Master of Sant'Ivo (late fourteenth - early fifteenth century)
Madonna and Child
tempera and gold on panel with incorporated frame
Vatican Pinacoteca, Inv. 40524

General Description

Of archaic nature, characterized by lack of depth and decorative use of color, this potentially late Gothic panel seems to be of Florentine origin, and can be dated between 1390 and 1395.  It was tentatively attributed to the Master of Sant'Ivo, a hypothetical artist influenced by the Florentine artists Agnolo Gaddi, Lorenzo di Nicolò, and Mariotto di Nardo.  The Madonna sits enthroned against a damask drape fixed to an arched frame.  The fabric shows intricate decoration with arabesque.  The absence of depth puts strong emphasis on line and surface.  The contrast between Mary’s dark and well-defined cloak and the brilliant colors of red, yellow, and gold gives the painting a pronounced spiritual density. I n the absence of perspective, the contrasting color scheme conveys the impression of unexpected plasticity.  The Madonna’s bearing is regal. She wears a crown of lilies and is sitting on a throne covered by a large cushion.  The flow of the mantle accentuates her maternal authority and queenly role.  However, the impersonal and hieratic character of icons is no longer present.  Traces of a smile, the slightly inclined three-quarter position of Mary’s head, and her right hand holding the foot of her son are pictorial elements indicative of a new “everyday affability.”  Pose and gesture of the Christ Child suggesting affectionate naturalness further reinforce the impression of a Western style icon.

Virgin in Majesty (Maestà)

In fact, the painting is a variation of the Virgin in Majesty, typical of Sienese and Florentine art in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  A typical Italian version of the enthroned Madonna, the Maestà (Virgin in Majesty) reproduces the characteristics of the Basilissa/Kyriotissa. She is the Theotokos, mother of the Lord and thus enthroned, presenting her son to the world.  Dressed as Byzantine empress, she is in fact only the throne upon which is sitting Christ.  The icon of the Basilissa (empress) is frequently surrounded by angels and saints, symbols of both the celestial court and the church.


The illustration of a 6th century Armenian gospel book pinpoints the various facets of the Basilissa type (Etschmiadzin Gospel Book, Erevan). The representations of the Maestàs by Cimabue (1272-1302) and Giotto (1267-1337) are indebted to the Byzantine model of the Basilissa, but take it a step further, progressively introducing elements of “everyday affability” as we saw them in the panel by the Master of Sant'Ivo.



For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog: The Mother of God:  Art Celebrates Mary,  pp. 52-55.



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