CHAPTER 4: Disassembled

Large altarpieces and small devotional paintings from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance often comprise multiple panels of Christian imagery. The center panel usually represents subjects such as the Madonna and Child and major events from the lives of Jesus and Mary, and the lateral panels depict important saints. Small narrative scenes from the holy figures’ lives would be placed below these main images. As complete works in magnificent architectural frames, these served not only as visual aids for prayer but also as “books for those who could not read,” as Pope Gregory I (ca. 540–604 CE) mentioned when he encouraged the use of religious images. Taken out from their original settings, however, many of these works were dismantled, and their components dispersed.

Madonna and Child with Angels

Giovanni dal Ponte
Florence, Italy, 1385 - 1437, Florence, Italy

Madonna and Child with Angels
Tempera and tooled gold leaf
89.2 cm x 61.6 cm (35 1/8 in. x 24 1/4 in.)
Bequest of Jack G. Taylor, 1991

The devout Catholics for whom this painting was intended would have recognized this presentation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven. She wears an elaborate crown, in addition to the disc-like halo, and hovering angels honor Mary and the baby Jesus by holding an ornate cloth behind them. Jesus looks out at the viewer and raises his right hand in a gesture of blessing. In his left hand, he holds a finch, a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion that refers to a legend that this bird removed a thorn from Jesus’s crown and was marked by a drop of blood. Based on the scale and the subject matter, it is likely that this was the central panel in an altarpiece. The unworked upper corners and sides indicate that at some point in its history an elaborate gilded frame was removed, so that the fragment preserving the central figures could be sold as a satisfying whole.

This art object can not be displayed
This art object can not be displayed

Image credit:
Giovanni Ambrogio Bevilacqua
Saint Jerome, circa 1495-1500 (detail)
Tempera with gold leaf on wood panel
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
The Suida-Manning Collection