Johannes Cardon was born in Antwerp at the beginning of the 17th century. Born into an important family of sculptors, he was the son and pupil of Forci Cardon, a sculptor from Arras, and also the brother of Servaes Cardon, an artist known for having executed the Pulpit of Truth in the church of the Abbey of Afflighem (Brabant). A master of both wood and terracotta, Johannes became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1643. A forerunner, the artist already adopted a delicate and refined style characteristic of the late Baroque that spread widely in the southern Netherlands around 1670. This style can be appreciated in his two most famous works, two terracotta Virgin and Child signed and dated 1643, one of which is kept in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, the other in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels. This boxwood statuette, measuring about fifteen centimetres, is an original, smaller-scale version of the Brussels version of the artist's masterpiece.
Like her terracotta counterpart, the Virgin is depicted in a three-quarter view, seated, her face in profile turned towards the Christ child on her right knee. In a very tender movement, the Infant turns towards her, raising his chubby little arms towards his mother. This Marian type, with its full, calm forms, smooth lines and gentle expression, is characteristic of the Flemish Baroque school that flourished in the second half of the 17th century between Antwerp and Mechelen. This fullness of form, which can be seen here in the rotation of the Virgin's body combined with the subtle distribution of the draperies of her dress, falling in a variety of folds along her legs to the ground, owes a great deal to the Rubenesque inspiration brought to sculpture by contemporaries of Cardon, such as Lucas Faydherbe. However, in the case of our sculptor, this is tempered by the delicacy, sobriety and sense of intimacy that emanates from the group. Through this tender and graceful depiction of the Virgin Mary, a bastion against heresy and a mediator between sinners and God, our artist puts himself at the service of the Counter-Reformation and gives the faithful, who are moved by his composition, an image of piety and meditation to contemplate.
A superb example of Flemish Baroque micro-sculpture, which was very much in vogue in private homes and in the cabinets of 17th and 18th century enthusiasts, this boxwood Virgin and Child is a formidable addition to the corpus of works of Johannes Cardon. It is a rare testimony to his talents as a woodcarver, which until now could only be appreciated on the choir stalls of the church of the Abbey of Afflighem and on the Tabernacle of the altar of the Cathedral of Saint-Rombaut in Mechelen.
Published in Sismann, G. ; Lequio, M. Baroque, Sculptures Européennes 1600-1750, La Librairie des Musées, 2022