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Italian, Tuscan: 'The Virgin and Child with Two Angels'

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This small 13th-century panel painting shows the Virgin and Child embracing, a common motif in Byzantine and early Italian art. The inscription on the background is MP OY which stands for 'MHTHP OEOY' - 'Mother of God' in Greek. Sadly, the painting was stolen from the Gallery in 1970.

In the Middle Ages, the Virgin was worshipped almost as fervently as Christ himself. She was seen as the Saint most ready to intercede on behalf of a repentant individual, and to beg forgiveness for their sins.

Paintings on panel, such as this one became increasingly popular in the 13th century as objects of private contemplation. Some were given the status of icons - the objects themselves, not merely the subjects they depicted, were believed to have religious importance. Sculptures and paintings were occasionally reported to perform miracles (such as a statue of Mary that wept tears of blood).

This panel is thought to have been one half of a diptych - one of a pair of paintings hinged together that could be folded shut like a book. They were often decorated on the outside, and this panel is painted with a cross, ornamented with triangles and circles on the back. The other half of the diptych is thought to be a painting of Christ on the Cross.

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