The Virgin and Child, c. 1518-1520
Bernard van Orley
oil on oak
24 x 18 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 28531)
This is the left half of a diptych, a pair of images hinged together. The other half, now lost but known through copies, showed Margaret of Austria (1480-1530), Regent of the Netherlands. The Christ Child has broken away from feeding at his mother's breast to turn to Margaret, commanding her "Veni", "come," to which she replies "Placet", "willingly." The diptych format divides the sacred from the profane - the holy figures from the portrait - but the continuous space between the two halves - the room in which both Mother and Child and Margaret appear - unites them both. Orley was Margaret's court painter; she kept this work in her own collection. The photograph shows an early copy of the work, perhaps made on Margaret's order as a gift.
A diptych of this size is an intimate work, meant to be used and held as much as looked at. We must imagine the action of opening and unfolding the work for contemplation, before closing it again.