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Recently I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where I came across this breath-taking piece of art named Madonna and child. The painting consists of two figures (Madonna and a child) in front of a golden background. Madonna has worn a huge dark-blue cloak containing golden decorations. The child, on the other hand, is wearing an orange cloak and is seated on her mother’s hand. The child is holding a scroll. The size of the image is (76.2 x 49.5 cm), and it has been painted on an overall surface of dimension (80.3 x 53.7 cm). The painting has diffuse lighting which minimizes shadows making the object appear flatter. The picture is also of soft texture meaning that the artist dedicated a lot of time and effort in producing this fantastic historical painting. The art contains depth created by the shading of the faces of the figures, a feature of early Italian painting. The light source does not clearly illustrate space and atmosphere.
According to Christian norms and beliefs, Madonna serves as a representation of the Virgin Mary with the child representing Jesus of Nazareth. The title of the painting is Madonna and child, and it was painted by the renowned top-notch artist Berlinghiero back in 1230, during the Italian Maniera Greca period. Berlinghiero style was predominantly line based, and it also has some Byzantine weights. He was of Italian origin and is considered to be one of the chief artists of the Tuscan art period. His artistry also exhibited some Italo-Byzantine influences. Madonna and child is tempera on wood. There exist some symbolic elements in the painting. The child, for instance, is holding a scroll which represents religious scriptures, i.e. the bible in Christianity. The child also bears an adult-like face depicting Jesus as being mature at a tender age. He was, therefore, ready to lead masses to salvation.
The painting is a portrait, and it serves as narration and representation of the diverse culture and beliefs of the Byzantine people. To depict modestly, the only elements that are visible in Madonna’s art are her hands, face, and neck. Her face denotes the feeling of depression with her mouth portraying a frown. She exudes an unrealistic look. The artist’s intended message was that when we are faced by the trials and tribulations of life Jesus is the answer.
According to the guide of the museum tour, this particular Madonna is of the Byzantine kind commonly known as Hodegefria. The Hodegefria denotes the values and beliefs of both Christianity and the Byzantine art. The Madonna is pointing out to the child as the way to salvation. In other words, Jesus is the truth, the way, and the life. The heads of the child and the Madonna are surrounded by halos; emblems used to represent holy figures among the Byzantines. The composition used throughout the painting also denote how divine the characters in the art are. It is also important to note that the golden halo of the Virgin differs from that of the child. The halo of Christ contains an inlaid cruciform to show that he is of a higher status.
Regarding the drapery of clothing, Berlinghiero’s painting appears to be inorganic. The clothes seem to have many folds making them unrealistic. Albeit, the painting is considered to be unrealistic, Madonna and Child is still an exemplary piece of work that displays the cultural as well as religious values of the Byzantines during the turn of the 13th Century (Pon, 54).
The compositional elements present in the painting serve specific purposes in the art. The golden color background used, for example, has been used to show the status of the figures. They are royalty. Symbols used such as the halos in the background also show the holiness of the subjects. The Bible in the form of a scroll is the tool of salvation. The simple cloaks worn by the Virgin and the child show humility. The child is facing the viewer as if to beg them to live per the laws of God. The image reflects that the Byzantine people firmly believed in the existence of an omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient God who was the creator of the heavens and earth. They think that through the Virgin Mary the son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and sent to the earth to deliver masses from evil.
I hold this specific artwork in high regard primarily because of the prowess of the artist. For a long duration of time, I have heard all about Berlinghiero Berlinghieri or Berlinghiero of Lucca, the famous Italian painter but I finally got the opportunity to see his works first hand. He was indeed a gifted individual whose works can be studied by many artists out there. Through this experience, I have learned the power of focusing on the details. Focusing on the tiny intricate details gets the work done. It is the little things in life that matter.
Pon, Lisa. "Iconography: Madonna and Child." A Printed Icon in Early Modern Italy, pp. 13-38.
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