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Michelangelo, 'The Manchester Madonna'

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child with Saint John and Angels ('The Manchester Madonna')
Artist Michelangelo
Artist dates 1475 - 1564
Date made about 1494
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 104.5 × 77 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1870
Inventory number NG809
Location Room 9
Collection Main Collection
'The Manchester Madonna'

This is probably the earliest of Michelangelo’s surviving paintings. It is unfinished – the black modelling of the Virgin Mary’s cloak has not had its final coats of blue, and the angels to the left have barely been begun. We don't know why the picture was never completed.

The Virgin sits on a rock with the Christ Child and young John the Baptist next to her. Angels stand on either side – we can make out the two on the left only by the lines drawn in to mark out the folds in their clothes and by the areas of greenish underpainting traditionally used to balance the pinkish flesh tones that would be painted over them.

Saint John the Baptist in his camel skin looks out past us, perhaps to suggest his role in preparing the way for Christ’s ministry. The way the figures fill almost the entire panel is similar to a marble relief and reflects Michelangelo’s training as a sculptor.

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