Virgin and Child with five angels
- Place of origin:
ca. 1450-1460 (made)
Agostino di Duccio, born 1418 (sculptor)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Purchased with the aid of contributions from Lord Duveen of Millbank and Art Fund
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64a, The Robert H. Smith Gallery, case 7
The style of this relief resembles sculptures in the Tempio Malatestiano at Rimini in Italy. Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481) was responsible for much of the sculptural decoration there from 1449 until 1457. The patron was Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-1468), Lord of Rimini, soldier and scholar, who transformed the Gothic church of San Francesco into a Renaissance temple. The attendant angels of the relief are particularly close in style to the Playing Children in the Chapel of the Infant Games in the Tempio, that were also probably carved by Agostino.
Several features of the relief in the V&A recur at the Tempio in Rimini, including the stylised rose on the forehead of the angels, which is a Malatesta emblem. Similarly, the pendant around the Christ Child’s neck is related to the relief on the keystone of the arch of the Chapel of the Planets. It bears a figure in a chariot, which derives from a Greek coin from Syracuse. The figure on the coin is crowned by Victory. The pendant may therefore allude to the victory of Christ over death. The angel to the right holds a laurel wreath, also possibly an allusion to Christ’s victory. This motif is frequently found in the Tempio.
It therefore seems likely that Sigismondo commissioned the V&A relief and that it was carved in Rimini in the 1450s. Agostino had left his native Florence in 1433 and did not return there until about 30 years later. He also worked in Modena and Perugia, where he eventually settled. We don't know who trained him, and it has therefore been suggested that he may have been trained in Emilia (the area around Bologna), because his distinctive, linear style is quite different from that of Florentine sculptors of the time. However, his exceptional and varied handling of relief may have been inspired by the works of Donatello that he would have known in his youth.
Arch-shaped marble relief depicting the Virgin and Child with five angels.
Place of Origin
ca. 1450-1460 (made)
Agostino di Duccio, born 1418 (sculptor)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 56.8 cm, Width: 50.8 cm, Depth: 3.8 cm, Weight: 20 kg
Object history note
The style of the relief is closely related to sculptures in the so-called Tempio Malatestiano at Rimini, where Agostino di Duccio was responsible for much of the sculptural decoration from 1449 until 1457. The Tempio was the Gothic church of San Francesco transformed into a Renaissance temple by the soldier, scholar and Lord of Rimini, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. The attendant angels of the relief are particularly close in style to the Playing Children in the Chapel of the Infant Games in the Tempio, attributed to Agostino. The stylised rose on the foreheads of the angels is a Malatesta emblem which also appears at Rimini. Similarly, the pendant around the Christ Child's neck, with a figure in a chariot which derives from a Greek coin from Syracuse, is related to the relief on the keystone of the arch of the Tempio's Chapel of the Planets. The figure on the coin is crowned by Victory and the pendant may therefore allude to the victory of Christ, as may the laurel wreath held by the angel to the right, another motif frequently found in the Tempio. It therefore seems likely that the relief was a Malatesta commission, carved in Rimini in the 1450s. Agostino left his native Florence in 1433 and did not return for about 30 years. He worked also at Modena and Perugia, where he eventually settled. Nothing is known of his early artistic development, and it has been suggested that he received his training in Emilia. His distinctive, linear style is quite different from that of his Florentine contemporaries, although there are points of contact with Donatello, particularly in relation to the his exceptional and varied handling of relief.
This small relief is extremely intimate, suggesting that - rather than being designed for the Tempio - it may have been a work for private devotion. However, it is roughly carved on the back similar to works that were set into architectural contexts. If a private work, it would have probably been seen by the owner and their invited guests only.
Historical context note
The relief relates stylistically to Agostino's other work, but most particularly to the Tempio Malatestiano, where the involvement of his workshop is evident. Agostino's lyrical style may well, therefore, have taken on a recognisable relationship to Sigismondo Malatesta, forming what might be seen as a 'regime style'. His distinctive treatment can also be seen on the facade of the Oratorio of San Bernardino at Perugia, also clearly a workshop production, where the design of the relief sculpture is appropriate to how it would be viewed.
Marble relief, 'Virgin and Child with Five Angels', by Agostino di Duccio, Italy (Rimini), ca. 1450-60
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Paul Williamson, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London : V&A, 1996. pp. 80-81.
John Pope-Hennessy assisted by Lightbown, Ronald. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. 3 vols., HMSO, London, 1964, vol. I, cat. 102, pp. 122-26, with earlier literature.
John Pope-Hennessy. The Virgin and Child by Agostino di Duccio. Victoria & Albert Museum Monograph No. 6, London, 1952
Curtis, Penelope, Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2004
Kecks, Ronald G. Madonna und Kind: das häusliche Andachtsbild im Florenz des 15. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1988. pp. 38, 55, 95, 138.
Mitchell, Charles. Il Tempio Malatestiano. In: Jones P. J. at al. Studi Malatestiani. Rome, 1978. pp. 71-103.
Seymout, Charles. Sculpture in Italy, 1400-1500. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966. p. 239. note. 8.
Raggio, Olga. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Art Bulletin. vol. L, 1968.
Arnoldi, Reancesco Negri. Sculptura Italiana al Victoria and Albert Museum I&II. Commentari. anno XXI, June-July, 1970. Fascicoli. pp. 201-203.
Calzona, Arturo and Ceriana, Matteo, eds., Per un nuovo Agostino di Duccio: studi e documenti. Verona, 2012, pp. 11-12.
Williamson, Paul, The NACF and the National Collection of Sculpture. In National Art-Collections Fund Review,1986, pp. 76-78, fig. 2.
Verdi, Richard. Saved!: 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund, London, Hayward Gallery and the National Gallery, 2003
Labels and date
The Virgin and Child with five Angels
Agostino di Duccio (about 1418–81)
In this decorative low relief, Agostino plays with the use of pattern and space. An angel holding a cartouche peeks over the balustrade, breaching the boundary between image and viewer. Agostino’s
distinctive style could perhaps be considered a ‘regime style’ associated with his patron Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, for whom this relief was probably made.
Museum no. A.14-1926 
Crown; Halo; Devotion; Laurel wreath; Ewer; Victory; Angel
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