Madonna and Child
Piero della Francesca
(Italian, Sansepolcro ca. 1412–1492 Sansepolcro)
Oil and tempera on panel
20 7/8 × 16 1/8 in. (53 × 41 cm)
The Alana Collection, Newark, Delaware, USA
Not on view
First attributed to Piero della Francesca in 1942, this picture may be his earliest surviving work, painted during his stay in Florence in 1439–40. It has suffered from an abrasive cleaning in the past (we know of one restoration in 1585). The geometric approach to composition and the manner of painting the landscape with loose brushstrokes are typical of Piero. The picture is on a reused panel cut from the front of a marriage chest (cassone); on the reverse is a study of a wine cooler painted as a simulated wood inlay (intarsia).
An elaborate wine cooler is shown in a niche as though it were done in wood inlay, or intarsia. During these years, the first perspectival decoration in inlaid wood was being made for a sacristy in the cathedral of Florence, and there is little doubt that Piero was much impressed by it. The work is on a reused panel salvaged from the front of a marriage chest, or cassone. The writing records the name of the artist who restored the painting 1585. Incisions and pinpricks on the surface were the means by which the artist transferred a detailed design on paper to the panel.