The Virgin and Child
Jacopo Del Casentino
( Florence, 1320 - Florence, 1349 )
Tempera and gold on wood panel 32.5x13 cm
With Sestieri, New York, 1923.
R. Offner, A Corpus of Florentine Painting. The Fourteenth Century. Section III, Vol. II. A new additional Material, Notes and Bibliography by Miklos Boskovits, Florence 1987, pp.543-45, Pl CCXXXVIII (as “Following of Jacopo del Casentino”, but illustrated in repainted state) ; DC Schorr, The Christ Child in Devotional Images in Italy During the XIV century, New York 1954, p. 155, ill. p. 157 ; Frank Dabell , Le Meraviglie dell’Arte, exhibition catalogue, Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo, 2005, N1, pp 11-12, color ill. p. 13.
This exquisite, diminutive panel — just over one foot high — was designed and executed for private use, and would have been cherished and venerated in the homes of its early owners, and perhaps even on their travels. Its rediscovery offers a glimpse into the world of fourteenth-century Tuscan painting, and into a world where strong, expressive design was perfectly united with deep and tender religious devotion.
The Virgin, clothed in a rich blue robe that covers a pomegranate-pink dress, is depicted from the abdomen up, in a standing position that evokes contemporary Tuscan sculpture. The gold-embroidered hem of her robe traces a sinuous line that enlivens her stance, echoing the influence of Sienese painting. Further gold decoration adorns her dress, its delicate glazes giving form to the body across the breast and right wrist. The Madonna’s face conveys confidence and gentle strength, and the tilt of her head is poetic. The Christ Child wears an orange and gold robe. This elegance is a distant echo of the Byzantine tradition that would show him as ruler of the world, yet his pose is relaxed. He looks at his mother while tugging at the robe that covers his left shoulder, almost as if he believes further modesty is warranted. The gold around the figures and frame is painstakingly decorated with tiny circles, stars and rosettes.
Among the comparisons which could help us to date this work to around 1330, clearly during the painter’s maturity, is the Saint Lucy (El Paso, Museum of Art), datable to that year through its hypothetical association with the Kansas City Presentation (see Eliot W. Rowlands, Italian Paintings 1400-1800, Kansas City, 1996, pp. 40-46). The same broad face and strong, confident depiction of nose and mouth are combined with a solemn, reserved figure. An examination of the halo decorations in both panels, with a rosette punchmark around their perimeter, could yield further similarities.
The extraordinary quality of this Virgin and Child, with its intense bonding of spirituality and emotion, still speaks to us today, far beyond the remote world of its first private owner.