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Dalmatian/Venetian, The Virgin and Child

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child
Artist Dalmatian/Venetian
Group Altarpiece of the Virgin Mary
Date made about 1400
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 75 × 46.8 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by H.E. Luxmoore, 1927
Inventory number NG4250.1
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Virgin and Child

The damaged inscription to the right of the Virgin describes her: Maria, mater humilitatis (‘Mary, mother of humility’). The so-called Virgin of Humility is usually shown, as here, seated on the ground, but with the Christ Child breastfeeeding. In Venice, a city with which this artist had close ties, the sunburst ‘brooch’ at the Virgin’s throat was a common feature in such paintings.

This image also includes a crescent moon at the Virgin’s feet, and 12 stars frame her figure. These symbols come from the Bible where the so-called Woman of the Apocalypse was ‘clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet and upon her head a crown of 12 stars’ (Revelation 12: 12). They sometimes featured in images of the Virgin of Humility, especially in Venice. Later in the fifteenth century they became associated with the Immaculate Conception (the sinless conception of the Virgin Mary).

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Altarpiece of the Virgin Mary


This altarpiece is a unique example in the National Gallery’s collection of a work made by a late medieval artist working on both sides of the Adriatic, the sea between Italy and the Balkan coast. The picture may be one of the earliest painted representations of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (the Virgin being conceived without sin). This was a controversial idea in this period. It was not officially included in Catholic theology until the nineteenth century, but it was celebrated in the fifteenth century, on 8 December.

The central panel showing the Virgin and Child includes celestial bodies – the sun, moon and stars – that became associated with the Immaculate Conception. The left side panels show the story of the Virgin’s miraculous birth to a couple who could not have children; the right side panels shows two miracles of the Virgin.