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Enguerrand Quarton (or Charonton) (c. 1410 – c. 1466) was a French painter and manuscript illuminator. Although there are very few surviving works attributable to him, his are the first masterpieces of a distinctively French style.
Quarton was born in northern France, but moved to Provence in 1444, working in Aix-en- Provence in 1446 and then in Avignon, until his death there in about 1466. Although he lived during the years of the Renaissance when great artistic advancements occurred, he is considered by many to be a medieval (Gothic) artist. I believe that when you see his paintings, you can see that his art does reflect the changes in the portrayal of figures and their emotions which mark the proto-Renaissance style.
Although Quarton’s career flourished from 1444 to 1466 in Provence, there are only six of his paintings that are documented, three of which have survived. Surprisingly, Rene of Anjou, the ruler of most of Provence,did not appear to commission Quarton for any work, although Rene was a keen patron of the arts. However, many of Quarton’s clients were important figures in Rene’s court, such as the Chancellor of Provence who commissioned his illumination of the Missal of Jean des Martins.
His most famous work is the Coronation of the Virgin, a common subject, but treated by
Quarton in an unusual way in that the Father and the Son of the Holy Trinity are identical. Around the Trinity are red and blue angels, While Rome and Jerusalem are depicted on the right and left, respectively. Purgatory and Hell are shown beneath the two cities, with the Crucifixion in the center. The sculptural style of figures, folds, and rocks are typical of the art of Provence at that time.
The Virgin of Mercy, painted in 1452, also known as the Cadard Altarpiece after the donor, has a plain gold background, which was outdated by the time of its creation. For comparison, the best-known version of this theme was painted by Piero della Francesca a few years earlier.
In Quarton’s version, the Virgin,Saint John the Baptist (left) and Saint John the Evangelist (right) tower over the donor and his wife, who are to the right and left of the Virgin and are themselves bigger than the faithful sheltered under the Virgin’s robe. It has been suggested that these sheltered figures were painted by someone else, since their rendering is weaker than the rest of the painting.
The Louvre museum now follows most art historians in assigning to Quarton the famous Avignon Pietà (1457?), which demonstrates a similar style.
Quarton is notable because his paintings are full of imagination, with original representations of the Virgin and saints. His art is fine and graceful within rich compositions, and it is clear that he created monumental paintings with the precision and attention to detail of book illumination.