Giovanni Bellini’s half-length devotional paintings of the Madonna and Child enjoyed great popularity in Venice, and later in his career he employed a large workshop to meet the demand. Bellini’s tender images appeal to the viewer’s sentiments, the many variations of pose and motif serving to remind the worshiper of Christ’s redemptive role. They typically feature a sweet, wistful Virgin who signals her awareness and acceptance of the preordained fate of her Son.
Here, Bellini’s Madonna stands behind a veined marble parapet, in front of a cloth of honor brocaded with pomegranates to symbolize the Resurrection. The parapet recalls both Christ’s tomb and the altar upon which his sacrifice is reenacted in the Eucharistic offering. This meaning accounts for Mary’s determined display of her Child, whom she presents to the devout viewer as the living Host. The illusionistic cartellino affixed to the parapet and inscribed with Bellini’s name attests both to his identity as an artist and to his own religious devotion.
Although the head of the Christ Child and the book are well preserved, other parts of the composition, especially the face of the Virgin, have suffered abrasion. A related version of this subject, until recently in the church of Santa Maria dell’Orto, Venice, differs in its details, most notably the absence of the book and the inclusion of Greek inscriptions on either side of the Madonna’s head.