This is the centre of an altarpiece commissioned by a Pisan notary, Ser Giuliano degli Scarsi, for the chapel of Saint Julian in Santa Maria del Carmine, Pisa. The grapes the Child eats refer to the blood shed on the cross and the wine of the Last Supper. The surface is disfigured by losses and old retouchings and was originally more decorative: the Virgin's dress was a translucent red over silver leaf, which has now dulled.

Some smaller fragments of the altarpiece survive in other collections: a Crucifixion over the central panel, and predella panels mainly showing lives of the saints - John the Baptist, Saint Julian, Saint Peter and Saint Nicholas, with the Adoration of the Kings in the centre. The altarpiece is likely to have been designed as a polyptych. Masaccio was an innovative artist, who influenced the course of the Renaissance in Italy. This altarpiece shows an early use of single-point linear perspective. Elements of the painting meet at a central vanishing-point and are foreshortened to accommodate the viewpoint of the spectator looking up. The figure of the Child is three-dimensional, emphasised by his elliptical halo. Masaccio may been influenced by the sculptor Donatello who is known to have collected payments for the altarpiece on Masaccio's behalf.

Key facts

Artist
Artist dates
1401 - 1428/9?
Full title
The Virgin and Child
Date made
1426
Medium and support
Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions
134.8 x 73.5 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought with a contribution from The Art Fund, 1916
Inventory number
NG3046
Location in Gallery