Saint Michael Dedicating His Arms to the Virgin
Oil on canvas
Saint-Pierre, Nevers, France
In this altarpiece, Saint Michael, the warrior saint, lays down his arms before the Virgin Mary and looks upward at her and the Christ Child, who accepts the gesture of peace and offers his blessing. Originally installed in a chapel at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, it undoubtedly commemorates King Louis XIII’s victory over the Spanish on September 29, 1637, at Leucate, on the Mediterranean coast. That date coincides with Saint Michael’s feast day. Soon after the victory, the king attended a special Mass at Notre-Dame, offering prayers to Saint Michael for his assistance during the battle. The monarch’s victorious commanding marshal, Charles de Schomberg, could be the patron of the altarpiece. The painting was transferred to the church of Saint-Pierre in Nevers in 1812 and rediscovered as a work by the Le Nains in the 1950s. An unquestioned masterpiece, the painting is an essay in compositional harmony, tonal unity, and lyric naturalism.
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