The Court Jester Gonella by Jean Fouquet

Interior of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum

Just a short walk away from the Vienna Academy of Fine Art is the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is one of the largest museum/galleries in the world.  It was built in 1872 and was opened in 1891 by Emperor Franz-Joseph the ruler of the then dual Austria-Hungary monarchy.  It had been his wish to find a home for the Hapsburgs’ remarkable art collection.  The interior of this rectangular building, above which sits a massive octagonal dome, is lavishly decorated with marble, stucco ornamentations, gold leaf and paintings which make the interior a fabulous work of art itself.

The Court Jester Gonella by Jean Fouquet (c. 1440/1445)

The painting featured in today’s My Daily Art Display hangs in the museum.  It is The Court Jester Gonella by Jean Fouquet. 

Jean Fouquet was born in Tours around 1420 and is now acknowledged as the greatest fifteenth century French painter.  He was an exceptional panel painter and manuscript illuminator.  Although little is known of his early upbringing it is known he lived in Rome between 1443 and 1447 before returning to France where he became court painter to Louis XI. 

In the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s collection the painting was described as a portrait of a court jester known as Gonella but the portrait of a wily old man remains a mystery.  With his arms are tightly folded, his head tilted to one side he seems to have been squeezed into the picture.  The minutely detailed reproduction of his face complete with wrinkles stubble and reddened eyes is precise and often likened to portraiture by Jan van Eyck.  Here we have a fool acting the part of a simple peasant who is able to amuse the court with his crude jokes or his rough wisdom.