The Virgin Mary sits on a carved and inlaid marble throne, the Christ Child perched in the crook of her arm. In a tender gesture he grasps his mother’s thumb; with the other hand, she holds the pink cloth in which he is wrapped between her slender thumb and forefinger.
This large altarpiece has been cut down at the base, but it probably originally showed the Virgin full length. It was painted in the early fourteenth century, when artists were rethinking the conventions of Byzantine (Eastern Christian) art in search of a more naturalistic way of painting.
The anonymous painter was one of Duccio’s earliest followers, taking from him the elegant flowing lines, the soft colours and graceful gestures. Even small details, such as the white line along the top of the lips, are copied from Duccio.
The Virgin Mary sits on a carved and inlaid marble throne, the Christ Child perched in the crook of her arm. In a tender gesture he grasps his mother’s thumb; with the other hand, she holds the pink cloth in which he is wrapped between her slender thumb and forefinger. Elegant angels dressed in soft glowing colours gaze adoringly at them, clasping the pinnacles of the throne with their fingers or crossing their arms in prayer.
This large altarpiece of the Virgin and Child enthroned was once even bigger, but it has been cut down at the base; it probably originally showed the Virgin full length. It was painted in the early fourteenth century, when artists, including Giotto and Duccio, were rethinking Byzantine (Eastern Christian) conventions in search of a more naturalistic way of painting.
The anonymous Master of the Albertini (Master of the Casole Fresco) was one of Duccio’s earliest followers, taking from him elegant flowing lines, soft colours and graceful gestures. The flesh is underpainted with green earth. This was a sophisticated optical device used by Trecento painters to suggest the cool mid-tones of human skin (it is perhaps now more visible here than was originally intended). As in Duccio’s The Virgin and Child with Saint Dominic and Saint Aurea, and Patriarchs and Prophets, the Virgin’s robe is here edged with a fluid gold hem, and Christ’s feet are crossed in anticipation of their pose at the Crucifixion. Even small details, such as the white line along the top of the lips, are copied from Duccio.
The precise dating of the Albertini Master’s works and the extent of his oeuvre are still under debate. This painting seems to sit between his Virgin and Child, which is very similar to the work of Duccio, and his Virgin and Child Enthroned, which more closely resembles the work of Giotto (both Pinacoteca, Siena). He was an eclectic painter, drawing details from a variety of Sienese artists, including the Badia a Isola Master and the Master of Città di Castello, with whom he perhaps shared a workshop: both used the same five-petal rosette tool to punch the gilded background. They might even have been brothers working in close collaboration, like Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti. There were numerous families of painters working together in fourteenth-century Siena, as throughout Italy.
The painting is said to have came from Santa Croce, Florence, and might have been commissioned by a confraternity, the Laudesi, that met in the Bardi Vernio chapel there. If this provenance is correct, the painting would have been the second Sienese picture made for a confraternity attached to a major Florentine church, Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna having been the first.
In the 1950s, the painting was transferred from its original wooden panel to a synthetic support. When the back was exposed, drawings of a sphinx, a game board and what may have been either a window or a bishop’s mitre became visible.
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