In this intimate painting the Virgin Mary holds a branch of lilies entwined with carnations in her left hand and supports the Christ Child with her right. He raises one hand in blessing, and holds a rose in the other. The rose and lily are commonly associated with the Virgin’s purity. More flowers lie in a basket. The golden-haired infant has a faint halo, making his head stand out against the dark background.
The tender atmosphere and delicacy of execution are typical of Carlo Dolci, who painted several versions of this scene for aristocratic patrons between 1642 and 1649 (there are examples in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich). The refined draughtmanship, noticeable in details like the lace and the transparent veil covering Christ, is characteristic of the paintings he produced in the 1640s, although this version may be later and seems not to be by Dolci’s hand.
In this intimate painting the Virgin Mary holds a branch of lilies entwined with carnations in her left hand and supports the Christ Child with her right. He raises one hand in blessing, and holds a rose in the other. More flowers lie in a basket. The golden-haired infant has a faint halo, making his head stand out against the dark background.
The flowers are symbolic: lilies and roses are commonly associated with the Virgin’s purity and the carnations (which symbolise marriage) may refer to Mary’s role as both Bride and Mother of Christ, as in Italian: Raphael, The Madonna of the Pinks (‘La Madonna dei Garofani’). A Latin inscription on the back of Dolci’s variant in Munich, in the artist’s own hand, suggests that the flowers held particular significance: ‘EGO FLOS CAMPI ET LILIUM CONVALLIUM/ET EGO MATER PULCRA DILECTIONIS’ (‘I am the flower of the field and the lily of the valleys/And I am the mother of fair love’). These two verses, taken from different books of the Old Testament – the Song of Solomon 2: 1 and Ecclesiasticus 24: 24 – were understood to apply to Christ and the Virgin.
The pose of the Christ Child recalls the blessing infant Christ in one of the most beautiful and influential Italian early Renaissance sculptures, Desiderio da Settignano’s marble Tabernacle of the Sacrament, made before 1461 for the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. Desiderio’s sculpture was extremely well known and Dolci was probably familiar with it since San Lorenzo was his local church; the building where he lived and had his workshop was only a short distance away.
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