One of the perks of working in a museum is the proximity to art. A particular perk of working at MOBIA is that this art is ever changing. The Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi A Masterpiece Reconstructed features a small triptych by Naddo Ceccarelli (active 1139-47). A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to discuss the Madonna and Child Flanked by Four Saints in a gallery talk and I wanted to share some of the interesting aspects looking at and reading about this work afforded me.
As our Facebook post yesterday noted, the triptych depicts a full length image of the Virgin and Child in the central panel flanked by four saints on two wings: Sts. Eligius and Bartholomew on the left and Sts. Nicholas of Bari and Dominic on the right. The Angel of the Annunciation appears on the left wing’s tip and the surprised Virgin Annunciate on the right wing’s tip.
The four saints’ guild associations– with smiths, butchers, and sailors respectively– and the triptych’s small size suggest to scholars that the work was commissioned in the trecento by a merchant affiliated with these trades for use in his home.
C. Griffith Mann, Chief Curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, explores a second Ceccarelli altarpiece, Reliquary Tabernacle with Virgin and Child, c. 1350, in the collection of the Walters Art Museum. The triptych’s form, gilding, and depiction of a full length Virgin and
Particularly striking is the use of gilding used to frame and emphasize the figure of the Virgin and Child. As Mann discusses, Ceccarelli employed both burnished and stamped gilding, a popular technique during this period. The effects of candlelight on the smooth burnished versus the punched surfaces serve to activate the visual field: the burnished surface reflected a dark glowing light, while the stamped gilding glittered.
For the fourteenth-century supplicant, the visual effect of the gilding combined with concentrated viewing, would have made the figure of Madonna and Child appear dimensional. Kneeling in prayer before the triptych, the devotee may have had the sense of directing prayers to a statue of the Virgin and Child. The figure’s large size, together with its depiction atop a garden with delicate red stylized flowers (visible only upon close inspection), distinct from the marbled floor on which the figures of the saints stand, heighten Mary’s prominence. The figure of Jesus in her arms reinforces her intercessory powers and emphasizes their close and unique relationship. Saints and supplicant together adore Mary across and in real time, highlighting her enduring appeal to believers.
- P.C.P. for MOBIA