Jean Bourdichon, Tours, c. 1505–1510

Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, M. 90–93

In medieval and early modern times, poverty has never given rise to compassion; indeed, it was generally seen as repellent, despite the precept of charity that required the donation of alms. Thus the couple, living in a dilapidated cabin with paneless windows, is not primarily the object of pity but bluntly described in its misery.

The composition, marked by a room angle motif rather than the picture frame of 15th-century Italian perspective painting, is just as daring as the forced colourfulness with its strong tones in the ripped cloth. This is the work of an impressive artistic genius, and the haggard faces of the two show that his ideal of beauty tended to round, full and satiated colours and forms. His temperament remains moderate, even in the torn up rags; he is a master of calm, of the measured equilibrium and the hazy skies.