Madonna and Child (ca. 1350) by Nardo di CioneMilwaukee Art Museum
This is the middle panel of a triptych, or altarpiece that folds open into three parts. It was common for the Madonna and Child to occupy the center section. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the left and right panels are not known. It is likely that they were damaged beyond repair.
The small size of this painting gives us a clue as to its use: a devotional piece the artist, Nardo di Cione, made for a wealthy citizen—for both aesthetic enjoyment and use during prayer—rather than for a huge church.
The direct gaze of the Madonna at us, the viewer, as she affectionately holds her son, is meant as a knowing look, intended to remind us that her son will die to save humanity. The display of motherly emotion was of new concern in the early Renaissance, reflecting a growing interest in family relationships.
Small indentations are visible on the halos of the Madonna and Child if you look closely.
The figures’ faces, hands, and feet appear almost lifelike; the shading gives dimension and softness to the skin. The gold background and the fabric, in contrast, are flat and geometric. This painting contains both the one-dimensional, schematic style common to art in the Middle Ages as well as the more three-dimensional handling of forms that developed during the Italian Renaissance (1400–1600).
The fabric reflects the artist reverting to the flatter, medieval technique. Artists at this time had begun to use shading to make their paintings seem more realistic, but when a plague hit Florence, many citizens felt that the social and economic changes of the early Renaissance had caused God displeasure, and they called for a return to earlier practices.
The gold background represents the heavenly realm. Made from gold leaf, the background would have flickered and glowed in the candlelight of the small, private chapel where the painting was kept (this is hundreds of years before electricity was invented).
Nardo di Cione (Italian, ca. 1320–1365 or 1366)
Madonna and Child, ca. 1350
Tempera and gold leaf on panel
29 1/2 × 19 in. (74.93 × 48.26 cm)
Purchase, Myron and Elizabeth P. Laskin Fund, Marjorie Tiefenthaler Bequest, Friends of Art, and the Fine Arts Society; and funds from Helen Peter Love, Chapman Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. James K. Heller, Joseph Johnson Charitable Trust, A. D. Robertson Family, Mr. and Mrs. Donald S. Buzard, Frederick F. Hansen Family, Dr. and Mrs. Richard Fritz, and June Burke Hansen; with additional support from Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Bader, Dr. Warren Gilson, Mrs. Edward T. Tal, Mr. and Mrs. Richard B. Flagg, Mr. and Mrs. William D. Vogel, Mrs. William D. Kyle Sr., L. B. Smith, Mrs. Malcolm K. Whyte, Bequest of Catherine Jean Quirk, Mrs. Charles E. Sorenson, Mr. William Stiefel, and Mrs. Adelaide Ott Hayes, by exchange
Photographer credit: John R. Glembin