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Virgin and Child with two Saints

  • Object:

    Oil painting and frame

  • Place of origin:

    Siena

  • Date:


    early 1480s

  • Museum number:

    766:1, 2-1865

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64a, The Robert H. Smith Gallery, case 2 []

The Virgin, half-length, stands behind a parapet, her left hand raised, her right hand supporting the Christ Child standing on a pillow on the parapet, making a gesture of blessing with his right hand and with his left arm encircling her shoulder. They are flanked by two bearded old saints; on the parapet at right, a goldfinch pecks at a cherry.
Bernardino Fungai (b Siena, bapt 1460- d.1516) was a Sienese painter who, in his early career, worked as an assistant to Benvenuto di Giovanni, assisting him on the frescoes decorating the drum of the cupola of Siena Cathedral in 1482. Fungai's later works reveal his familiarity with the Sienese masters of the previous generation including Matteo di Giovanni, Giovanni di Paolo and Pietro Orioli as well contemporary non Sienese artists such as Pietro Perugino, Luca Signorelli and Bernardino Pinturicchio working in and around Siena at the time. Fungai’s works are characterized by a decorative sensibility in the use of colour and in the treatment of draperies and for his abundant use of gold, particularly in his sumptuous damasks and in painted areas incised using the sgrafitto technique to reveal the gilding beneath. The V&A picture appears to have been painted during the artist's early maturity and the intimate gesture of the Child's arm slung around his mother's shoulders may allude to their special relationship as described in Bernard of Clairvaux' interpretation of the Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible wherein they are both Mother and Son and Bride and Bridegroom. The lack of attributes of the bearded saints flanking the Virgin and Child have led to various identifications including Sts. Peter and Paul or two hermit saints. The goldfinch on the parapet below is often associated with Christ as, according to legend, it acquired itsred spot at the moment when it flew over the head of Christ on the road to Calvary and, as it drew a thorn from his brow, was splashed with a drop of the Saviour's blood. Parts of the panel were extensively repainted in the 19th century. An autograph copy of 766-1865 with slight variations is in the Getty Museum (69.PB.26).

Place of Origin

Siena

Date


early 1480s

Object history note

Jules Soulages, Toulouse (collection largely formed c. 1830-40); his whole collection bought by a body of English subscribers in 1856 and subsequently acquired in stages by the South Kensington Museum; on loan to the National Gallery, London from 1895-1960.

A similar version was sold at Hôtel Drouot in Paris (April 21, 1910, lot 41, as Matteo di Giovanni, cm. 68 x 46) and is now in the Getty Museum (69.PB.26).
A copy, with some changes, is at Chambery.
Another copy was sold from the collection of Carlo Broglio at Palais Galleria, Paris, March 20, 1974, lot 27 (69 x 46.5 cm).
Another copy sold at Tajan (Hôtel Drouout), June 28, 1993, lot 4 (63xm x 50.5cm).

Historical significance: Bernardino Fungai (b Siena, bapt 1460- d.1516) was a Sienese painter who, in his early career, worked as an assistant to Benvenuto di Giovanni, assisting him on the frescoes decorating the drum of the cupola of Siena Cathedral in 1482. Fungai's later works reveal his familiarity with the Sienese masters of the previous generation including Matteo di Giovanni, Giovanni di Paolo and Pietro Orioli as well contemporary non Sienese artists such as Pietro Perugino, Luca Signorelli and Bernardino Pinturicchio working in and around Siena at the time. Fungai’s works are characterized by a decorative sensibility in the use of colour and in the treatment of draperies and for his abundant use of gold, particularly in his sumptuous damasks and in painted areas incised using the sgrafitto technique to reveal the gilding beneath. The V&A picture appears to have been painted during the artist's early maturity and the intimate gesture of the Child's arm slung around his mother's shoulders may allude to their special relationship as described in Bernard of Clairvaux' interpretation of the Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible wherein they are both Mother and Son and Bride and Bridegroom. The lack of attributes of the bearded saints flanking the Virgin and Child have led to various identifications including Sts. Peter and Paul or two hermit saints. The goldfinch on the parapet below is often associated with Christ as, according to legend, it acquired itsred spot at the moment when it flew over the head of Christ on the road to Calvary and, as it drew a thorn from his brow, was splashed with a drop of the Saviour's blood. An autograph copy of 766-1865 is in the Getty Museum (69.PB.26). While a comparison of the two pictures suggests that the V&A work has been trimmed at the sides (the Getty picture does not cut off the saints ears), a technical examination of the V&A work in 2007 indicated that the picture maintains its original dimensions as the edges show no evidence of being cut down and the gilding and pattern of the punchwork continues right up to the panel edge. Nevertheless, it is clear that the same cartoon or cartoons were used for both works, although the figures have been moved closer together in the V&A picture to fit the smaller panel.

Historical context note

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. In western Europe, a form of spirituality that emphasised the emotional involvement of the faithful emerged by 1300. 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 emphasised the tender relationship between the mother and her child.

Descriptive line

Oil on panel, 'Virgin and Child with two Saints' by Bernardino Fungai, Sienese school, early 1480s

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

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 121, cat. no. 136
Catalogue of the art treasures of the United Kingdom : collected at Manchester in 1857. Provisional ed., 1857. no. 1091.
European old Masters : art treasures centenary, 30th October to 31st December 1957 : commemorating the famous exhibition, the Art treasures of the United Kingdom, held at Manchester in 1857. (Manchester : City Art Gallery, 1957), no. 125 as Antonio Vivarini.
National exhibition of works of art, at Leeds, 1868. Official catalogue. Pub. by the Executive Committee. Leeds, Printed by E. Baines and Sons, 1868.
J.C. Robinson. Catalogue of the Soulages collection : being a descriptive inventory of a collection of works of decorative art, formerly in the possession of M. Jules Soulages of Toulouse; now, by permission of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, exhibited to the public at the Museum of Ornamental Art, Marlborough House. London : Chapman & Hall, 1856 (Printed by C. Whittingham, Chiswick Press), p. 161.
J. A. Crowe & G. B. Cavalcaselle, A history of painting in Italy, Umbria, Florence and Siena, from the second to the sixteenth century vol. iii., 1866, p. 376.
A Catalogue of the National Gallery of British Art at South Kensington with a supplement containing works by modern foreign artists and Old Masters, 2 vols., 1893. p. 188.
National Gallery illustrations, Italian Schools: with over seven hundred reproductions. London: Printed for the Trustees, 1937, p. 146.
Martin Davies, The earlier Italian schools: Plates, i, 1953, p. 166.
Martin Davies, The earlier Italian schools, 2nd ed., rev. London : Publications Dept., National Gallery, 1961, p. 207, no. 2764.
Herbert Friedmann, The symbolic goldfinch, its history and significance in European devotional art. [Washington] Pantheon Books [1946].

Categories

Christianity; Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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