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The Virgin and Child
Zanobi Machiavelli
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Two angels with golden wings and jewelled diadems invite us into this painting. They sit on a step, playing a lute and a violin, looking out at us. Behind them rises the Virgin Mary, seated on a stone bench. She supports the infant Christ, who stands on her lap and raises his right hand in blessing. Ten angels are gathered behind them, some with hands clasped in devotion.

This panel is the central part of an altarpiece. The two side panels, which are also in the National Gallery’s collection, show Saint Nicholas of Tolentino and a bishop saint, and Saints Bartholomew and Monica. The presence of the latter, the mother of Saint Augustine, suggests that the altarpiece came from an Augustinian foundation. The Florentine church of S. Spirito has been suggested, but another possibility is the Tuscan hilltop town of Montepulciano, where the panels were recorded in a private collection in the early nineteenth century.

Key facts
Artist Zanobi Machiavelli
Artist dates about 1418 - 1479
Full title The Virgin and Child
Series Panels from an Altarpiece
Date made probably about 1470
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 163.8 x 70.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG586.1
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Panels from an Altarpiece

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These three panels once formed an altarpiece. The largest, which shows the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, would have appeared at its centre. Saint Nicholas of Tolentino and a bishop saint would have appeared on the left of the central image, with Saints Bartholomew and Monica on the right. The inclusion of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, an Augustinian friar, and Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine, suggests that this altarpiece was made for an Augustinian foundation, perhaps the Florentine church of S. Spirito.

The panels have been linked to two others by Zanobi Machiavelli; while their compositions and gold backgrounds correspond, their shapes and sizes do not. A small panel showing a scene from the life of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) has also been suggested as part of the ensemble.

The shape and gold background would have appeared slightly old-fashioned by around 1470, when Zanobi Machiavelli painted this altarpiece.

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