Guariento was a leading painter in Padua and Venice in the third quarter of the fourteenth century and this is among his most charming works. The composition, with the Madonna displaying her swaddled child to the viewer, repeats an earlier, much venerated image in Padua, and there can be little doubt that this added to the picture’s devotional impact. The gold background was renewed in the fifteenth century and it was probably then that the Latin inscription was added: "Blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the name of his glorious Virgin Mother."
The iconography of the Madonna holding the erect, swaddled Christ Child is unusual in Trecento painting and was seemingly localized in Padua. As Vavalà (1937) first pointed out, this work is closely related to a painting by Giusto de' Menabuoi (active by 1349–died ca. 1390) in the Museo Diocesano, Padua, while a seventeenth-century copy after what may be a common prototype is in the Padua cathedral.
Guariento di Arpo was among the most important painters in the Veneto in the third quarter of the fourteenth century. The attribution of the Museum's panel to Guariento, now universally accepted, was first proposed by Millard Meiss in an unpublished opinion of 1934. Longhi (1946) dated it late in Guariento's career, about the time of his frescoes in the church of the Eremitani, Padua; Flores d'Arcais (1965) concurred, and later (2011) specified a date in the first half of the 1360s. The Giusto painting follows the prototype very closely, while the Guariento differs in several respects: the poses are less rigid and frontal, the Madonna affectionately inclines her head so that the two faces are touching, the swaddling bands are looser and less precisely aligned. The architectural surround in the work in the Padua cathedral is of a much later aspect, and was undoubtedly not included in the original prototype, which probably dated from the thirteenth century.
Michele Savonarola, writing between 1440 and 1445 (L. A. Muratori, Rerum italicarum scriptores. Vol. 24, part 15, Libellus de magnificis ornamentis regie civitatis Padue. Città di Castello, 1902, pp. 13–14), stated that Giusto had wanted to make a copy after the Madonna Costantinopolitana in the church of Santa Giustina, Padua, a popular object of veneration. The Santa Giustina icon is in such a ruinous state that the connection cannot be confirmed. Nante (2008) suggests that Savonarola may have been referring to the prototype in the Padua cathedral, also a highly-revered devotional object, rather than the Santa Giustina icon.
The history of the MMA painting is known only as far back as 1887, when the Coudert brothers, New York art dealers, acquired it from a private collection in Florence, and donated it to the Museum the following year. The state of conservation is good; however, the gold background was renewed, apparently in the early fifteenth century, when the pastiglia (raised) decoration was fashionable.
[Gretchen Wold 2011]
Inscription: Inscribed (bottom): BENEDICTVS·SIT·NOMEN·DOMINI YhVXPI / ET NOMEN·MATRIS·EIVS GLORIOSE VIRGINIS (Blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the name of his glorious Virgin Mother)
Mme d'Oliviera, Florence (until 1887)
Padua. Palazzo del Monte di Pietà. "Guariento," April 16–July 31, 2011, no. 32.
Bernard Berenson. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. May 21, 1935, writes that it "well may be Paduan, but scarcely Guariento".
Richard Offner. Lecture. March 1935, attributes it to Guariento.
Evelyn Sandberg Vavalà. "An Attribution to Guariento." Art in America 25 (January 1937), pp. 24, 29, fig. 3, attributes it to Guariento, discussing it in the context of the iconographical formula of the Madonna with the swaddled Child, which exists in two examples in Padua: Giusto de' Menabuoi's painting in the Biblioteca Capitolana (now Museo Diocesano), and what she calls a later copy after a lost Byzantine original in the Padua cathedral; believes that although Guariento's painting appears further from the prototype it probably dates from before Giusto's work.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 123, ill., attributes it to an unknown Paduan painter and dates it to the mid-fourteenth century; notes a resemblance to the work of Guariento but believes that it lacks his characteristic "verve and sharp color".
Roberto Longhi. Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana. Florence, 1946, pp. 46–47, pl. 10, calls it a late work by Guariento.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneziana del trecento. Venice, 1964, p. 109, fig. 326, suggests that the composition derives from an earlier work.
Francesca Flores d'Arcais. Guariento. Venice, 1965, pp. 36, 60, fig. 128, accepts Longhi's [see Ref. 1946] late dating.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 203, lists it as by Guariento.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 98, 312, 605.
Francesca Flores d'Arcais. Guariento: tutta la pittura. Venice, [1974?], p. 63, fig. 118.
Roberto Longhi. Opere complete di Roberto Longhi. Vol. 10, Ricerche sulla pittura veneta: 1946–1969. Florence, 1978, p. 42, pl. 8b, reprints text of Ref. 1946.
Mojmír Frinta. Letter to Keith Christiansen. October 8, 1983, from a photograph, dates the punchwork about 1400.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 29–30, pl. 3, attribute it to Guariento and call it a late work; note that Giusto's painting was said in the fifteenth century to be a copy after an icon in the church of Santa Giustina, Padua, but that that work is in too ruinous a state to confirm the connection; agree that both Giusto's and Guariento's paintings are probably based on a Byzantine prototype.
Mojmír S. Frinta. "Part I: Catalogue Raisonné of All Punch Shapes." Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998, p. 225, lists it as "Guariento?" and classifies a punch mark appearing in this painting.
Francesca Flores d'Arcais inTrecento: pittori gotici a Bolzano. Ed. Andrea De Marchi et al. Exh. cat., Museo Civico, Bolzano. [Trent], 2000, pp. 126–27.
Victor M. Schmidt. Painted Piety: Panel Paintings for Personal Devotion in Tuscany, 1250–1400. Florence, 2005, pp. 147, 159 n. 17, calls it a copy after the painting in the Padua cathedral, which in turn he calls a seventeenth-century copy after a thirteenth-century original; finds it remarkable that Guariento replaced the architectural setting of the original with a ledge and inscription.
Andrea Nante. "La Madonna di Giusto de' Menabuoi per la cattedrale di Padova." Arte lombarda, n.s., 2 (2008), pp. 37–38, dates it before Giusto de' Menabuoi's painting, and believes that it may be based on the same prototype after which Giusto's work is copied.
Ada Labriola inThe Alana Collection. Ed. Miklós Boskovits. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings from the 13th to 15th Century. Florence, 2009, p. 122.
Francesca Flores d'Arcais inGuariento. Ed. Davide Banzato et al. Exh. cat., Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, Padua. Venice, 2011, pp. 31, 33, 189–90, no. 32, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Davide Banzato inGuariento. Ed. Davide Banzato et al. Exh. cat., Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, Padua. Venice, 2011, p. 185.