This enamel painted medallion is a real jewel in the Louvre. It was made by Jean Fouquet, a great artist from the end of the 15th century. He was a painter and a miniaturist. Fouquet was born and died in Tours, a city in the heart of the Loire Valley in France. We don’t have a lot on him but we know he travelled a bit. He went to Rome around 1445 to paint the portrait of the Pope, which has been lost, and came back to Tours in 1448 according to his tax records (yes, his tax records).
This medallion is made of copper and is enamel painted. It was painted between 1452 and 1455 for the church Notre-Dame-de-Melun. The 6,8 cm diameter object is preserved in the Louvre museum. Let’s put it back in its original context a bit. The medallion was part of a diptych frame painted in 1452/5 for Etienne Chevalier (treasurer of France and a minister of Charles VII) which is now in Berlin and Anvers. After his trip to Italy where he saw the Tuscan Madone surrounded by medallions, he decided to do the same here.
In this self-portrait, Fouquet uses two shades gold painting. The gold with the strong yellow color is used for the general composition, while a red-yellow gold is used for details such as nostrils and hair. The artist uses very thin parallel hatchings. The closer they are to each other, the less blue enamel background you can see. By contrast, the further away they are, the darker it gets. Fouquet uses a small needle to take off some gold paint to create more details such as the pupil. He depicts himself as being strict and authoritarian to reflect his moral authority. The artist is conscientious and tries to reflect volume precisely, especially with a light effect which is very Italian. He also was influenced by the Flemish school, since all the details are very naturalist. The enamel is a French technique and became its speciality. Often there is no compartment for the different enamel colors (which doesn’t apply here since there is only one color) and because of it there are as many firing as there are colors. Artists start with the strongest color and finish with the weakest one.
This medallion is essential for art history because it reflects the development of individualism. This is the first self-portrait painted and signed by the artist. Fouquet, in this artwork, asserts his creator status.