Madonna and Child
(Tuscan Byzantine Painter Todini)


The painting retains its original rebate on the upper edge, which allowed it to lodge into the original framework. However, it appears to have been slightly trimmed at the lower margin as the rebate is missing. This painting would originally have served as an object of devotion, placed on an altar. Over the centuries, the painting was subjected to a series of re-paintings executed at an early date, in order to update the image so as better to comply with the current taste. The gilding was completely renewed in the fifteenth century. At this time, the gilded surface was abraded, and this renovation resulted in the original Armenian bole being abraded through to the underlying white gesso in some places. At the same time, the decoration and punching of the halo was updated. The original tempera painted surface was not reworked in this way and was covered in two successive layers of overpaint; the first dated from the fifteenth century, while the second dated from the sixteenth, the latter reworking being in a late Byzantine style. These later repaintings completely altered the original characteristics of the image, modifying the proportions of the figures, which thus appeared squatter and thicker set in form. The colours of the drapery and the shape of the hands of both the Madonna and Child were also changed. Two successive recent restorations have removed all of the overpaint and have revealed the original thirteenth century surface in very sound condition. The passage of seven hundred and fifty years has resulted in some abrasion to the Virgin’s cloak and to the gilded decoration of the Christ Child’s smock. In addition, there are several small losses along the bottom edge of the panel and a vertical crack running through the centre.

The half-length subject matter of the Madonna with the Christ Child in the Act of Benediction follows precisely the traditional Byzantine iconography of the maternal Virgin or the Virgin Hodegetria. This iconography grew out of the Nestorian challenge to the Virgin’s role as a ‘mother figure’ in the fifth century and its subsequent condemnation as a heresy by the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431, a verdict which fostered the dissemination of the image of the Mother and Child as the representation of a papal doctrine. This imagery first became widely diffused in the West in the seventh century1. The Virgin wears a pale blue cloak and coif under a maphorion which is of a brownish tone painted in burnt umber but which originally may have appeared to be more purple in tonality since it was decorated with highlights in vermillion. Some small traces of this vermillion paint survive. The maphorion was also embellished with gold decorations, particularly at the hem.

The Christ Child raises his right hand in the act of benediction and holds a scroll in his left hand. He wears a pale blue smock and yellow cloak which are richly ornamented with gold filigree decoration.

This painting is of exceptional artistic quality and represents a masterpiece of mediaeval painting in the Byzantine tradition. The artist’s style and the sense of outline in his drawing are immensely classicising, while the composition is also monumental in concept, showing its direct inheritance from the greatest aulic prototypes of the art of Constantinople.  The figurative forms may be compared with works executed in Constantinople in the thirteenth century; such works include the mosaic icon in the National Museum in Sophia and the mosaic icon (see fig. 1) in the Sicilian Regional Gallery in Palermo2; both of these latter works represent similar variations of the hodegetria type which was directly based on the famous image that was venerated in the Byzantine capital until its destruction in 1453. The markedly aquiline profile of the noses, the asymmetric shape and size of the eyes, the elongated oviform heads with their extremely high brows (which in the Virgin’s case appears to take the form of a calotte), are all elements which follow Byzantine typology. The beautiful pale blue tones of the Virgin’s coif and the drapery of both figures are also elements which derive directly from Byzantine tradition.  Both figures are depicted with strongly drawn outlines and softly rounded modelled figures, and these, which greatly increase the plastic relief of the imagery, are, however, characteristics which are more closely associated with Tuscan artistic traditions in the thirteenth century. This more sophisticated style which developed rapidly after the fall of the Constantinople in 1204 and the foundation of the Latin empire in the East, was the result of an increase in Byzantine influence in Italy that also in part was a consequence of the Crusades and the interchange of cultural currents3.

A valid general stylistic comparison of the exhibited picture may be made with the style of Berlinghiero and more particularly with a Madonna and Child (no. 60, 173) in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which is also attributed to Berlinghiero4 (see fig. 2). However, the combination of stylistic elements in our picture, which have been mentioned above, would indicate a Pisan origin, and there are particularly close parallels with the style of Giunta Pisano and his signed Crucifix (c. 1236) in Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi 5(see fig. 3, detail). Similar Byzantine elements inspired this latter work, and the manner in which the chiaroscuro shading and modelling is treated are also comparable. However, the remarkable classicism of our panel appears more ‘Greek’ in style than Giunta; the almost Neo-Attic character of Christ Child’s face (see fig. 4a) brings to mind the style of the figures in a Cross (see fig. 4b) in the National Museum, Pisa (no. 2) which was probably executed by a highly refined artist whose style was formed in the late Comnenian era6. Nevertheless, the exhibited panel , when compared with the aforementioned works, displays an unusually powerful expressive character and three-dimensional plastic modelling which is particularly evident in the passages of the Virgin’s face. These elements appear to foreshadow directly the most highly advanced artistic development of the mid-century that later, in the third quarter of the thirteenth century gave rise to Cimabue and his followers (cf. fig. 5 Cimabue, detail from the Cross in S. Maria degli Angeli, Assisi; and fig. 6 Cimabue, detail of the Virgin and Angels, Louvre, Paris).

1 For the iconography of the Hodegetria type Madonna, see N. Kondakov, Ikonografija Bogomateria, 2nd ed., St Petersburg 1914-1915, vol. II, pp. 142 ff; H Hallensleben, in Lexicon der Christlichen Ikonographie, vol. III, Freiburg 1971, coll. 168 ff.

2 For these mosaic icons, see: V. Lazarev, Storia della Pittura Bizantina, Italian edition, Turin 1967, p. 284; O. Demus, The Mosaics of Norman Sicily, London 1949, p. 311; id., Die Byzantinischen Mosaikikonen, I, Vienna 1991, pp. 56-58.

3 Dr Robert Bergman (Ms. Communication), while acknowledging associations with the various manifestations of thirteenth century Byzantine art around the Mediterranean, has recognised a strong affinity with Tuscan and in particular Pisan painting under strong Byzantine influence. Keith Christiansen (oral communication) underlines the close connection with the art of Giunta Pisano. Boskovits (Ms. communication 25th April 1996) recognises that, ‘it is a piece of quite remarkable quality’ but is inclined to a marginally later dating, ‘in the second part of the thirteenth century’ and an origin, ‘from some place in the Byzantine Commonwealth’.

4 For this panel, commonly attributed to Berlinghiero, see F. Zeri and E. E. Gardener, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Italian Paintings: Florentine School, New York 1971, pp. 1-3. For an attribution to the Pisan School, cf. M. Boskovits,  Corpus of Florentine Paintings, section I, vol. I,  The Origins of Florentine Painting 1100-1270, Florence 1993, p. 54.

5 Cf. A Tartuferi,  Giunta Pisano, Soncino 1991, pp. 38-45.

26 1/4 x 20 1/4 inches (67 x 51.4 cm)
Tempera and gold on panel

Matthiesen Gallery, London, ‘Gold Backs’, 1996

Where is It?
Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Gothic to Early Renaissance - 1300-1450
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Other Regions
1996-Gold Backs 1250 - 1480.
An exhibition held on behalf of The Arthritis and Rheumatism Council. Limited edition hardback catalogue of the exhibition held in London and New York. 154 pages, fully illustrated with 37 colour plates and 54 black and white text illustrations. Foreword and four essays. £40 or $65 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$350,000 - $500,000