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Tempera painting - The Virgin and Child with God the Father, St Anthony Abbot, St Paul the Hermit and St Anthony in the desert
  • The Virgin and Child with God the Father, St Anthony Abbot, St Paul the Hermit and St Anthony in the desert
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The Virgin and Child with God the Father, St Anthony Abbot, St Paul the Hermit and St Anthony in the desert

  • Object:

    Tempera painting

  • Date:

    19th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tempera on beech panel

  • Museum number:

    594-1869

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS, case WALL, shelf RIGHT, box AT THE BACK

This double-sided devotional painting appears to be a 19th century imitation of a late 15th or early 16th Italian work which also refers back to Trecento models in the figure of Saint Anthony Abbot. The side representing the Virgin and Child and Adoring Saints is painted in a vaguely Umbrian manner. The angel to the right of the Virgin and the swooping God the Father above recall the work of the Perugian artist Perugino (c. 1450-1523) while the angel on the left is much more crudely executed. The Virgin is of a type often painted by the Florentine painter Lorenzo di Credi (c. 1456- 1536) while the sleeping Christ Child is almost a direct citation from Giovanni Bellini's Madonna of the Meadow ca. 1500 (London, National Gallery). On the other side of the panel, the frontality and austerity of Anthony Abbot is recalls Byzantinizing trencento types closer to the V&A's painted banner attributed to Barnaba da Modena of ca. 1370 (781-1894) here combined with a more naturalistic narrative background.

Saint Anthony Abbot is regarded as the founder of monasticism in the West. Born in Egypt in about 251 he organised hermits into loosely associated communities, but spent much of his life in solitude when he endured physical and spiritual temptations. The austerity and wisdom of his life is recorded in a biography written by Saint Athanasius. His attributes are a tau-shaped crutch (T) (here transformed into a more elaborate crozier), a pig (visible in the background narrative scene), which probably refers to the animals bred by his followers in the Middle Ages, and a bell which may have been used to drive away evil spirits or to attract alms.
In the lunette above is the visit of St. Anthony to St Paul the Hermit. According to tradition at the age of 90, Anthony set off to find Paul, then aged 113, in the wilderness, when they met they embraced, and a raven flew down carrying two loaves of bread.
The appearance of 594-1869, its citation of several different artists working in different parts of Italy in different time periods, its lack of technical skill and use of an unprepared ground all suggest a later work. The inscription, unusually giving not only the artist's name, but the actual day on which the picture is purported to have been painted, is highly suspect.

Physical description

The Virgin and Child with God the Father (recto), St Anthony Abbot, St Paul the Hermit and St Anthony in the Desert (verso).

Date

19th century (painted)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Tempera on beech panel

Marks and inscriptions

'O. P Fr Stefanus . . . die ultim. ap[ri]lis 1515'
Signed and dated, almost certainly falsely, on front, lower right

Dimensions

Height: 115.3 cm estimate, Width: 64.2 cm estimate

Object history note

Purchased, 1869
Bought (for the frame) in 1869 for £12; transferred from the Dept. of Furniture and Woodwork in 1965.

Historical significance: This curious double-sided devotional painting appears to be a 19th century imitation of a late 15th or early 16th Italian work which also refers back to Trecento models in the figure of Saint Anthony Abbot. The side representing the Virgin and Child and Adoring Saints is painted in a vaguely Umbrian manner. The angel to the right of the Virgin and the swooping God the Father above recall the work of the Perugian artist Perugino (c. 1450-1523) while the angel on the left is much more crudely executed. The Virgin is of a type often painted by the Florentine painter Lorenzo di Credi (c. 1456- 1536) while the sleeping Christ Child is almost a direct citation from Giovanni Bellini's Madonna of the Meadow ca. 1500 (London, National Gallery). On the other side of the panel, the frontality and austerity of Anthony Abbot is recalls Byzantinizing trencento types closer to the V&A's painted banner attributed to Barnaba da Modena of ca. 1370 (781-1894) here combined with a more naturalistic narrative background.
Saint Anthony Abbot is regarded as the founder of monasticism in the West. Born in Egypt in about 251 he organised hermits into loosely associated communities, but spent much of his life in solitude when he endured physical and spiritual temptations. The austerity and wisdom of his life is recorded in a biography written by Saint Athanasius. His attributes are a tau-shaped crutch (T) (here transformed into a more elaborate crozier), a pig (visible in the background narrative scene), which probably refers to the animals bred by his followers in the Middle Ages, and a bell which may have been used to drive away evil spirits or to attract alms. Interestingly, the black pig following Anthony in the background has a white stripe along its back, identifying it as a specifically Sienese breed, the cinta senese also visible for example in the background of Pintoricchio's fresco of ca. 1509 Penelope with the suitors (London, National Gallery)
In the lunette above is the visit of St. Anthony to St Paul the Hermit. According to tradition at the age of 90, Anthony set off to find Paul, then aged 113, in the wilderness, when they met they embraced, and a raven flew down carrying two loaves of bread.
The appearance of 594-1869, its citation of several different artists working in different parts of Italy in different time periods, its lack of technical skill and use of an unprepared ground all suggest a later work. The inscription, unusually giving not only the artist's name, but the actual day on which the picture is purported to have been painted, is highly suspect.
Interestingly, the Museum bought the work for its original 16th century frame in 1869.

Historical context note

Paintings for private devotion such as this were used for intercession, protection and instruction. In particular the Virgin, Christ and the saints were invoked as advocates before God. Christians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods expressed and strengthened their faith through public rituals, such as celebration of the Eucharist, and personal devotions conducted in a private chapel, monastic cell, or simply in a secluded part of their home. Believers were encouraged to contemplate events from the life of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were present. Images of the Virgin and Child were among the most popular images for private devotion and these were primarily small religious paintings suitable as a focus for private worship, as opposed to larger altarpieces intended for public display. Such images frequently emphasized the tender relationship between the mother and her child.

Descriptive line

Tempera painting, 'The Virgin and Child with God the Father and Saints', style of Italian School, late 15th- early 16th century (probably painted 19th century)

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 152-3, cat. no. 183.

Production Note

style of Italian School, late 15th- early 16th century, formerly described as an 18th century imitation but is more likely a work of the 19th century. The appearance of the work, its citations of several different artists working in different parts of Italy in different time periods, its lack of technical skill and use of an unprepared ground all suggest that it is a later work. The inscription, unusually giving not only the artist's name, but the actual day on which the picture is purported to have been painted, is highly suspect.

Materials

Tempera; Beech

Techniques

Painting

Categories

Paintings; Christianity

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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