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Tag Archives: Florentine

Object of the Month: November 2022

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and an Angel

Tempera on panel

Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

Florentine, active late 15th century

In the 15th century, Florence enjoyed a robust cultural and economic environment. One prominent idea of the era was the rediscovery of the circle and the variety of ways it was used. It may be somewhat humorous in our current culture to recognize that a simple shape could dominate life, but the circle did.

The Renaissance was about advancement—an era full of discoveries. Dias, da Gama, Columbus, and Vespucci found places previously unknown through geographical exploration of our planet, understood then to be round instead of flat. Rediscovery of Greek and Roman mathematical perfections included the circle. The shape was incorporated into architecture in a variety of public and private buildings in Florence. The circle became a symbol of God, the universe, and heaven. Between late 1430 to early 1450, artists began using the circle as part of their painting design in a format called tondo, the Italian word for round.

As a spiritual symbol, the circle became a means of representing the patron saint of Florence, John the Baptist. He was often depicted as a youth, an example to the young people of Florence. Before the Renaissance, paintings focused on individual depictions of saints and biblical characters; however, artist Fra Filippo Lippi is credited with being one of the first to paint John the Baptist together with Mary and the infant Christ in the 1450s. Additionally, Lippi was the first to paint the figures worshipping the Christ Child in adoration as seen in his work, the Annalena Adoration in the Uffizi, Florence. This new subject was the beginning of a popular focus in the late 1400s and well suited to the tondo format.

Filippo Lippi had a bustling workshop with many apprentices including Pesellino and Botticelli. As a favorite of the Medici, Lippi fulfilled numerous private and public commissions, including a Medici tondo now in the National Gallery. While Botticelli is credited with making the round format popular in the late 1400s, Lippi’s studio and apprentices created tondi and essentially mass-produced paintings depicting Mary and John the Baptist adoring the Christ Child to satisfy the public demand.

The Medici family was partly responsible for the popularity of tondi because these round paintings became not only a status symbol of wealth, but also were of spiritual significance in private, devotional settings. To have an object of art that the Medici possessed was a means of connection to them. Tondi existed in the homes of wealthy Florentines and public spaces and soon became popular in other Italian cities. They were not commonly used in churches since they were smaller.

The creator of M&G’s tondo, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and an Angel, is enigmatic. Scholars have been unable to attribute a specific artist, but the work seemed influenced by Pier Francesco Fiorentino yet not painted by him. Hence, the designation of “Pseudo.” However, careful study of the work indicates that its construction predates the surge in popularity of tondi in the 1480s. M&G’s painting is one of the earliest surviving tondi produced after Fra Filippo Lippi’s initial exploration of the adoration subject—a strong representative of the Florentine tondo tradition.

The painting’s details include a unicorn in the background, which is a symbol of Mary’s purity along with the white lily. Her adoring the Christ Child in a country landscape setting may be based on St. Bridget’s Revelations. The halos reveal the influence of naturalism prevalent in the Renaissance style. While the halos of Mary and the angel are typical of the flat Gothic style, the foreshortened, elliptical halo of John the Baptist is shown from a three-dimensional perspective.

As a “window into heaven,” M&G’s tondo has delighted viewers since entering the collection in 1951—the museum’s inaugural year.


John Good, M&G volunteer


Published 2022

Object of the Month: November 2018

The Repentant St. Peter

Oil on canvas, circa 1664

Carlo Dolci

Florentine, 1616-1686

This powerful portrait of the penitent Peter is by seventeenth-century Florentine artist Carlo Dolci. A child prodigy, Carlo entered Jacopo Vignali’s studio as an apprentice at the age of 9 and by 13 was independently completing noteworthy commissions. Throughout his lifetime Dolci’s paintings would continue to garner praise and to attract the patronage of luminaries like the Grand Duchess of Tuscany Vittoria della Rovere and her son Cosimo III.  

However, Dolci’s aspirations went beyond a desire for fame. His lifelong friend and biographer Filippo Baldinucci wrote: “From early childhood, Dolci frequented the Benedictine Order, and his devotion ever increasing, he made a firm vow never in all his life to wish to paint anything other than sacred images or religious stories, and to represent them in such a manner that they would inspire Christian piety in those who saw them.”  It is not surprising, therefore, that aside from a few portraits, Dolci’s entire oeuvre is comprised of devotional works. 

One of those rare portraits is this 1674 Double Self-Portrait.  This work not only highlights the artist’s technical skill but also insinuates his temperament.  Dolci was a meticulous artist. Baldinucci commented: “It may seem strange to hear that he completed so many works, having worked so slowly, or more accurately having taken so long to complete them, since sometimes a single foot occupied him for weeks.” We see that obsessive attention to detail in this work—both in its execution and in the handling of the subject. In a sense it is a visual pun. In the miniature portrait we see the bespectacled Dolci leaning in to delicately apply brush to canvas while the larger, central figure holds this miniature up for viewer examination. Notice the wistful expression of the dominant Dolci. It’s as if he is inquiring of the viewer, “I’m not sure I’m satisfied with my ‘image.’ Are you?” Numerous sources site that throughout his life Dolci suffered from melancholia, an archaic term describing (among other things) bouts of extreme depression. Perhaps this malady contributed to his ability to render powerful emotion convincingly. Regardless, it is this quality that evokes the pathos readily apparent in the Museum & Gallery’s portrait.  

Although the subject of this work is derived from the gospels, it’s popularity during Dolci’s time was due in part to Counter-Reformation dogma.  For example, one of the many objectives of the Council of Trent was to urge Catholic painters to reaffirm through art the salvatory function of those sacraments dismissed by the Reformers—including the sacrament of penance (the private confession of sins to a priest).  Art historian and curator David Steel notes that as a result “the repentance of Peter became an especially popular subject since it depicted the Prince of Apostles, and the first pope, in the sacramental act of doing penance; Peter’s tears became a symbol for that sacrament.”  

The compositional details mirrored in Dolci’s work were first codified by the Mannerist painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco. El Greco completed numerous variants and at least five autograph versions of this subject, including the one pictured here from the San Diego Museum of Art.  His dark background, grotto-like setting, and figural pose became standard, and we see these elements mirrored in Dolci’s rendering.  Both artists also clothe the figure in his traditional yellow-gold mantel of faith.  However, Dolci’s elegant brushwork and jewel-like coloration add what one historian describes as a “fresh, objective approach.”  

Although naturalistic in the handling of light and the depiction of Peter’s weathered face, red-rimmed eyes, and tousled hair and beard, there is none of the severity characteristic of such Baroque naturalists as Caravaggio. Dolci’s vital realism seems free of despair. As art historian Michael Bryan observed, “Nothing is harsh or obtrusive, all is modest and harmonious.” This seamless integration of the natural and the sublime creates a wonderfully moving image. 

To learn how Protestant painters sought to affirm their faith read about Lucas Cranach, the Younger’s Allegory of the Fall and Redemption of Man. 

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2018

Niccolò di Pietro Gerini

Madonna and Child with Saints
Niccolò di Pietro Gerini

Object of the Month: July 2018

Angel with Candlestick (pair)

Polychrome and parcel-gilt


Florentine, c. late 15th century


Since paintings in an exhibit often take “center stage,” ecclesiastical pieces like these Angels with Candlestick can be overlooked by museum viewers. During the Renaissance, however, a polychrome sculptural grouping would often be the centerpiece of an altar’s decorative scheme while the painted narrative scenes or figures functioned as the “wings” of the altar. Although by the end of the sixteenth century, paintings became the central focus of Italian altarpieces, while sculpture continued to be used extensively in other countries like Spain. 

The term polychrome (meaning “many colored”) refers to the application of colored materials to sculpture in order to present a more life-like quality. This technique dates back to the Greeks and Romans and was particularly popular during the Renaissance. Because these pigments fade over time such coloring is rarely discernable today.  The good condition of these statues is due to the porous wood used which retains color well. 

We know that the figures shown here were meant to be angels from the metal pins that remain on the back of each figure—a clear indication of the wings’ placement. Sadly, it is not uncommon for such appendages to be broken off or lost over centuries of movement from place to place. Fortunately, the carved wooden haloes have remained intact, as has the original base with its Latin inscriptions.

Since several of the words are Latin abbreviations, the precise translation of the inscriptions is unclear. However, a loose reading would be: 


Dedicated to the Lord’s Advent


Come and eat bread 




Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2018