Virgin and Child with Cherubim

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Antonio Rossellino
Florence, Italy, 1450s.
31 1/2 x 22 1/8 inches (800 x 562 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1913.

Seated on a heavenly throne, with three lively angels behind her-two at left, one at right-the Virgin holds the Christ Child in a gentle, protective embrace. Shown in a three-quarter pose, she supports the infant underneath his shoulder with her right hand, steadying him as he sits on her lap. The Christ Child places his right foot on his mother's left wrist, and rests his toes on her embroidered cuff. Mother and son look in different directions, with the Christ Child casting his gaze on the viewer directly below. A masterpiece of Florentine Renaissance devotional sculpture, this marble was likely made for a domestic setting, although we do not know who commissioned it. (The frame was likely added in the nineteenth century.) Antonio Rossellino carved Virgin and Child with Cherubim partly in low relief, in a technique known as rilievo schiacciato (literally, “flattened relief”), with finely engraved, chiseled lines in the background. The heads of the Virgin and Child are fully modeled and emerge from the delicately rendered details. As was customary with this sort of relief sculpture, the most fully worked areas of the composition, such as the arm of the throne and the Virgin's left hand, are to be found in the lower section, which would have been closest to the viewer looking up at the wall-mounted object. Rossellino had encountered Donatello's innovative naturalism in the 1450s and absorbed the older sculptor's example of imbuing the carving of marble with pictorial effects. Note, for example, the Virgin's braided coiffure, the diaphanous veil that falls from her hair, and the folds of her garment, into which the fingers of her left hand disappear.

Cockerell (1888-1913), England, since 1888; from whom purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan in 1913.