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Madonna and Child: Variations on a Theme


[image ALT: A painting of a seated woman holding a baby in her lap. It is a fresco of the Madonna and Child in the church of Pieve S. Maria in Valfabbrica, Umbria (central Italy).]
		
[image ALT: A painting of a seated woman holding a baby in her lap. It is a fresco of the Madonna and Child in the church of Pieve S. Maria in Valfabbrica, Umbria (central Italy).]

A few feet apart, two Madonnas, clearly by the same 14c artist.


[image ALT: A painting of a baby grasping a small bird. It depicts Jesus, and is a detail of a fresco of the Madonna and Child in the church of Pieve S. Maria in Valfabbrica, Umbria (central Italy).]

From the first one, Baby Jesus with a bird;
a common subject, but nicely done.

In central Italy at least, it's not rare at all to see a church wall covered with repeats of the same composition, down to the colors of the Virgin's dress. For the person who commissioned the fresco, often as the result of a vow, it was the thought that counted; and for the artist, it certainly made things easier — something like churning out webpages: you have a template and you slip in some small differences here and there.

The following painting, however, is one of its kind in the Pieve S. Maria; it's also older and much better:


[image ALT: A painting of a seated woman supporting a baby, who is standing up on her left leg; she is gesturing toward the baby with her right hand. It is a fresco of the Madonna and Child, of the type called 'in Majesty', in the church of Pieve S. Maria in Valfabbrica, Umbria (central Italy).]

This type of Virgin and Child, in which the Mother presents her child to the viewer, formally and even often rather stiffly, is known as a Maestà: a Virgin in Majesty. Underneath all the deterioration, this one must have been very good. I very strongly suspect that the 19c is guilty of the enclosing tempietto (see the pulled-back view if you like), but don't actually know so for a fact. The date of the fresco is very likely somewhere between 1150 and 1250.


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Page updated: 30 Jul 04