Jean Fouquet

c. 1420 - c. 1480

The Life of Jean Fouquet

Fouquet spent the majority of his life in his hometown of Tours, France. However, he also visited Rome, Italy on a mission. He probably received his early training in Paris as a manuscript illuminator, and from then on he became an artist-for-hire, working for such prominent figures as French king Charles VII and Pope Eugenius IV. He spent a majority of his life on art projects, including portraits such as Charles VII, Pope Eugenius IV, Guillaume Jouvenal des Ursins, his Self-Portrait Medallion, Etienne Chevalier, and Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim. He also painted frescoes in the Notre-Dame-la-Riche, as well as helping design the tomb of the king Charles VII, and worked in manuscript illumination as a pupil. He was a prominent humanist, as he mostly painted portraits of people rather than religious paints, as well as secular paints including the Virgin Mary depicted more human than godly, partially nude.

Fouquet's Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim, c. 1452

What is perhaps Fouquet's most famous and reproduced work is his Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim. Now located in Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp), Belgium, this work was originally part of the German Melun Diptych, as well as Fouquet's portrait of Etienne Chevalier. The piece itself is a representation of many things. For one, as the name implies, it is a painting of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. However, the Virgin Mary is also a representation of Agnes Sorel, the late mistress of the French king Charles VII. The painting was very scandalous, considering both the Virgin Mary shown as the king’s mistress, and her nudity. The painting is also very geometric in the way that the bodies are shaped. In the background are red and blue cherubim, surrounding the gilded throne on which she sits, with Mary’s crown is encrusted with pearls. The painting is a symbol that Mary was a human like all of us, caring for her baby, as she is compared to the king’s mistress in the same manner. The painting is a clear display of secularism, containing nudity, with the Virgin Mary depicted as a different human.


I personally found this piece interesting because it is by far Fouquet’s most popular, and also his most symbolized. It is a representation of many things, both religious and secular.

Fouquet's Other Important Works

Other facts about Fouquet

  • He was the very first well-known French artist.
  • He was the son of a priest and an unmarried mother.
  • He was the first painter to make a self-portrait an independent work.
  • He opened a workshop in his hometown of Tours, France.
  • His patrons were all prominent government figures, especially in France.
  • Although it is not known when he died, on November 8, 1481, a church document mentioned his wife a widow.
  • The Melun Diptych, one of his works, is split between Berlin and Antwerp, Etienne Chevalier in Berlin and Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim in Antwerp.

Works Cited

Fouquet, Jean. Charles VII. c. 1475. Oil on oak. Musée de Louvre, Paris.


Fouquet, Jean. Etienne Chevalier and Saint Stephen. 1454-56. Oil on oak panel. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.


Fouquet, Jean. Guillaume Jouvenel des Ursins. c. 1465. Painting. Musée de Louvre, Paris.


Fouquet, Jean. Self-Portrait Medallion. 1452. Copper, enamel and gold. Musée de Louvre, Paris.


Fouquet, Jean. Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim. 1452. Oil on panel. Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen.


"Jean Fouquet." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.


"Jean Fouquet." International Dictionary of Art and Artists. Gale, 1990. Biography in Context.
Web. 1 Dec. 2015.