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The Virgin and Child enthroned with Angels
Lorenzo Costa
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This painting of the Virgin and Child enthroned was once the central element of a large multi-panelled altarpiece made for the oratory of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza. In it, heaven and earth mingle. The Virgin is depicted as Queen of Heaven, although she has no crown: behind her is a green silk cloth of honour, such as was hung behind medieval and Renaissance royalty.

The front edge of the cloth hangs down over the lintel of an elegant but implausible stone structure with a doorway at its centre. On either side of the doorway, oval reliefs show the presentation of the Virgin in the Temple and the marriage of the Virgin; through it, we can see an imaginary landscape.

A fascination with complex stepped architecture had long been a feature of Ferrarese painting, and Costa in 1497 had devised a similar, though even more elaborate, architectural structure for the Ghedini chapel (S. Giovanni in Monte, Bologna).

Key facts
Artist Lorenzo Costa
Artist dates 1460 - 1535
Full title The Virgin and Child enthroned with Angels
Group The High Altarpiece from San Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza
Date made 1505
Medium and support Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
Dimensions 167.6 x 73 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1859
Inventory number NG629.1
Location in Gallery Room 2
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The High Altarpiece from San Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza

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These five paintings were once part of a large multi-panel altarpiece, or polyptych, made for the high altar of the Oratory of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza. It was originally topped by a horizontal panel, now lost, showing the dead Christ supported by angels.

Although the altarpiece has been dismembered and its original frame – an important part of the ensemble – is lost, we can tell how it would have been arranged by comparison with existing polyptychs and designs for them, and from the paintings themselves. The Virgin and Child evidently appeared in an arched niche: the dark curved areas to either side of the Virgin’s head would have been covered by the frame. They were flanked by Saints Peter and Philip in the lower register, with Saints John the Evangelist and John the Baptist above.

Lorenzo Costa has signed and dated the central panel in Latin, making it look like an inscription at the top of the door frame: LAURENTIUS COSTA F[ECIT] 1505.

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