Catalogue entry: Made with expensive materials like gold leaf and deep blue pigment from powdered lapis lazuli, this sumptuous image of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child was originally the center panel of a large polyptych (multi-paneled altarpiece). The Virgin, as Queen of Heaven, sits on a marble throne decorated with mosaic inlay and Gothic pinnacles (a symbol of the Church itself), holding the infant Jesus on her lap. The child grasps a bird—symbolic of the Resurrection—in one hand and makes a sign of blessing with the other. The tilt of the Virgin's head suggests humility and approachability, as well as the tender relationship between mother and child. Although some of the gold leaf background has worn away, revealing its base of red clay (bole), the virtuoso tooling of the thin sheets of gold is still evident in the intricate rose-wreath design of the Virgin's halo. In 1391 Lorenzo became a Camaldolese monk ("Monaco," added to his name long after his death, simply means "monk"). Already trained as an artist when he entered the monastery, Lorenzo painted manuscript illuminations, frescoes, altarpieces, and private devotional images in the late Gothic style—characterized by rich color, lyrical lines, and graceful, often elongated figures. The sculptural form of this Madonna reveals the influence of the naturalistic style of Lorenzo's great Florentine predecessor, Giotto (about 1266-1377). Toledo's panel was originally flanked by panels showing standing saints: Jerome, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul (all now in the Accademia, Florence). Beneath these large panels were five smaller horizontal panels featuring a key event from each saint's life (now scattered around the world in collections in Leicester, Berlin and Baltimore). Probably painted for a chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, the altarpiece was dismantled sometime before 1745, when such large ensembles became liturgically obsolete.
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey