Madonna and Child is a piece of art by Paolo Veneziano who is regarded as one of the most distinctive and professional Venetian painters. Veneziano's work was inspired by the culture and art that was practiced in the Middle East, Greece, and the early churches and palaces found in Constantinople. Paolo Veneziano is the first Venetian painter to employ and mix the styles of Byzantine and Gothic arts (Bacci 77). Veneziano applied detailed works of line and color in his art and was regarded as the most efficient painters of the 14th century in Italy (Norton Simon Museum). His works inspired fellow painters, and he was one of the founders of Venetian school which is recognized for its easy use of decorative line and color. Madonna and Child was painted at a time when Paolo Veneziano was working as a state painter (Norton Simon Museum). This paper thus seeks to give an in-depth analysis of the piece Madonna and Child by describing the meaning of the art, the cultural context, the subject matter portrayed, and the formal elements depicted.
Madonna and Child are dated way back to the 13th century and in particular the year c. 1340 (Norton Simon Museum). Paolo Veneziano painted it through a medium of gold leaf on panel and tempera. The dimensions of the picture according to the Norton Simon Foundation are 110.8 centimeters by 61.9 centimeters (Norton Simon Museum). Madonna and Child represent a piece of work that applies a right blend of the hieratic Byzantine style and Venetian style (Norton Simon Museum).
The art portrays Christ, in the form of the child who is seen looking closely at her mother, Madonna which is an Italian word for my lady which is associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus (Musacchio 165). Madonna's hand is perched with a goldfinch that represents a bird fixed with thistles and thorns. Madonna and Child theme was very rare during the early periods of the Christian art until the foundation of Mary's title known as Theotokos which refers to the "Mother of God" (Musacchio 167). To affirm the concept of Mary as the mother God, the Christian art gave the painting of Madonna and Child a permanent place in the magnificent decoration of the church (Musacchio 167).
The paintings of Madonna and Child became influential during the Renaissance and the Middle Age periods despite being a frequent topic over the years. Different artists, however, have managed to show originality and variety of the subject of Madonna and Child. The history of Madonna and Child is traced back to the era of Byzantine. During this era, the primary objective of paintings was to remind viewers of the theological concept behind the picture rather the realistic view (Musacchio 173).
In this case, Madonna and Child portray the Child in the painting as Jesus who is both human and God. However, during the Renaissance period, artists like Paolo Veneziano strived to represent the subject matter of their paintings (Bacci 78). Despite the pictures having the same content, the theological concept differs from one art to another. The Madonna and Child painting heavily rely on iconology and symbolism.
Madonna in the picture represents the Virgin Mary while the child represents the baby, Jesus. Despite having different versions of the Madonna and Child, they all carry different tastes associated with the periods that they were created and the artist that created them (Peters 108). The difference in the paintings is observed by the detail variations in the treatment of space, drapery style, and the exclusion or inclusion of the viewer but they all speak about the Christian iconography of the Christ and the Virgin Mary (Peters 110).
Paolo Veneziano portrays Mary wearing a blue robe which symbolizes purity, meaning Mary was a virgin (Musacchio 175). The blue color is also associated with royalty. The blue color illustrates that Paolo Veneziano believes in the virginity of Mary and regards her with high respect as the mother of Christ. The essential parts that can be seen from the painting are Mary's neck, hands, and face and the rest of her body parts are hidden beneath the cloak to represent her modesty (Musacchio 175). Mary's face is a little bit depressed with a small mouth that shows her frown.
The picture portrays Madonna pointing to the Child, and it is interpreted to mean that she is pointing the way to salvation. The child is wearing an orange cloak and he facing her mother, Madonna. The child who represents Jesus is portrayed as an infant with the proportions of a man such as a face and the masculinity or the physical structure (BETTS and GATES 68). Depicting Jesus with the dimensions of man shows that the artist is well aware of the divinity of Jesus but still chooses to portray him as an infant. The child with an infant's face is a Christian iconography that shows Jesus as a mature child who will lead people to salvation. The painting portrays Jesus as raising his right hand to show that he is blessing his mother Mary, and this symbolizes the ability of Jesus that would not be seen in any normal infant (Musacchio 178).
Elements of Madonna and Child Painting
Paolo Veneziano in his painting, Madonna and Child, applies the predominate textures and rich colors (Norton Simon Museum). Madonna is depicted as a crowned Virgin with all the features of a majesty dressed in expensive embroidered cloaks. Madonna is seating on a magnificent throne looking at the viewers rather shyly and at her child with admirable affection. Christ on the other gazes at her mother, and he is seen holding a palm branch that symbolizes his entry into Jerusalem and the aftermath death that will occur to him. The Child also tries to reach for the goldfinch that is perched on Mary's hand. The goldfinch symbolizes the suffering of Christ according to the religious beliefs of Christians (Norton Simon Museum).
In this painting, Paolo Veneziano applies specific color and patterns that all seem to seek the attention of the viewer. The picture is also created with a sound tapestry of form and line. The decoration applied in this picture combines beauty with personalities and historical events between Madonna and Child, for instance, there is friendly interaction between mother and child that is characterized with the 14th-century Italian art that sets it apart from the strict formality experienced in Byzantine icon (Norton Simon Museum). The colors in the picture are blended to produce varying shades and textures.
The painting is done on a tempera and gold leaves on the panel. Paolo Veneziano is recognized for using tempura as a medium for his portrait. Tempura involved mixing colors with water, egg, or fig-juice and it was later termed as tempera (Bacci 77). Tempera was common before painters started mixing colors with oil. However, most painters like Paolo Veneziano did not use brush or pencils with tempera because most painters during this time painted in stone convinced that painting was an eternal activity (Bacci 79). This painting does not, however, portray high degree levels of management of shade and light or the concept of distance. Paolo Veneziano, however, applies good foreshortening of figures because, in his painting, the characters portrayed do not seem to be floating; for instance, the child stands firmly on Madonna's laps.
Paolo Veneziano also applies the Byzantine style because the painting has a rigid formality that is characterized by symmetrical folds of the draperies. The art does not have a clear representation because a Byzantine style focusses on symbolism and suggestions (Maguire 240). Despite having a beautiful picture, Byzantine style that Veneziano uses is entirely fanciful and symbolic representing the Christian iconography. The painting is colored merely for the purpose as part of the general coloring scheme, but the blue robe symbolizes purity. Unlike most figures and pictures created during the Byzantine period, Paolo Veneziano's painting of Madonna and Child does not hover in space (Maguire 242).
The painting is adorned on a gold leaf that is meant to radiate a symbolic heavenly light. The presence of the gold leaf mixed with materials such as tempera help lift the holy figures of Mary and baby Jesus into a divine and a holy place. The use of color and patterns help depict a little emotion on the faces of the figures. Their vast use of gold recognizes Byzantine paintings and attest the high level of wealth that was witnessed during this era (Maguire 244). The type of Byzantine style that Veneziano uses is that which tries to reawaken the divine spirits of Mary and baby Jesus rather than concentrate on the physical features (Maguire 248).
In conclusion, the painting of Madonna and Child by Paolo Veneziano represents high skills and techniques that apply the use of Byzantine and Venetian painting methods. The painting uses tempera on a gold leaf medium, with different shades, patterns, and color to depict emotions and the majesty of the holy figures of Mary and Jesus. The painting further gives detailed information of the Christian iconography and history because Paolo Veneziano focuses on the symbolic meaning of the painting rather than the physical features of the figures in the picture.
Bacci, Michele. "Veneto-Byzantine" Hybrids": Towards a Reassessment." Studies in Iconography 35 (2014): 73-106.
BETTS, PAMELA, and GLENN GATES. "REVEALING VITTORE CRIVELLI'S FANTASTICAL CREATURES." The Journal of the Walters Art Museum 73 (2018): 65-69.
Maguire, Henry. "Byzantine domestic art as evidence for the early cult of the Virgin." Images of the Mother of God. Routledge, 2017. 239-250.
Musacchio, Jacqueline Marie. "The Madonna and Child, a host of saints, and domestic devotion in Renaissance Florence." Revaluing Renaissance Art. Routledge, 2017. 163-180.
Norton Simon Museum. "Madonna And Child >> Norton Simon Museum". Nortonsimon.Org, 2019, https://www.nortonsimon.org/art/detail/F.1973.24.P/.
Peters, Christine. "Mural paintings, ethnicity and religious identity in Transylvania: the context for Reformation." The Reformation in Eastern and Central Europe. Routledge, 2016. 106-131.
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