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Success and salvation are not the same thing at all

04 March 2016

BRIDGEMAN

The Virgin and Chancellor Rolin, oil on panel 1435, Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441), Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Virgin and Chancellor Rolin, oil on panel 1435, Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441), Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Virgin and Chancellor Rolin, oil on panel 1435, Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441), Musée du Louvre, Paris

It is not what we have done that makes us interesting; it is rather what, through grace, we can become. Chancellor Rolin is a success: rich, and robed in power. His Saviour, by contrast, is naked. For a moment, it seems as though the artist has indulged our Burgundian Chancellor. Look again. Rolin kneels, but the child is enthroned on his mother’s lap, and it is Christ who holds the orb of power. The gap between them is bigger than it looks. The child gives a blessing. He dispenses salvation, and also indicates the bridge that separates the city that Rolin knew (and helped to build) from the City of God. Scenes from Genesis, carved on the pillars round the room, are a catalogue of sin. Rolin really does need saving; and, as an afterthought, van Eyck has painted out his purse. Success and salvation are not the same thing at all.

David Hoyle

Dean of Bristol

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