The use of the golden section at Enguerrand Quarton (or E. Charonton)
Composition and gold section in the Middle Ages

Study of François Murez - www.francois-murez.com


E Quarton, one of the major figures of the French painting of the XVth century.


Native of the diocese of Laon in Picardy, the painter Enguerrand Quarton is known to us only by his activity in Provence, been attested from 1444 till 1466. The definition of his artistic personality took place from two admirable paintings, the Virgin of Mercy (Chantilly, Musée Condé) and the Coronation of the Virgin (Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, Musée) the paternity of which is proved by two contracts of command, spent respectively in 1452 and in 1453 between the painter and his sleeping partner. Compared with these, were allocated to him other painted panels and illuminations. The monumental order of its compositions, the elegance of its so striking, linear rhythms in Pietà, come to him maybe of its training in the North of France, in the contact of the Gothic cathedrals and illuminators' workshops. Doubtless he saw not far from there testimonies of the new Flemish art, embodied by the brothers Van Eyck and upon his arrival in Provence of the examples of painting of Sienna of the century spent as more "modern" Italian paintings. Of these diverse influences was born a determinedly personal style, marrying an acute sense of the reality and an ornamental will.

(Extract from the website of The Louvre)




Enguerrand Quarton - Avignon Pieta - circa 1455

Five characters participate in this painful representation, any imprint of sprirituality. Four are actors of the drama; the principals: Jesus and her Mother; John the Apostle and Mary Magdelene surround both first ones and share the suffering of the Virgin Mary. One is a spectator: the canon donor is lost in its internal thought.
A visible symmetry of four central characters, centred on Piéta, belongs to a more complex composition based on geometrical figures dear to the Middle Ages.



The horizon corresponds to the golden section of the height of the painting.



Half of the painting gives the vertical axis of symmetry.



The crossing of both axes is the center of a circle having for diameter the height of the horizon, that is the golden section of the painting. Both pentagons registered in the circle position the faces of the holy, second two characters and the bodies of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, the first characters. Virgin Mary follows the vertical line which indicates the absolute, Jesus the horizontal which indicates the life and its outcome, the death.



By a set of diagonals coming from summits or intersections of pentagons, the directions of legs, arm and back of Jesus or the headgear of the Virgin Mary are given. These diagonals of the back, the legs and the arm give the break, the drama while the circle gives the regularity, the serenity.



The second bigger circle with its pentagons, having for diameter the width of the painting and propped up on the height of the precedent, gives the slope of Mary Magdelene and the curvature of the back, John's slope and the movement of the dress of the canon.



As just, a vertical line coming from pentagons gives the positioning of the canon.



A last circle having for diameter the height of the painting and centred as the first one gives the movement of bottom of the garment of the Virgin Mary.






Enguerrand Quarton - Virgin of Mercy - Altarpiece Cadard - circa 1452

Both patron saints, John the Baptist and John the Apostle, surround the Virgin of Mercy. Jean Cadard and his wife Jeanne de Moulins are on the knees; the laic and clerical world under the protective coat of the Virgin Mary.
This painting in the shape of altarpiece lost its predella.



The structure of the painting is established on the rabattement of the diagonal of the square then those of the obtained rectangles.



The sides of rectangles, arcs of a circle in their progress determine the position of the characters, the objects. Here, on this representation to the right, but the same progress on the left would also produce the same symmetric positioning.
The Virgin Mary is naturally on the central axis of the painting.



A circle and its pentagons of an equal diameter as high as the painting puts rhythm into the overview of the Virgin Mary and her protégés.



A diagonal pulled by the angles of rectangles indicates the movement of John the Apostle's arm and of the back of Jeanne de Moulins. In a symmetry, the same line will give the same indication onto the left.



Another circle and its pentagons, horizontal axis of the circle propped up on the bottom of the painting and the diameter in report of the golden section with the diameter of the previous circle, place the height of the coat of the Virgin Mary, support the arms, surround the donors and integrate them in the gesture of love of the Virgin Mary.



Rights drawn from the points of pentagons give: in vertical example, the small piece of furniture which carries the prayer book to the right, in horizontal example, the bottom of the room...



And to finish, if we take the same proportion as in the other paintings (The Coronation of the Virgin), supposing that the horizontal axis of the small circle gives the golden report of the set of the painting and disappeared predella, we can determine the height of this predella.



Maybe that the complete altarpiece had this proportion there???


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Golden section at the Middle Ages (Charles Bouleau)


The idea that the pentagon, the symbol of the Platonic quintessence, is a perfect figure and the golden proportion a divine proportion haunted certainly the artists of the Middle Ages; the best proof is the use made by these constructions in the biggest masterpieces of time. It is not here about the only architecture. It is very certain that in all the ages, the architects appealed (at the same time as the other geometrical proportions) in this continuous, particularly harmonious progress, by using the golden section, or the dynamic rectangles, more rarely the pentagon. We shall take charge here only of the painting and we shall look for our examples at the biggest painters of the Middle Ages, masters of the XVth century. Their attitude is not the one architects; they do not extend in the space, they are limited by the frame, about which the influence, we know it, is quite powerful; the continuous progress thus interests them less than the infinite refinements of the pentagon and its steppings. The progress nevertheless will have its place in the set complicated with surfaces - almost a floor plan - which constitutes a polyptych....


Bibliography :
Charles Bouleau, The Painter's Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art