Demand for Bellini’s small-scale images of the Virgin and Child was so high that he had a large workshop of assistants who worked under his supervision, producing paintings in his style.
Here Christ is dressed in a white tunic, a gold cloth draped around his chubby body, and is propped up against two luxurious tasselled cushions. The Virgin, whose skin is so smooth and white that she resembles a marble statue, looks down towards Christ, resting her fingertips together in prayer. Unusually, her mantle is red, rather than the more traditional blue.
When this picture was cleaned it was discovered that Bellini’s signature was not original, and nor was the cartellino (piece of parchment or paper depicted within a painting) on which it appeared; both were removed. It was possibly added by a former owner – or a dealer – who wished to give the impression the picture was by Bellini (even though workshop pictures often included the master’s signature as a seal of his design and supervision).
Demand for Bellini’s small-scale images of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child was so high that he had a large workshop of assistants who worked under his supervision, producing paintings in his style. And while they made a number of such images, each was different.
Here the child is dressed in a white tunic, a gold cloth draped around his chubby body, and propped up against two luxurious tasselled cushions. The Virgin, whose skin is so smooth and white that she resembles a marble statue, looks down towards Christ with a solemn gaze, resting her fingertips together in prayer. She is shown wearing a red mantle, rather than the more traditional blue, and the Child’s clothing is unusually modern – they were possibly intended to resemble a contemporary mother and child. The decision to paint the Virgin in red might also have sprung from the desire to create a visual contrast with the background. This simple backdrop was more straightforward than many of the landscape settings Bellini himself used for this type of image.
As in many pictures of the Virgin and Child that are actually by Bellini, the infant Christ is lying on a marble parapet. Often used in portraiture to create the illusion of depth, it also deliberately recalls the ‘unction slab’ – the stone upon which Christ’s body was anointed with oil before his burial. The Virgin, then, worships Christ in the knowledge of his future suffering (which was, according to Christians, crucial to salvation) and demonstrates to the viewer the correct response to the Child before them.
Since these works originated from his workshop, Bellini’s assistants were able to place his signature upon them. When this picture was cleaned, it was discovered that Bellini’s signature was not original, nor was the cartellino on which it was painted; both were removed. It might have been added by a former owner – or a dealer – who wished to give the impression the picture was by Bellini himself. This intervention, however, suggests a misunderstanding of the meaning of signatures in the fifteenth century: it was customary for the master’s name to appear on paintings made by the workshop where it simply denoted that the work was made to the master’s design, under his supervision.
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