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Francesco Francia, The Buonvisi Altarpiece

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The Buonvisi Altarpiece


This altarpiece was painted for the Buonvisi Chapel in the church of S. Frediano in Lucca. It shows the Virgin Mary with her mother, Saint Anne, and the infant Christ enthroned and surrounded by saints, from left to right: Saint Sebastian, Saint Paul, Saint Lawrence and Saint Benedict.

In the main panel, the young Virgin sits holding her baby, thinking about his future sacrifice. The scene carved on the pillar behind her head represents the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22: 2), when God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son but at the last moment supplied a lamb instead. In Francia’s altarpiece, the infant John the Baptist’s banner reads ‘ECCE AGNUS DEI’ (‘Behold the Lamb of God’). His message is that Christ must be sacrificed but that no lamb will be exchanged in his place.

In the semicircular panel above the main panel, the elderly Virgin grieves over the lifeless body of her son who has been sacrificed for the salvation of mankind.