God the Father makes a blessing gesture with one hand and holds an orb, representing the earth, in the other. The small size and round shape tell us that this panel probably once decorated part of the frame of an altarpiece.
Whoever painted this picture was interested in making sure that the figure looked fully three-dimensional: God seems to be grasping the orb firmly from beneath. They’ve also taken the viewer’s position – standing below the image – into account, as we see the underside of God’s hand.
It was once thought to be by the Florentine painter Masaccio, part of his altarpiece for Santa Maria del Carmine, Pisa (the central panel of which is now in the National Gallery’s collection). It’s not, but some elements of it – the interest in the solidity of the figure and thoughtfulness about viewpoints – suggest that it was made in or around Florence.
God the Father is shown as an old man with long white hair and a long white moustache and beard. He makes a blessing gesture with one hand and holds an orb, representing the earth, in the other. The small size and round shape of this panel show that it probably once decorated part of the frame of an altarpiece.
It was once thought to be painted by the Florentine painter Masaccio for the frame of his altarpiece for Santa Maria del Carmine, Pisa, the central panel of which is in our collection. It was donated to the National Gallery in 1922, six years after the purchase of that picture. Its former owner, Charles Ricketts, thought it was a part of that altarpiece even though the gallery from which he bought it had sold it to him as a Russian icon (devotional picture).
Whoever painted this picture was certainly interested, like Masaccio, in making sure that the figure looks fully three-dimensional: the curl of God’s fingers holding the orb, for example, emphasises its spherical shape. He also took the viewer’s position when looking at this panel into account, because the hand is seen from below. This interest in the solidity of the figure and thoughtfulness about viewpoints were important to Florentine artists, suggesting the picture was made in or around Florence. Another suggestion is that it has a Venetian origin.
Roundels showing God the Father were usually placed within the gabled structure that surrounded the uppermost panel in the centre of a polyptych. While this position was more commonly reserved for images of Christ making this blessing gesture, there are a few examples similar to ours, including one in the Courtauld Gallery, London, by the ‘Master of the Castello Nativity’.
The ring of red paint encircling the figure is not original and it has been painted over the gold leaf background.
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