Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Madonna and Child

Artist:
Benedetto da Maiano (Italian, Maiano 1442–1497 Florence)
Date:
ca. 1490
Culture:
Italian, Florence
Medium:
Marble, painted background
Dimensions:
Overall (confirmed): 28 × 21 1/2 × 6 in., 140 lb. (71.1 × 54.6 × 15.2 cm, 63.5 kg)
Classification:
Sculpture
Credit Line:
Bequest of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
41.190.137
Not on view
This Madonna and Child is the last in a distinguished series of fifteenth-century reliefs in the Museum by some of the foremost Florentine sculptors. In his choice of subject and its treatment, Benedetto da Maiano followed his master Antonio Rossellino (see acc. no. 14.40.675) and his compatriot and near-contemporary Desiderio da Settignano, but Benedetto’s contribution to this staple of Italian art, a late work by the artist, has a particular solidity and monumentality. The Virgin is heavily clothed in a long-sleeved tunic with a mantle over her shoulders; engagingly, a veil circles her head and falls to her breast, where the Christ Child gathers it with one hand and tugs it with the other. He sits on a tasseled pillow in his mother’s lap, while she embraces him with one hand and touches his fingertips with the other. Her intimate gesture hints at maternal restraint, an attempt to keep him from pulling too hard. As their haloed heads incline toward each other, the cycle of gestures and the trailing veil connect the figures closely. The beautifully painted floral motif in the background (enhanced by a recent cleaning) and the sumptuous pillow suggest that the setting is a richly appointed house.

Benedetto’s conceit of the Child toying with the veil and the play of expressive hands may have been borrowed from Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna with the Carnation (1478 – 80, Alte Pinakothek, Munich).[1] If so, his success in translating the painted composition into a powerful three-dimensional representation can be measured by the number of copies and reproductions his work engendered. These range from a painted terracotta tondo in the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest,[2] to a papier-mâché tondo in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris,[3] to a smaller stucco in the Bode Museum, Berlin.[4] In 1992 – 94 Virginia Budny compiled a list of many variations of the relief in rectangular or tondo shape and in a variety of media.[5] Some of the compositions include angels, some do not, and some depict the Child holding an apple or orb rather than the veil. The existence of so many copies and variants demonstrates how a prime image such as the Museum’s Madonna and Child can have a rich afterlife. Benedetto’s powerful Christ Child with his solid, fleshy body also had a notable influence on the young Michelangelo.

[Ian Wardropper. European Sculpture, 1400–1900, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, no. 8, pp. 34–35.]

Footnotes:

[1] Ronald G. Kecks. Madonna und Kind: Das häusliche Andachtsbild im Florenz des 15. Jahrhunderts. Frankfurter Forschungen zur Kunst 15. Berlin, 1988, pp. 139 – 40.

[2] Jolán Balogh. Katalog der ausländischen Bildwerke des Museums der Bildenden Künste in Budapest, IV.–XVIII. Jahrhundert. 2 vols. Budapest, 1975, vol. 1, pp. 75 – 76, no. 73 (inv. no. 1291), vol. 2, fig. 99.

[3] Françoise de La Moureyre-Gavoty. Sculpture italienne. Musée Jacquemart-André. Inventaire des collections publiques françaises 19. Collections de l’Institut de France 2. Paris, 1975, n.p., no. 62.

[4] Frida Schottmüller. Beschreibung der Bildwerke der christlichen Epochen. Vol. 5, Die italienischen und spanischen Bildwerke der Renaissance und des Barocks, in Marmor, Ton, Holz und Stuck. 2nd ed. Königliche Museen zu Berlin. Berlin, 1913, p. 86, no. 207; Frida Schottmüller. Die italienischen und spanischen Bildwerke der Renaissance und des Barock. Vol. 1, Die Bildwerke in Stein, Holtz, und Stuck. 2nd ed. Bildwerke des Kaiser Friederich-Museums. Berlin, 1933, pp. 71 – 72 (inv. no. 110).

[5] Budny was a Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the Museum’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at that time. Her manuscript is in the department’s curatorial files.
Duke of Montpensier (by 1892–1913) ; George and Florence Blumenthal , New York (by 1926, until her death in 1930) ; George Blumenthal (until d. 1941; bequeathed to MMA)
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