The Lucca Madonna served her unknown patron as a medium of private devotion. The painting cleverly takes the viewer right into the depicted room, making him part of the affectionately rendered intimate situation. This impression is created by the special manner in which the artist has configured the space: like the walls on either side and the vaulted ceiling, the tile floor and the carpet appear to continue into the viewer’s side of the picture’s surface. The effect is heightened by the suggestive painterly description of the various materials and surfaces – the skin, hair, fabric, carpet, walls, glass, water, metal, tiles and wood.
However natural in appearance, the scene is also full of symbolic references. The fruit in the Christ child’s hand, for example, alludes to the Fall of Man, the consequences of which are overcome through the incarnation of God. The throne with its lion decorations symbolizes not only the judgement seat of the proverbially just king Solomon, an ancestor to Christ, but also the Last Judgement. Already famous far and wide during his lifetime, Jan van Eyck – court painter to the dukes of Burgundy – died in 1441. He had painted the “Lucca Madonna” just a few years earlier, a work whose mastery and consistency of concept and execution we still find captivating to this day. Incidentally, the name by which the painting is known goes back to one of its previous owners: in the nineteenth century it was in the possession of the Duke of Lucca in Tuscany.