Madonna and Child
Polychrome and Stucco, c. 1400s
Sculptor Antonio Rossellino was born into a family of masons—the youngest of five, talented sons and learning his craft from his older brother, Bernardo. Because of his hair color, Antonio earned the name, Rossellino, which means “little redhead.”
Antonio’s most famous work was completed in 1473 for the Burial Chapel of the Cardinal Prince Jacopo of Portugal found in San Miniato al Monte in Florence.
He worked with multiple artists to design and complete the Chapel including Luca Della Robbia, the distinguished terracotta sculptor and glazer. This remarkable collaboration of artists allowed creativity and beauty to spring forth figuratively and literally from stones and dirt.
M&G’s relief sculpture of Rossellino’s Madonna and Child is representative of a popular image that was painted, carved, and sculpted repeatedly during the Renaissance period. Image fatigue has not set in; we still find the subject appealing in the same way that we enjoy a sunset’s beauty night after night.
Studying the sculpture’s tabernacle frame, we notice the words: Ave, Gratia, and Plena. The translation of which is “Hail, Full of Grace”—a greeting perhaps at the entrance of the family home or private chapel. Below the inscription are carved three fleur-de-lis and the crossed fore-legs of the lion. More than likely, this relief was made for the Morelli family, a prominent family from Florence, whose coat of arms includes the crossed fore-legs of the lion. The fleur-de-lis is the symbol of Florence, originating in the medieval era.
Both Mary and Christ are painted in their customary colors of red, blue, and white symbolizing love, faith, and purity. Mary’s fingers are delicately rendered in terracotta. Surrounding the mother and child are three, winged angel heads carved without bodies, possibly cherubim. Traditionally, angels were viewed as messengers and protectors of the righteous. How fitting for Rossellino to include angels in his portrayal of Christ considering Scripture’s promise in Psalm 91:10, 11, “For he shall command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against the stone.”
Angie Snow, M&G Educator
Published in 2019