For a period in the mid-1490s, Milanese artist Marco d'Oggiono shared a house in Milan with Leonardo da Vinci, who was working for the great arts patron Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Although some books assume that Marco was Leonardo's student, others state that he was master of his own workshop.

In Milan, Marco made a close study of several of Leonardo's works. If we compare Auckland's Madonna and Child, painted about 1490, we can see that d'Oggiono must also have studied Leonardo's portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, called Lady with an Ermine, c1490, which depicts the young mistress of the Milanese Duke Ludovico il Moro. Cecilia’s right hand, which lightly clasps a white ermine or stoat, the emblem or heraldic symbol of Ludovico, has been copied and then reversed in Marco's painting. He has also imitated Leonardo's invention of aerial perspective, where colours become lighter and less clear as they recede.

Marco was also familiar with a range of other art practices, because the red curtain behind the Virgin can be found in the work of Venetian artists such as the Bellini family, and is also present in paintings from Flanders and the Netherlands.

There is a strong emphasis on the ledge or parapet on which the child rests. He is cushioned slightly by the folds on his mother’s gold-lined cloak, which falls over the edge towards us. This was a conscious device introduced by artists at this time to 'lead' us from our own space and time into the eternal space of the divine. Unlike earlier religious works, however, the landscape we can see through the window makes specific reference to the rolling hills and plains of late 15th-century Italy. The child himself faces us, actively twisting his body, drawing our attention to the exposed breast of his mother. This gesture indicates not only the literal nourishment he relies on as an infant, but also his mother's symbolic role as Madonna del Latte, the Mother Church who gives spiritual sustenance to the faithful.

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  • Title: Madonna and Child
  • Creator: Marco d' Oggiono
  • Date Created: c1490
  • Viewing Notes: Mother & Child is painted in egg tempera onto a thick layer of white gesso on a wooden panel. Infrared images revealed under drawing and changes to the composition, including what appears to be a halo around the head (see image). The painting has good quality ultramarine blue in the sky (see cross-section) which was ground from lapis lazuli and was the most expensive pigment available at the time. A discoloured varnish dimmed this as well as the other colours used by d’Oggiono in the painting, and was the reason that the painting was considered for cleaning. Technical examinations and cleaning tests were carried out and found that removal of the varnish could be safely achieved. The cleaning revealed old discoloured oil retouchings which were removed manually. Once complete, the painting was revarnished with a stable synthetic coating and minor retouching carried out using a reversible medium. Now cleaned, the delicate glazes and vibrant colouring of the painting are visible once more. The work was reframed in its 19th-century revival frame in a cassetta style, which was typical of the 15th century.
  • Physical Dimensions: w530 x h655 mm (Without frame)
  • Artist biography: Marco d’Oggiono was born in Milan, Italy c1467. Marco is first documented in Milan in a contract of apprenticeship of 1487. He must by that time have been a qualified master with a shop of his own. During the early 1490s, he was in some way associated with Leonardo da Vinci: in September 1490, Leonardo’s assistant Salai stole a valuable silverpoint pencil from Marco, who was then staying in the Florentine’s house. In 1491, d’Oggiono and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio were commissioned by the brothers of the late Archbishop Leonardo Griffi to paint an altarpiece for the newly constructed chapel of San Leonardo, attached to San Giovanni sul Muro, Milan. He died in 1524.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collection Fund, 1966, http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/terms-of-use
  • External Link: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
  • Medium: tempera on panel

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