come.

Van der Weyden’s painting of Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin is among his most influential works. Painted in 1435 – 1436, either for the guildhouse of the Brussels painters or for their chapel at the Cathedral of Saint Gudule, the composition had an enormous impact and was frequently copied. Rogier himself made several half-length depictions of the Virgin and Child, usually as one of the panels in a diptych, which also gave rise to many later imitations. The present painting, by an unknown, but highly skilled hand, can be dated with confidence to around 1500.

SOLD: Private collection, Switzerland