Benvenuto Tisi
Madonna and child

About this work of art

Audio description of the work of art

This small Renaissance work was made in Ferrara between 1505 and 1510CE, painted in oil on wood. It is about 27cms high by 23cms wide, with a plain moulded frame that is 38.8cms high, 35cms wide and 8.7cms deep. The gold leaf has dulled over time and horizontal crackling now adorns the gilding, attesting to its age.

This intimate closeup of Madonna and childdepicts the Virgin Mary and the Christ child as a young infant in the foreground of the painting, and an exquisitely detailed countryside in the background. Mary’s head nearly touches the edge of the painting, the faces of mother and child, their drapes and hints of classical architecture take up most of the space. The painting is lit from the left with an afternoon glow, so shadows are on the right of the Madonna and child.

The Madonna is on the left, she is standing behind a masonry wall, her body gently angled to the right as the child stands on the wall and leans his body against her. Her head inclines slightly to the left of the painting, the serene beauty of this work is epitomised in Mary’s pale oval face. She has large almond shaped blue eyes, fine arched brows, a delicate nose, and a mouth with full shapely lips that curve gently upwards. Her golden hair is smooth and twisted forwards to cover her ears, a pinkish red snood or scarf is wrapped around the lower part of her hair and caught in a small bow above her central part. Her red gown has wide voluminous sleeves with a white underlay, vertical folds at the front of the bodice, and the square modest neckline is edged in dark-red ribbon and lace.

The naked infant is standing on her right, one arm draped around his mother’s neck, and in his right hand he holds a dove. An orange cloak with a white border covers his shoulders, its folds gather on a balustrade near his right elbow and the cloth bunches at his feet. The peaceful evening light shimmers off their hair and skin making all slightly golden in the glow.

Like many Renaissance paintings this one is rich in symbolism. A sacred halo of two gold lines surrounds the Virgin Mary’s head. Her red robe references the suffering and blood of this world, her deep blue outer cloak the heavenly realm. The Madonna’s left arm rests on the smooth masonry ledge that runs along the bottom edge of painting, her open palm faces heavenward. The child’s right foot lays in her graceful fingers. His left arm encircles his mother’s neck and the weight of his little body is held through the plump left hip and leg. The Christ child’s halo is a crown of golden light rays, 14 graduating lines extend upwards above his head and another set of 11 rays to both sides create a cross formation behind his holy head. His elbow rests at chest height against a pillar. The gaze of the child is focused on the dove clasped in his right hand, the dove symbolizes the accompanying Holy Spirit; its white and brown head and wings are free.

In the background, above the shoulders of the Madonna and Child, a yellow field gives additional depth to the work. On the left a road leads to a white church and village. Behind this village a hill side rises to the right and provides the horizon from which spring the glowing colours of a serene evening, orange, purple and blue, wash across the sky. On the right behind the child and beyond the field, a dark grove of trees is also highlighted in the evening light, providing a foil for the Christ child’s halo.

The simple grace and elegance of this quiet painting makes it a small gem in the AGSA collection.