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Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, The Virgin and Child

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child
Artist Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio
Artist dates about 1467 - 1516
Date made probably about 1493-9
Medium and support Oil on walnut
Dimensions 92.7 × 67.3 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1863
Inventory number NG728
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Virgin and Child
Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio

A grave, statuesque young woman gazes down at a positively enormous child, who lies sideways across her lap. Her deep red gown is open to reveal her breast, which she offers to her son – though he seems uninterested. He turns his head away from his mother to look out at the viewer, at the same time playing with the beads which dangle from her scarf.

Although we know from their delicate haloes that these are the Virgin Mary and infant Christ, this is a very modern Mary, painted in a newly realistic manner. Boltraffio was Leonardo da Vinci’s most gifted pupil, and imitated his master in style and technique. Both mother and child have a palpable physical presence and, although idealised, are clearly made of flesh and blood – a simple mother lovingly cradling her son.

The centrality of the composition and the low viewpoint suggest that this might once have been the central panel of a large altarpiece.

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