Gilded panel painting of Virgin in blue robe facing right holding the Christ child in her left arm and cuddling him to her left cheek. Haloes of intricate punch work surround their heads and borders the edge of the painting. The background is gold leaf and the engaged frame is original.
This gem-like painting is a product of the Sienese school of painting, founded by Duccio. Small, devotional panel paintings like this contain a wealth of information about the materials and techniques available to 14th and 15th-century Italian artists. Tempera paint, which pre dates the advent of oil, was made by suspending ground pigments in egg yolks. Its rapid drying quality meant that artists had to work quickly and precisely. The pigments were derived mostly from minerals like lapis lazuli and gypsum, though more unusual substances, like the cochineal insect, were also used. Gold was also used extensively, and had to be applied delicately in featherweight sheets to the panel. The gold leaf was often impressed with small geometric designs using special punching tools. To the modern eye, the ornate gold-leafing on this panel may seem to be the most expensive and luxurious material. However, the blue lapis lazuli was often as rare and costly, and many artists reserved it only for the vibrant blue of the Virgin Mary’s robes.
-Kendra Weisbin, Associate Curator of Education, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (Sept. 2016)