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Bronzino, 'The Madonna and Child with Saints', probably about 1540

Key facts
Full title The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Elizabeth
Artist Bronzino
Artist dates 1503 - 1572
Date made probably about 1540
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 101.6 × 81.3 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir Lionel Faudel-Phillips, 1941
Inventory number NG5280
Location Room 9
Collection Main Collection
The Madonna and Child with Saints

Elderly Saint Elizabeth looks down over the Virgin Mary’s shoulder at her son Saint John the Baptist. The Christ Child removes a garland of flowers from his head, symbolising innocence or childish pleasure. He grasps the reed cross held by the infant Saint John, who wears his camel-skin cloak and carries a baptismal bowl.

The reed cross foreshadows the Crucifixion, and by grasping it Christ accepts his destiny to die for humanity. The wild strawberries offered by Saint John may refer to Christ’s fruitful and righteous life, and their colour may also be a reminder of the blood spilled during the events leading up to his death.

The picture was painted around 1540, perhaps for an acquaintance of Bronzino’s at the court of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici in Florence. It is close in style to the frescoes Bronzino painted in the Chapel of Eleonora of Toledo (the Duke’s wife) in the Palazzo Vecchio in around 1541–2.

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