Madonna and Child with a Bunch of Grapes
(Fra Angelico (Giovanni di Fiesole))


Dated variously between 1425 and 1432, this substantial early panel by Fra Angelico was first seen in a Florentine collection in the 1920s, passing thence to a French collection by 1960. It has been proposed as the centerpiece of a retable (Boskovits, op. cit. 1976 and 1990), while Baldini (op. cit. 1970 and 1977) proposes that it was the center panel of a polyptych identifying the side panels once associated with it.

This arched panel demonstrates a masterful handling of paint and gilding, with a subtle coordination of polished gold, fine stamping and brilliant color. The Madonna is presented as the Queen of Heaven, on a faldstool decorated with lions’ heads and paws, symbolizing her wisdom and sovereignty. The gold brocade, shot with red, hanging behind her emphasizes her royal grandeur. Her pose and expression, however, implies also the Madonna of Humility and it is as such that some scholars have described this painting. The stool is designed so that the Madonna is seated with one leg bent, the knee touching the ground in obeisance, while her other knee supports the infant Christ. He stands completely nude – one of the earlier representations of the nude Christ Child –the bunch of grapes to which He reaches symbolizing the wine to be transformed into the Sacrament of the Eucharist while His gesture demonstrates His willingness to embrace the sacrifice which it represents. His mother, with a melancholy gaze, remains aloof, unable to change the inevitable course of events that follow. The artist has used several tones of red, underlined by the strong (and unusually well preserved) blue of the cloak, a darker red on the ground, a blood red light in the gold brocade, and a brighter red in the Virgin’s robe. Christ’s halo alternates gold and an even richer red, while a soft pink blush suffuses the pale cheeks of both Christ and His mother. Fra Angelico has used the shape of the panel to emphasize the pyramidal composition, his palette lightening from bottom to top, making a voluminous but compact group, like a marble sculpture. The strong chiaroscuro and bold brushwork emphasize the expert modeling of Christ’s diagonally posed body. The contrast of intense light and shadow that pervades the whole composition gives the painting a relief-like emphasis that is extraordinarily advanced but which, recalling Masaccio’s forcefulness, confirms the relatively early date. The placing of the Madonna’s hand with the grapes is designed to give a sense of space, the distance at which it is held away from the body being emphasized by an ample inward fold in the mantle. The Child’s raised leg is stretched forward, over and beyond His mother’s knee, projecting toward the viewer greatly foreshortened. These features mark a progressive development from the Fiesole altarpiece, which Boskovits dates to the early 1420s.

The painting was first published in 1963 when L. Berti gave it to Fra Angelico, with the possible assistance of Zanobi Strozzi, describing how it “reflected the naturalism of Masalino and Masaccio”. The influence of the latter master has been much discussed, and his name even proposed as an alternative attribution, Fremantle (op. cit. 1970) considering that its quality was beyond the capabilities of Angelico and that it should therefore be reattributed to Masaccio. For most scholars, however, this panel does not have the “forceful, almost brutally realistic expression of Masaccio” (M. Boskovits, op. cit. 1990). Berti republished the painting in 1967, reaffirming the attribution solely to Fra Angelico without the participation of Zanobi Strozzi, noting its similarities with the Madonna in the altarpiece of the Church of San Domenico in Fiesole, which most critics would date to the early 1430s. Roberto Longhi (op. cit. 1968) agreed with Berti’s hypothesis considering it an early work of Angelico. Baldini (op. cit. 1970) expressed a similar opinion, comparing this panel with three others (Alba Collection, Madrid, National Gallery, Berlin, and the Pinacoteca, Parma).

There has been some dissension from these views. While Fremantle considered the painting to be by the more important Masaccio, Sir John Pope-Hennessy (1974), judging only from a photograph, first considered the relationship with the Fiesole altarpiece superficial, suggesting an alternative attribution of Andrea di Giusto. After examining the painting Pope-Hennessy revised this view in his introduction to Opus Sacrum (1990, page 10), where he describes it as “a lovely Madonna of Humility by Fra Angelico painted concurrently with the altarpiece still in San Domenico in Fiesole”. Commenting on Pope-Hennessy’s earlier view, his sometime assistant Keith Christiansen, in a written communication dated April 21st, 1997, stated “I can’t believe J. P-H. ever thought the Johnson M&C a work by Masaccio (or)…. Andrea di Giusto…… I am convinced that it is by Angelico and that is must date about 1425. It is among the first works by the artist to reflect Masaccio.” P. J. Cardile (1976) suggested attributing the painting to Zanobi Strozzi but has not been followed by any other scholar.

More recent scholarship has been unanimous in confirming that this painting is wholly by the hand of Fra Angelico. Prof Boskovits in 1976 (op. cit.) once again affirmed that Fra Angelico, under the influence of Masaacio, executed the painting but dating it before 1425. D. E. Cole (op. cit. 1977, 1980) dates the work slightly later, associating it more closely with the Madonna in Masaccio’s Pisa Polyptych and consequently dating it to between 1426 and 1430. Baldini in 1977 (op. cit.) returns to the question of dating, placing it slightly later than Boskovits between 1428 and 1430. V. Alce (op. cit. 1984) includes it in his list of autograph works by the artist and, in 1990, Boskovits examines the painting in a detailed entry in Opus Sacrum, modifying his earlier view of the dating by placing it before 1428 (rather than 1425) and certainly not later than 1431.

101.6 x 58.6 cm
Tempera on panel

Provenance: Private Collection, Florence, 1920s; Private Collection, France, 1950s; E. V. Thaw & Co, 1984; Mrs Barbara Piasecka Johnson.


‘’The Hungry Eye. Eating, Drinking, and European Culture from Rome to the Renaissance’’, Leonard Barkan, 2021

‘’Fra Angelico: 121 Paintings and Drawings’’, Maria Tsaneva, February 2014

‘’Angelico (fra)’’, Laurence B. Kanter, ‎Pia Palladino, 2005

Berti, “Miniature dell’ Angelico (e altro)”, Acropoli, III, 1963, pp. 12, 16;

Berti, Angelico (I Diamanti dell’arte, 26), Florence, 1967;

Longhi, Me pinxit e quesiti caravaggeschi, Edizione dell’opera completa di R. Longhi, Florence, 1968, IV, 44, no. 5;

Morante, U. Baldini, L’opera completa dell’Angelico, Milano, 1970, p. 89, number 14; R. Fremantle, “Masaccio e l’Angelico”, Antichità Viva, IX, 6, 1970, pp. 39-49;

Pope Hennessy, Fra Angelico, London, 1974, p. 276; M. Boskovits, Un’ Adorazione dei Magi e gli inizi dell’Angelico, Bern, 1976, pp. 25-28; U. Baldini, “Contributi all’Angelico: il Tirttico di San Domenico di Fiesole e qualche altro appunto”, in Scritti di storia dell’arte in onore di U. Procacci, Milano, 1977, I, pp. 240, 245, n. 24;

E. Cole, Fra Angelico: His Role in Quattrocento Paintings and problems of Chronology, Diss, Univ of Virginia, 1977, pp. 84 ff., pp. 188 ff.; D. Cohl Ahl, “Fra Angelico: A new Chronology for the 1420s,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, XLIII, 1980, pp. 371 ff; V. Alce, “Cataloghi e indici delle opere del Beato Anglico” in beato Angelico: miscellanea di studi, Rome, 1984, p. 354; Opus Sacrum, edited by Joseph Grabski, introduction by Sir John Pope-Hennessy, essay by Prof M. Boskovits, Warsaw, 1990, p. 10, pp. 56-61; Spike, John T., Fra Angelico, New York, 1997, pp. 245-246;

‘’In the Light of Fra Angelico’’, Zanobi di Benedetto Strozzi, National Gallery Publications, 1998


Opus Sacrum, the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Warsaw, 1990.

In the Light of Fra Angelico, National Gallery, London, 1998.

Fra Angelico and the Rise of the Florentine Renaissance, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2019

Where is It?
Sold by The Matthiesen Gallery to a Private Collector, New York.
Historical Period
Gothic to Early Renaissance - 1300-1450
Religious: New Testament
Italian - Tuscan
Price band
Sold or not available