Bernardo Daddi was Florence’s premier artist of his generation. This work was likely made in his large workshop for the prominent, Florentine Rucellai family. It illustrates the master’s distinct ability to integrate elegance and dignity.
Madonna and Child with Saints and Prophets
An altarpiece is a work of art placed in a religious interior or a home as an expression of faith and aid to prayer. Altarpieces are often composed of multiple painted panels but may also be one large painting.
WHO ARE THEY
As the mother of Jesus Christ, Mary is the mother of the church and an agent of sympathy and compassion. The Christ Child pulls at Mary’s tunic and the two gaze lovingly at each other. This affection between mother and child connects the viewer to the subject.
The dove in the alcove above the Madonna and Child represents the Holy Ghost, or divine spirit.
The grey habit identifies this man as a follower of St. Francis.
The walking stick is a reference to Francis' contemplative life as a hermit in the forest and countryside.
Saint Francis encouraged an intimate relationship with God achieved through a life of poverty, chastity and obedience as the path to eternal life.
Martyrs carry the palm, an ancient symbol of victory, because their steadfast faith enabled them to overcome persecution and attain eternal life in heaven.
Saint Michael is also called the Archangel Michael and is depicted with wings.
He judges good and evil.
He is often presented at the gates of Heaven as its guardian.
Here he holds a golden orb which is a reference to the Kingdom of Heaven that he protects.
He carries a sword which identifies him as a defender against evil.
Benedict founded the first monastic order in the early sixth century and encouraged equal measure of useful work, such as farming and cleaning and biblical study.
Saint Benedict holds a copy of the Benedictine Rule, his books of laws for monastic life. The book is open to an inscription that encapsulates his emphasis on a dutiful life of hard work and study.
“ASCULTA O FILII PRECEPTA MAGISTRI ET INCLINA AUREM CORDIS TUI ET AMMONITIONEM PII [patris] LIBE [nter exipe] ET EFICACITER COMPLE UT AD EUM PER OBEDIENTIE LABORUM REDEAS. A QUO PER INOBEDIENTIE DESIDEAM RECESSERAS” “Harken, O son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of your heart and willingly receive the admonition of the pious father and carry it out efficiently in order that through industrious obedience you may reach that goal from which you would recede through slothful disobedience.”
Through divine inspiration prophets interpret, preach, and spread the word of God. These unidentified prophets hold books and scrolls that refer to their writings and preaching. Their placement in the pinnacles above the saints reflects their complementary missions.
Scrolls are often held by figures in Christian art. They evoke speech as their movement mimics the melodious flow of the spoken word.
They evoke speech as their movement mimics the melodious flow of the spoken word.
Their placement in the pinnacles places them closer to the divine and emphasizes the importance of the message.
The gold of the frame and background create an otherworldly and sumptuous environment for the Madonna and Child and saints.
The gold color is achieved through gilding, a process which attaches thin sheets of gold leaf. The bottom preparatory layer used to adhere the gold is a mixture of animal glue and red clay (called bole), visible here.
Before the applied gold-leaf and bole of the background has hardened, indentations can be made on the gilding.
This technique is called ‘tooling’. In tooling, a specialist artist uses a pointed metal rod and rounded punches to make patterned indentations of intricate designs.
These ornate markings create a brilliant, jewel-like effect which accentuates the eminence of the figures and glorifies life in heaven.
Paint is made by suspending organic and mineral pigments in a binding medium. Egg yolks were used as the binding medium used in this period. The process is called egg tempera painting.
Because this paint dries quickly the artist could not blend layers of color to create volume.
Instead gradations of similar or alternating colors were applied side by side to build form and create highlights.
Because this paint dries quickly the artist could not blend layers of color to create volume, instead gradations of similar or alternating colors were applied side by side to build form and create highlights.
The artist clothed Mary in a gauzy, white cotton tunic adorned with gold thread. Similar textiles were produced in Florence during in this period.
Florence sat at the center of the Tuscan textile trade, which brought great wealth to the city’s merchants.
This reference to the contemporary world brings the Virgin Mary into the viewer’s consciousness in a subtle yet concrete way.
Similarly, the rings on her fingers imitate jewelry of the period.
Madonna and Child with Saints by Bernardo Daddi (follower of)New Orleans Museum of Art