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Madonna and Child with St. Thomas Aquinas and a Bishop Saint

Umbrian; Italian

Artwork Details

Madonna and Child with St. Thomas Aquinas and a Bishop Saint
Umbrian; Italian
tempera and gold on panel
29 x 20 13/16 x 2 11/16 in. (73.66 x 52.71 x 6.67 cm);29 x 20 13/16 x 2 11/16 in. (73.66 x 52.71 x 6.67 cm)
Gift of Alice Berle Crawford


March 28, 2009
This panel painting exemplifies the “dramatic close-up,” a way of composing paintings that artists devised in the fifteenth century in response to changes in religious devotion. Behind the Virgin Mary and Christ appear an unidentified bishop saint and Saint Thomas Aquinas with a miniature sun in his right hand. The four figures crowd close to the picture plane, filling nearly the entire surface of the painting and radically compressing the space within the scene. For the worshipper, such a dramatic close-up created a powerfully immediate encounter with the holy figures, unlike the experiences offered by many earlier paintings. The fourteenth-century panel by Jacopo del Casentino hanging nearby, for example, also represents the Madonna and child surrounded by other sacred persons, but they are arranged according to a more rigid hierarchy within an open, structured space. The result is a more psychologically distanced celestial vision rather than an intimate communion.

Subject Matter:

The Virgin Mary and the infant Christ occupy the center of this panel, which once served as an altarpiece. She holds the child in her right arm and bends her head toward him with lowered eyes, while Christ looks out toward the viewer and raises his right hand in a gesture of blessing. Behind Mary's left shoulder appears St. Thomas Aquinas with a book in his left hand and a sun in the palm of his right. Over her other shoulder stands a bishop saint wearing a mitre with his gloved hands clasped in prayer.

Physical Description:

This rectangular panel depicts four sacred figures rendered in dark hues with passages of vibrant red against a gold background. The upper edge of the gilded frame bears the prayer known as the "Hail Mary" ("Ave Maria Gratia Plena Domin[us tecum]").

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