Of exceptional beauty and importance, this painting may date to the 1230s and is one of only two works that can be confidently assigned to Berlinghiero, the leading painter in Lucca. It follows the Byzantine type known as the Hodegetria ("She who shows the way"), familiar from icons that arrived in Italy following the fall of Constantinople in 1204. The Madonna points to Jesus as the way to salvation; dressed like an ancient philosopher, he holds a scroll. One scholar has noted: "Berlinghiero’s work operates with nuances . . . These nuances include the proportions of the figures, the interplay of their bodies and halos, and the language of gestures, with their gentle flow and their subtle meaning on both human and theological levels."
This is one of a very few works that may be attributed to Berlinghiero based on analogies of style with a Crucifix in the Museo di Villa Guinigi, Lucca, that is signed "Berlingherius me pinxit." The painter—a key figure in the history of Tuscan painting—was from Volterra and is first documented in 1228 together with his two sons Barone and Bonaventura, both of whom, together with a third son, Marco, also became painters. They were primarily active in Lucca, where Berlinghiero painted in a style much indebted to the example of Byzantine art, which became newly available to Italian painters as a consequence of the dispersal of works of art following the defeat of Constantinople by western European forces during the fourth Crusade (1202–4). The MMA Madonna and Child must be more or less contemporary with the Crucifix and, like it, is a work of exceptional quality. In the absence of any firmly dated works it is impossible to be precise and this picture has been dated prior to 1230 (Caleca 1986) and as late as the 1230s.
Its iconography is explicitly Byzantine and conforms to the so-call Hodegetria type ("she who shows the way"). This much-repeated type was associated with an icon thought to have been painted by Saint Luke. The celebrated and much venerated example in Constantinople was kept in a former home for the blind run by guides (hodēgoi), whence the name. The Virgin holds her infant son on one arm while she indicates him as the source of Salvation with the other. He is dressed in toga-like robes and holds a scroll, like a teacher or ancient philosopher. There is a star on her shoulder and veil. The fringe on her mantle indicates her royal status. Two fingers of her gesturing hand are joined to indicate the two natures of Christ (human and divine). The letters on the background—MP and θY—are the first and last Greek letters for “Mother of God”. Belting (1994) has written incisively: "Berlinghiero’s work operates with nuances . . . These nuances include the proportions of the figures, the interplay of their bodies and halos, and the language of gestures, with their gentle flow and their subtle meaning on both human and theological levels. There is, finally, the extraordinary and rather unexpected expression of grief in the Mother’s face, which starts in the contracted brows and continues in the pinching of the lips and nostrils. Thereby the Passion is brought into play, . . . the gaze into the distance signifying the prolepsis, the anticipation of the future."
Nothing is known of the early provenance of the picture, but it is likely to have been painted to decorate an altar. The frame is of the sixteenth century and contains medallions with invocations to the Virgin as well as unidentified coats of arms. It seems to have been adapted for this picture at a later date rather than made for it.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
Inscription: Inscribed (on both sides of the Virgin's halo, in Greek): Mother of God
[Italo, Florence]; [Elia Volpi, Florence, by 1925–27; his sale, American Art Association, New York, April 2, 1927, no. 376, for $8,000]; Jesse Isidor Straus, New York (1927–d. 1936); Mrs. Jesse Isidor (Irma N.) Straus, New York (1936–60)
Florence. Palazzo degli Uffizi. "Mostra Giottesca," April–October 1937, no. 3 (as Attributed to Berlinghiero, lent by the Straus collection, New York) [1943 ed., as by Berlinghiero?].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Glory of Byzantium," March 11–July 6, 1997, no. 321.
Victor Lasareff. "Two Newly-Discovered Pictures of the Lucca School." Burlington Magazine 51 (August 1927), pp. 56–57, 61–62, pl. I, attributes it to Berlinghiero or one of his immediate followers and dates it to the first quarter of the thirteenth century; observes a strong Byzantine influence and notes that the iconography of the Virgin belongs to the Hodegetria type [see Notes].
Evelyn Sandberg-Vavalà. La croce dipinta italiana. 1985 ed. Rome, 1929, pp. 548, 568 n. 5, accepts the attribution to Berlinghiero.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. II, tentatively ascribes it to Jacopo Torriti.
Raimond van Marle. Le scuole della pittura italiana. Vol. 1, Dal VI alla fine del XIII secolo. The Hague, 1932, p. 315 n.1, judging from reproductions only, finds it more Byzantine than the recognized works of Berlinghiero but rejects the attribution to Jacopo Torriti.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 2, tentatively ascribes it to Jacopo Torriti.
Evelyn Sandberg Vavalà. L'iconografia della Madonna col Bambino nella pittura italiana del dugento. Siena, 1934, p. 39, no. 90, pl. XIV A, as by Berlinghiero; places it under the Hodegetria type [see Notes].
Paolo d'Ancona. Les primitifs italiens du XIe au XIIIe siècle. Paris, 1935, p. 66, considers it probably a work of Berlinghiero
Giulia Sinibaldi and Giulia Brunetti, ed. Pittura italiana del duecento e trecento: Catalogo della mostra giottesca di Firenze del 1937. Exh. cat., Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence, 1943, p. 11, no. 3, ill. p. 10, state that the attribution to Berlinghiero is uncertain; find some formal elements inconsistent with the artist's other works.
Edward B. Garrison Jr. "A Berlinghieresque Fresco in S. Stefano, Bologna." Art Bulletin 28 (December 1946), pp. 213–14, 216 n. 33, 217–18, fig. 8, discusses it in the text as a work painted by Berlinghiero considerably later than the signed cross in the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca [see Notes], but questions this attribution in the caption to the illustration
Edward B. Garrison. "Post-War Discoveries—III: The 'Madonna "di sotto gli organi"'." Burlington Magazine 89 (1947), pp. 278–79, pl. I A, accepts the attribution to Berlinghiero and dates it about 1230; compares it to the "Madonna di sotto gli organi" in the cathedral at Pisa, ascribed to the same artist.
Roberto Longhi. "Giudizio sul Duecento." Proporzioni 2 (1948), p. 30, cites the entry in the Sinibaldi and Brunetti catalogue [see Ref. 1943]; rejects the attribution to Jacopo Torriti and considers it a work of Berlinghiero.
Edward B. Garrison. Italian Romanesque Panel Painting. Florence, 1949, pp. 12, 59, no. 96, ill., reports that it was in the Volpi collection, Florence, by 1925, and with the Florentine dealer Italo before that; attributes it to Berlinghiero and dates it 1230–40.
Edward B. Garrison. "Toward a New History of Early Lucchese Painting." Art Bulletin 33 (March 1951), p. 15, mentions it as a late work of Berlinghiero, placing it towards the end of his life.
Robert Oertel. "Ein toskanisches Madonnenbild um 1260." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 7 (October 1953), p. 24 n. 43, calls it a work of the school of Berlinghiero.
Dorothy C. Shorr. The Christ Child in Devotional Images in Italy During the XIV Century. New York, 1954, p. 14, ill. p. 18, considers it the first image of its type to appear in Italian panel painting; attributes it to Berlinghiero and dates it about 1240
Edward B. Garrison. "Addenda ad indicem—III." Bollettino d'arte 41 (1956), p. 309, dates it 1230–40.
W. R. Valentiner. "A Madonna by Berlinghiero Berlinghieri." North Carolina Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (Summer 1957), p. 3, compares it with a Madonna and Child attributed to Berlinghiero in the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; says that it has been assigned to Berlinghiero or to his son Bonaventura but does not give the source of the latter attribution.
Hellmut Hager. Die Anfänge des italienischen Altarbildes: Untersuchungen zur Entstehungsgeschichte des toskanischen Hochaltarretabels. Munich, 1962, p. 81, fig. 102, erroneously as still in the Strauss [sic] collection, New York; attributes it Berlinghiero and repeats Garrison's dating of 1230–40 [see Ref. 1949].
James H. Stubblebine. Guido da Siena. Princeton, 1964, p. 78, fig. 104, erroneously as still in the Straus collection, New York; attributes it to Berlinghiero and compares it with Guido da Siena's Madonna in the Princeton University Art Museum.
Viktor Lazarev. Storia della pittura bizantina. Italian ed. Turin, 1967, pp. 323, 336 n. 60, erroneously as still in the Strauss [sic] collection, New York; calls it a work of Berlinghiero inspired by Byzantine prototypes.
Henry S. Francis. "The Stoclet Tabernacle." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 54 (April 1967), p. 95, erroneously as still in the Straus collection, New York.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 47, lists it as a work by Berlinghiero.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 1–3, ill., call it one of three works surely painted by Berlinghiero himself [see Notes]; date it to the end of the artist's career, about 1240.
Everett Fahy. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum: An Exhibition and a Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 29 (June 1971), pp. 431–32, ill., cites Zeri's opinion that it is one of only three pictures that can be ascribed to Berlinghiero himself [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1971].
Everett Fahy. "Letter from New York: Florentine Paintings at the Metropolitan." Apollo 94 (August 1971), pp. 150–51, fig. 1, cites Zeri's opinion that it is one of only three pictures that can be ascribed to Berlinghiero himself [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1971].
Edmund P. Pillsbury. Florence and the Arts: Five Centuries of Patronage. Exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1971, p. 3, mentions it with the Madonna and Child in the Pisa cathedral as the two works closest to Berlinghiero's signed crucifix in the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 26, 310, 609.
Eloise M. Angiola. "Nuovi documenti su Bonaventura e Marco di Berlinghiero." Prospettiva 21 (April 1980), p. 83, fig. 1, suggests dating it prior to 1236, by which time Berlinghiero had died.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, p. 216, fig. 387.
James H. Stubblebine. "Ugolino di Nerio: Old and New in an Early Madonna." Apollo 121 (June 1985), pp. 369, 372 n. 12, dates it about 1310 (likely a misprint for 1210); compares it with the Madonna in a polyptych by Guido da Siena in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena.
Antonino Caleca inLa pittura in Italia: il Duecento e il Trecento. Ed. Enrico Castelnuovo. Milan, 1986, vol. 1, p. 234; vol. 2, p. 558, dates it to the first twenty years of the thirteenth century, suggesting that during this time Berlinghiero was trained in the circle of the masters of the Calci Bible.
Luiz C. Marques. La peinture du Duecento en Italie centrale. Paris, 1987, pp. 72–74. fig. 83, dates it about 1210–30, and notes the influence of Berlinghiero on the Master of Bigallo
Roberta Ferrazza. Palazzo Davanzati e le collezioni di Elia Volpi. Florence, 1993, pp. 128–29, fig. 129, mentions it among the works formerly in the Volpi collection, Florence.
Miklós Boskovits. A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. Vol. 1, section 1, The Origins of Florentine Painting: 1100–1270. new ed. Florence, 1993, pp. 54, 339, 801, fig. 32, ascribes it to an anonymous Pisan painter, active about 1200, known as the Master of the San Matteo Crucifix, the author of a large painted crucifix from the monastery of San Matteo, now in the Museo Nazionale, Pisa.
Hans Belting. Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art. Chicago, 1994, pp. 365, 593 n. 60, fig. 221 [German ed., 1990, pp. 408, 657 n. 59, fig. 221], analyzes the gestures of the Mother and Child and suggests that Berlighiero modeled it on contemporary Byzantine works.
Filippo Todini and Patrick Matthiesen inGold Backs, 1250–1480. Exh. cat., Matthiesen Fine Art. London, 1996, pp. 35, 37 n. 4, fig. 2, compares it with a Madonna and Child in the Matthiesen Gallery, London.
Rebecca W. Corrie inThe Glory of Byzantium. Ed. Helen C. Evans and William D. Wixom. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1997, p. 486–87, no. 321, ill. (color), discusses the imitation of Byzantine art in thirteenth-century Italy, and notes that the half-length Hodegetria type was common in Tuscany at the time.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 125, 132, no. 60, ill. pp. 57, 125 (color).
The frame is from Venice and dates to about 1490 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–3). This cassetta or box frame is made of pine and though the sight edge and top edge moldings have been entirely regilded in the twentieth century the frieze in between retains its original ornamentation under a very early overgilding. Modeled in low relief using a technique known as pasta da risa, repeating symmetrical griffins interspersed with arabesque caliculi face wreaths which encircle both heraldic devices and sgraffito inscriptions, thought to be modified at a later date.
[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2016; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]