Enguerrand Quarton’s Coronation of the Virgin—a vividly coloured, densely populated tableau of heaven, earth, and the underworld—is one of the best preserved, visually complex, and finely executed altarpieces to survive from fifteenth-century France. It is also one of the best documented: its lengthy contract reveals that it was commissioned in 1453 by Jean de Montagny, a canon in Avignon, to be placed at the Carthusian monastery of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, just across the Rhône from the papal city. The panel was specifically intended for an altar that stood in the funerary chapel of Pope Innocent VI, who had founded the monastery in 1356.
Scholarship on the altarpiece has primarily focused on its sprawling imagery, following an iconographic method notable for neglecting information extrinsic to the image. The complexity of its patronage, its intended audience of enclosed Carthusians and, crucially, its physical location at the Villeneuve charterhouse were broadly overlooked. This paper addresses these very issues and in so doing challenges the interpretation that has held authority up to now. In recovering the Coronation’s context, it argues that in addition to reflecting Montagny’s devotional interests, the altarpiece played a key role in articulating the monastery’s institutional memory—a pressing concern as it was nearing its centenary—by commemorating its papal founder and celebrating the visionary event that led to its foundation.
Emma Capron is Associate Curator of Renaissance Painting at the National Gallery. Previously she was the Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow at the Frick Collection in New York, where she curated the exhibition The Charterhouse of Bruges: Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, and Jan Vos (2018-19). She also worked for Christie’s Old Masters in London and held fellowships at the Metropolitan Museum and the Musée du Louvre. Among other publications, her discovery of Simone Martini’s last documented work appeared in The Burlington Magazine in 2017. She completed her PhD on altarpieces in late medieval Avignon at the Courtauld Institute under the supervision of Susie Nash in 2019.
Organised by Tom Nickson (The Courtauld)