Portrait of an Ecclesiastic
Although the inscription describes the sitter as "A Roman legate of our Holy Father in France," there has been no satisfactory identification of this man. The drawing, an outstanding and rare survival of a fifteenth-century French work on paper, is by the painter and illuminator Jean Fouquet. Fouquet was patronized by the highest classes, as his home city of Tours was the preferred residence of the French royal court. In this sheet, the figure is placed to the left in three-quarter view, giving the legate a distance appropriate to his rank. This distance is balanced by the descriptive, sculptural treatment of the face and the psychological characterization therein. Fouquet was one of the first Northern artists to recognize and incorporate the artistic innovations of fifteenth-century Italy into the prevailing Franco-Flemish style, as manifested in the combination of monumentality and descriptive detail seen here. Fouquet's sheet is also an early survival of the portrait drawing genre, which gained great importance and popularity in France in the sixteenth century. In modern times, this drawing has always been considered a masterpiece. When it was sold at auction in 1936, it fetched the highest price paid for a drawing to that date.
Jean Fouquet (French, Tours ca. 1425–ca. 1478 Tours)