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Female Members of a Confraternity
Italian, Milanese
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Fourteen smartly dressed ladies kneel in prayer. They are female members of a confraternity (a quasi-religious brotherhood), praying to their patron saint; its men are shown in another painting in the National Gallery’s collection.

We are not sure who this picture is by, but it is thought to have been painted in Milan in around 1500 and was once part of a banner carried in the confraternity’s processions. It was painted on silk or canvas, and later mounted on wood.

The women are clearly meant to be recognisable people, but none has yet been identified. They wear a variety of clothes, reflecting both their age and their social status. Older women tend to have their hair covered, sometimes by several layers of veils, while the younger ones tie it back in fine nets held in place by narrow bands.

Key facts
Artist Italian, Milanese
Full title Female Members of a Confraternity
Group Fragments of a Confraternity Banner
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Oil on silk or canvas, mounted on wood
Dimensions 64.5 x 41.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1867
Inventory number NG780
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings 1250-1600
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Fragments of a Confraternity Banner

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Medieval and Renaissance painters worked on a wide variety of objects, not just pictures intended to be hung on walls. Here we have a rare survival of an important type of artwork from this time: a painted banner.

Banners like this were designed to be seen from a distance. They were usually around 2.5 metres high, and hung from a tall wooden cross which would be carried at the head of public processions.

Made in Milan in around 1500, the banner from which these came was possibly associated with the important confraternity of the Immaculate Conception (the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin). This was set up in Milan under the sponsorship of the Franciscan Order. Behind the group of kneeling men we can see part of a figure of a saint, apparently dressed in brown robes – perhaps Saint Francis.

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