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Francesco Bonsignori, The Virgin and Child with Four Saints

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child with Four Saints
Artist Francesco Bonsignori
Artist dates 1455/60? - 1519?
Date made about 1490-1510
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 48.3 × 106.7 cm
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3091
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Virgin and Child with Four Saints
Francesco Bonsignori

The Virgin holds the infant Christ close to her, drawing his cheek to her face. The pair are flanked by four saints. We can't be sure of their identities, but the one holding a book wears the brown robes of the Franciscans, a religious order of friars.

The tender pose of mother and son derives from Byzantine (Eastern Christian) icons, but this version – Mary cradling Christ, who is partly wrapped in swaddling bands and has his eyes open – comes from an engraving by Mantegna. Archival documents suggest that Bonsignori probably knew it from his time working for the court of the Marquess of Mantua, where Mantegna had also worked.

The composition as a whole – its horizontal shape, the dark background and the arrangement of the figures – is also Mantegna’s invention, found, for example, in his Presentation of Christ (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).

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