Workshop of Joos van Cleve

The Virgin and Child Enthroned


Oil on Panel




92.5(h) x 72.5(w) cms


This vibrant and well preserved panel painting of the Madonna and Child enthroned, surrounded by still life elements, is a moving religious scene painted in a manner close to the great Flemish master Joos van Cleve.

The scene is rife with symbols linked to the life and death of Christ. A hole in the window above the throne lets in a single shaft of light harking to the Annunciation and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Cattle skulls on the throne refer to death on the Cross while the gilt phoenixes straddled by the putti are symbols of rebirth and the oncoming resurrection.

In the stone ledge in the foreground sits a glass of wine, a powerful symbol of the eucharist. The knife perhaps refers the spear which will be thrust into the body of Christ while the pomegranate refers to original sin but also to the red flesh of Christ. Meanwhile, the pear and cherries, because of their sweetness, symbolise the tender relationship between the Virgin and Child.

Many of these symbols recur again and again in the work of van Cleve in his mature phase from around 1520. A comparable, though smaller work is Madonna and Child in a Niche, c. 1520 in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt (inv. no. 1588). In these paintings the tenderness between the Madonna and Child is always intensely imagined and in the present painting this is particularly present. The Christ child gazes adoringly at his mother and plays with her cowl while she holds him tenderly, one hand across his chest as if to shield him from harm and gazes knowingly out at the viewer.

Joos van Cleve had a large and able workshop and many of his paintings, including the Städel picture, have workshop participation.


Private Collection, Italy.