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The Virgin and Child
Benvenuto di Giovanni
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The Virgin Mary, regal and refined, is seated on an inlaid stone throne with the Christ Child on her knee. Two musical angels with multi-coloured wings balance on the back of the throne, and there is a Latin inscription on the front of the marble parapet beneath it: REGINA CELI LETTARE ALLELVIA (‘Rejoice the Queen of Heaven, Alleluia’).

This is the central panel from a triptych (a painting made up of three parts), other parts of which are also in the National Gallery’s collection. The highly decorative quality of this painting – its shimmering gold, brilliant colours and elegant contours – is typical of Sienese painting of this and earlier periods. But Benvenuto was also aware of the spatial and naturalistic interests of artists and thinkers of his own time. The way that the Virgin’s cloak falls over her knees suggests a real body underneath, and the angels' naked feet are turned so as to be seen at right angles to the picture plane. Their toes curl over the edges of the throne.

Key facts
Artist Benvenuto di Giovanni
Artist dates 1436 - after 1509/17
Full title The Virgin and Child
Group Altarpiece: The Virgin and Child with Saints
Date made 1479
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 171 x 66 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG909.1
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Altarpiece: The Virgin and Child with Saints

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Sienese painting of the second half of the fifteenth century blended the artistic ideals of its own time with a continued reverence for the language of earlier Sienese art. Nowhere is this more true than in this altarpiece, painted in 1479 by Benvenuto di Giovanni, possibly for a church in Orvieto.

In the centre the Virgin Mary is seated on an inlaid throne with the infant Christ on her knee; in the side panels saints stand like statues on a marble parapet which runs across the whole altarpiece. The figures are set against burnished and tooled gold backgrounds, and all are spectacularly dressed in accordance with the Sienese passion for jewels and textiles – but they look convincingly solid underneath their clothes.

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