Giotto (Florentine, c. 1265 - 1337)'s explorations and innovations in art during the early 14th century developed, a full century later, into the Italian Renaissance. Besides making panel paintings, he executed many fresco cycles—the most famous at the Arena Chapel, Padua—and he also worked as an architect and sculptor.

Transformed by Giotto, the stylized figures in paintings such as the _Enthroned Madonna and Child_ took on human, believable qualities. Whereas his Sienese contemporary Duccio di Buoninsegna (Sienese, c. 1250/1255 - 1318/1319) concentrated on line, pattern, and shape arranged on a flat plane, the Florentine Giotto emphasized mass and volume, a classical approach to form. By giving his figures a blocky, corporeal character, the artist introduced great three-dimensional plasticity to painting.

Painted during the latter part of Giotto's career, the _Madonna and Child_ was the central part of a five-section polyptych, or altarpiece in many panels (see Madonna and Child). Giotto utilized a conservative Byzantine-style background in gold leaf, symbolizing the realm of heaven, and included a white rose, the traditional symbol of Mary's purity as well as a reference to the innocence lost through Original Sin. Yet, the _Madonna and Child_ introduces a new naturalistic trend in painting. Instead of making the blessing gesture of a philosopher, the infant Christ grasps his mother's left index finger in a typically baby-like way as he playfully reaches for the flower that she holds.


  • Title: Madonna and Child
  • Creator: Giotto
  • Date Created: c. 1310/1315
  • Physical Dimensions: painted surface: 85.4 × 61.8 cm (33 5/8 × 24 5/16 in.) overall (including added strips): 87.7 × 63.2 × 1.3 cm (34 1/2 × 24 7/8 × 1/2 in.) framed: 128.3 x 72.1 x 5.1 cm (50 1/2 x 28 3/8 x 2 in.)
  • Provenance: Probably commissioned for the church of Santa Croce or the church of Ognissanti, both Florence.[1] Edouard-Alexandre de Max [1869-1924], Paris;[2] sold 1917 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); sold to Henry Goldman [1857-1937], New York, by 1920;[3] sold 1 February 1937 back to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[4] sold 1939 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[5] gift 1939 to NGA. [1] Peter Murray's compilation of polyptychs by Giotto (_An Index of attributions made in Tuscan Sources before Vasari_, Florence, 1959: 79-89), complemented by the work of Michael Viktor Schwarz and Pia Theis (_Giottus pictor_, 2 vols., Viienna, Cologne, and Weimar, 2004: 1:285-303), lists, apart from the polyptych in the church of the Badia in Florence, four panels in the church of Santa Croce, one in San Giorgio alla Costa, a _Crucifix_ and a now lost image of _Saint Louis of Toulouse_ formerly in Santa Maria novella, and a _Crucifix_ and four panels in Ognissanti. [2] Edward Fowles, who managed the Paris office of Duveen Brothers, recalls in his memoirs, “In the autumn of 1917, our old friend Charles Wakefield Mori took me to see an early Florentine _Madonna and Child_ (attributed to Giotto) which belonged to Max, the famous actor of the Comédie Française [in Paris]. As I examined the painting in Max’s bedroom . . . he told me it had been given to his great aunt by the Pope. Berenson considered it an excellent work . . . [by Bernardo Daddi] . . . we agreed to purchase the painting. Berenson later supervised its cleaning and confessed that he was beginning to perceive certain Giottesque qualities . . . I had an Italian frame made for the painting. . . .” (Edward Fowles, _Memories of Duveen Brothers_, London, 1976: 104). In a letter of 31 October 1958, to Carlyle Burrows (see note 5 below), Fowles relates that he “bought the picture just 44 years ago,” which would have put the purchase in 1914 (Duveen Brothers Records, accession number 960015, Research Library, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles: reel 101, box 246, folder 3; copy in NGA curatorial files). The former owner’s story about the painting’s provenance does not seem plausible; at any rate no evidence can be adduced to corroborate it. On the Romanian-born Edouard de Max, friend of Cocteau and leading tragedian on the Parisian stage in the first decade of the century, see Louis Delluc, _Chez de Max_, Paris, 1918. [3] The painting was displayed in the _Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition_ (1920) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as part of the Goldman Collection. [4] See the letter of 5 January 1937, from Henry Goldman to Duveen Brothers, in which he confirms the sale to the company of nine paintings and one sculpture (Duveen Brothers Records, reel 312, box 457, folder 4; see also reel 89, box 234, folder 23, and reel 101, box 246, folders 2 and 3; copies in NGA curatorial files). [5] Carlyle Burrows states this in an article in the _New York Herald Tribune_ (30 October 1958): 5. See also The Kress Collection Digital Archive, https://kress.nga.gov/Detail/objects/1327.
  • Medium: tempera on poplar panel

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