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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

Picture Books of the Past: Lorenzo di Niccolo di Martino

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D. C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

Each member of the Trinity has distinguishing attributes. However, when illustrating the unity of the Godhead, Old Master painters highlighted similarities rather than differences among the three. This groundbreaking composition is a good illustration.

Whatsoever Things Are… Just: Painted Crucifix

In this rare 14th-century painted Crucifix, Francesco di Vannuccio creates an anguished–yet tender–image of the crucified Christ.


Visit HERE for the next video to consider what is Pure, referencing Christ’s power over sin, death, and Satan.

French Stained Glass: The Fountain of Life

These stained glass windows, originally housed in a chateau in France, are a beautiful picture of the love of Christ.


You can learn more about these windows and their history here.

Object of the Month: August 2020

Seat of State


Italian, 16th century

A throne is usually a large, ornate chair designed to impress. The majesty and power of the one seated on the throne is visually communicated by the throne’s magnificence. Thrones are also designed to intimidate the one who stands, kneels or bows before the one seated upon it. Today the judge’s bench of a courtroom and the dais of an assemblies’ chairman are designed to have a similar effect.

Technically a high backed, multi-seat bench is a settle. Settles generally have arms, and elaborate ones often have canopies. They are generally stationary and may be an architectural feature built into a room. A settee is the settle’s smaller, movable cousin. Today’s couch, sofa or love seat can be called a settee.

In the 15th and 16th centuries various kinds of settles were used in Italian city-states for ceremonial purposes.  In the Chamber of the Great Council of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, massive, built-in settles surround the room. Along the front wall is a raised seven-seat settle for officials of the Maggior Consiglio. The central, larger, higher seat was for the Doge.

The three seat Throne of Giuliano Dei Medici (son of Lorenzo the Magnificent) is very similar to M&G’s Seat of State. Although the provenance of Giuliano’s throne is not clear, most likely it originated in Florence. Another elaborate three-seat throne, attributed to Bartolomeo Baglioni, was probably made in the early 1500s for the Strozzi family of Venice (now currently in the Ringling Museum).

Other than the Seat of State being crafted in Italy in the 16th century, its origin is unknown. But similarity to these and other examples, give credence to it having served as the ceremonial seat of an Italian, high-ranking, three-person governmental body.

M&G’s Seat of State lacks features that would associate it with a particular city or individual. The rich profusion of intricate carvings reflects scrolling foliage, mythical beings, grotesque masks and geometric embellishments. There are small crests, but they appear to be stylized ornaments rather than official symbols.  Also, they are not located in prominent places where identifying crests could be recognized and appreciated by those in front of the settle.

The stylized crests are not in the prominent places where one would expect to find official crests (center image). Highly skilled craftsmen embellished M&G’s massive settle with ornate details (left-right images).

The choir stall, also represented in M&G’s furniture collection, is similar to a settle. Choir stalls generally have uniform, narrow seats. Their high backs and canopies are more for acoustics and aesthetics of the room than aggrandizement of the individuals seated on them. Choir stall seats are often collapsible, permitting the choir to stand or kneel during religious services. The visible carvings of a choir stall generally have religious themes with geometric ornamentation.

The Seat of State is constructed of interlocking pieces of solid walnut fitted together with mortise and tenon joints. The seat is a chest, and each person sits on a hinged lid. Because of the height and depth of the seat, unless you have long legs, you must sit forward on the bench, which makes the back too far away to rest comfortably. The settle’s lack of comfort might have helped to keep ceremonies and meetings short.

Standing in front of M&G’s 10’ high, ornately carved, polished red-brown Seat of State one is impressed with its magnificence. Now, envision being led into that position while three officials in their elaborate ceremonial garb sat on those seats and stared down at you. Will they grant your petition? Will they decide in your favor?  Whatever they do, you just know they have the power and authority to do it.

It worked. That is exactly what this settle was to settle in your mind.

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer


Published in 2020

Guido Reni: The Four Evangelists

Guido Reni is one of the foremost artists of the Bolognese school. Learn about his rendering of the four gospel writers from the founder of M&G, Dr. Bob Jones, Jr.

Object of the Month: July 2019

The Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Oil on Canvas, 1630s

Guido Reni

Bolognese, 1575-1642

The painter of this elegant series of the Four Evangelists is Guido Reni. Reni is not only one of the most revered 17th-century painters but also one of the Baroque era’s most fascinating personalities. His friend Carlo Cesare Malvasia wrote an illuminating biography acknowledging the painter’s paradoxical character.  Although deeply religious, Reni was plagued by an addiction to gambling; although renowned for his generosity, he was notoriously thin-skinned, and although labeled conventionally “prim,” he was one of the few artists of the time willing to mentor female painters (most notably Elisabetta Sirani). Regardless, throughout his life Reni is said to have “cut an impressive aristocratic figure, always fashionably and expensively dressed and usually attended by servants.”

Born in Bologna in 1575, Reni began his training in the studio of Denys Calvaert. In his late teens, he entered the Carracci Academy where he continued studying until 1598 when he embarked on an independent art career. Despite his initial success, he soon realized that to expand (and solidify) his reputation he would have to study in Rome. He left for the “eternal city” in 1601, and for the next thirteen years he immersed himself in Rome’s rich artistic heritage. He returned to Bologna in 1614 and remained there for the rest of his life. His thriving Bolognese studio received commissions from all over Europe, and Ian Chilvers notes, “Rubens was the only contemporary painter who had a more glittering international clientele.”

Reni’s 1611 Slaughter of the Innocents reflects the tight brushwork, pristine finishes, and rich coloration of his early work. While in Rome, he did flirt briefly with the popular Caravaggesque style (as seen in the Crucifixion of St. Peter). However, he soon returned to his classical roots. David Steele observes that as his style continued to mature, “his colors become progressively more silvery and his brushwork more free.”

We see evidence of this tonal shift and looser brushwork in M&G’s gospel writers—particularly in the renderings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The more vibrant coloration of the St. John figure relates to his iconography. This “beloved disciple” is often dressed in red and green garments (red symbolizing his love for Christ and green representing his faith in the resurrection.) Also apparent in the upper right of John’s canvas is an eagle; this identifier symbolizes the “soaring inspiration” mirrored in the artful imagery that opens his gospel and illuminates his book of revelation. This attribute is derived from the “four living creatures” surrounding God’s throne (referenced in both Ezekiel and Revelation). Each of the gospel writers has an identifier related to these tetramorphs as they are called: Matthew’s is the angel (clearly visible in his portrait), Mark’s is the lion (in the lower right of his canvas), and Luke’s the ox (faintly visible in the upper right of his portrait).  Irenaeus of Lyon was the first to associate these mystical creatures with the four gospel writers, but it was the Church Father Jerome who assigned each their specific identifier. 

By the end of his life, Reni had become the most famous Italian painter of his day. His style is still regarded as “perfectly poised between formal precision and expressive density” (Baroque Painting, p. 82)  Although he briefly fell out of favor during the 19th century, his reputation as the “divine Guido” remains firmly intact. 

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2019

Pietro Novelli

The Trinity Sends St. Gabriel the Archangel to Announce to Mary the Incarnation

Pietro Novelli, called Il Monrealese

Below the image, click play to listen.

Object of the Month: July 2017


Stipo Bambocci, walnut                                     Stipo Bambocci, walnut

Italian, 16th century                                             Italian, late 16th to early 17th century

Click on links for additional reference information.

Most of us at one time or another have treasured and tucked away some poem, theme paper, or letter.  Your paper valuables may have been stashed in a simple cardboard box, but if you were living in Italy between 1560 and the early 1600s in the thriving cities of Genoa or Florence, your written mementos may have been stored in a tall, desk-like piece of furniture called a Stipo a Bambocci, loosely translated “a cabinet with carved babies.” As the style became popular, more iconographic carvings embellished the desk’s exterior, which is typical of the emerging Baroque period. Yet, the name’s association with “babies” persisted.

Beautifully fashioned out of two kinds of wood—burled-walnut and Caucasian walnut, the upper portions of the desks (not usually created at the same time as the lower cabinets) are completely removable, allowing a nobleman to tote just the top portion of his desk on his travels. The interiors, laden with multiple drawers and hidden caverns, beckon the imagination as to what might have been secretly stored within! Most often, a stipo a bambocci was secured with a lockable, fall front writing surface. Supported by lopers when lowered, the false front becomes positioned at a comfortable height for writing.


Mimicking the design of an Iberian desk called a bargueño, the production of stipi (plural for stipo) was short lived, a mere 60 to 70 years. Yet their substantial influence can be seen in a more common piece of furniture today known today as an escritoire or secretary.

Little is known about these early furniture makers; however art historian, Dr. Thomas Meyer, discovered in 2008 that Riccardo Taurini and his workshop were craftsmen of a specific stipo.  Meyer notes that the family of Taurini is considered to be the “fathers” of the stipi, blending their designs with inspiration from famous artists, architects and sculptors such as Rosso Fiorentino, Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau, Hugues Sambin, Leon Battista Alberti, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, and Andrea Palladio.

Almost as interesting as the desks’ construction are the various personages who formerly owned M&G’s unique pieces—the Royal Family of Savoy; an Austrian Archduke living in Lichtenstein Palace, Vienna; Myron C. Taylor, President Roosevelt’s personal representative to Pope Pius XII during World War II; and the industrialist and avid collector, Carl W. Hamilton of Philippine Refining Corporation. It is intriguing to consider what documents might have once been composed upon or stored within these beautiful pieces of furniture!

Though stipi are most often found today in house museums such as Museo Poldi-Pezzoli, Bagatti-Valsecchi and in the Castello Sforzesco, it is no surprise that M&G has two such unusual desks.  M&G’s furniture collection (which includes approximately 100 pieces predominately from the 1400s and 1500s) is almost as renowned as its collection of Old Masters. Joseph Aronson (1898-1976), an international European furniture authority, once remarked that “it is one of the finest collections of Renaissance furniture in America.” Aronson’s work, Furniture in the Bob Jones University Collection, as well as other significant volumes such as A Concise History of Interior Decoration by George Savage and A History of Italian Furniture by William M. Odom, both review these two stipi, and qualify M&G’s collection as a must-see for furniture lovers and historians everywhere.

Bonnie Merkle, Collection Database Manager and Docent


Published in 2017

Object of the Month: June 2014

The Holy Trinity

Tempera on panel

Lorenzo di Niccolò di Martino

Florentine, active 1392–1412


Lorenzo di Niccolò worked in Florence around the turn of the fifteenth century—one of the most significant centuries in history known as the Renaissance. Painting during this period continued in the tradition of Giotto (begun a century earlier), and Lorenzo’s own style was not much different from that tradition along with other contemporary artists. While paintings of the Trinity were common imagery within altarpieces of the time, Niccolò’s depiction is unique—painted in a way never done before. All known earlier representations of the Trinity in this configuration (known as “The Mercy Seat”) are depicted with God the Father sitting behind the crucified Christ; whereas, here, God the Father is shown standing.

Perhaps today this seems like an insignificant modification, but in the fourteenth century iconography was more codified; deviations articulated meaning, tradition, and Church dogma—all issues firmly upheld and monitored by Church officials. Interestingly, Trinity subjects with God the Father in a standing position were rare until the same concept appeared about 20 years later in one of the most famous paintings in history, Masaccio’s fresco of the Holy Trinity at Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Another nuance of Niccolò’s imagery is that God the Father is also shown as a young man—the same likeness used for Christ. This approach heightens the physical and spiritual connection between the Father and Son, who are mysteriously distinct persons in a unified Trinity. However, the depiction of a youthful Heavenly Father was later forbidden by papal edict revealing that the iconography shown in this painting was short lived in art history.

An intriguing facet of this panel is that the entire back side of the panel is painted (with the exception of areas of wear and damage expected for an artwork over 600 years old). A full, decorative reverse side of a painting is somewhat common to early Italian panel paintings and suggests that people were intended to view the reverse. Sometimes entire narratives or portraits are found on the back of paintings; others have painted inscriptions or symbols for organizations such as confraternities. However, the pattern and application here supply a completely abstract, decorative function. In fact, the effect was intended to mimic the type of decorative marble inlaid patterns commonly incorporated into many existing Florentine churches, including the DuomoSanta Maria Novella, and Santa Croce.

Preliminary research has revealed an almost identical pattern for what we see on this panel on a wall fresco border painted by Agnolo Gaddi in 1380 at Santa Croce. This pattern could be a clue to its inclusion in that same church to match the existing faux stonework existing on the walls. The pattern is distinct and would have the same markings as some or all of the other panels associated with the altarpiece from which this panel came. Such unique features can aid in attribution and dating, if related panels have firm documentation.

John M. Nolan, Curator 


Published in 2014