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A POLYCHROME AND PARCEL-GILT STUCCO RELIEF OF THE MADONNA AND CHILD
A POLYCHROME AND PARCEL-GILT STUCCO RELIEF OF THE MADONNA AND CHILD

WORKSHOP OF LORENZO GHIBERTI (FLORENCE 1378-1455), FLORENCE, MID-15TH CENTURY

Details
A POLYCHROME AND PARCEL-GILT STUCCO RELIEF OF THE MADONNA AND CHILD
WORKSHOP OF LORENZO GHIBERTI (FLORENCE 1378-1455), FLORENCE, MID-15TH CENTURY
Representing the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child in her arms, on a rectangular base inscribed AVE MARIA GRACIIA PLEN[A], the reverse with a paper label inscribed in ink 2680
28¼ in. (71.5 cm.) high, 23 in. (58.5 cm.) wide, 8½ in. (21.5 cm.) deep
Provenance
Private collection, United States.
Private collection, Italy.

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Lot Essay

Few artists of the Renaissance exerted as powerful an influence on sculpture as Lorenzo Ghiberti, the 15th century master who created two seminal pairs of doors for the Florentine baptistery and whose workshop included such notable figures as Donatello, Paolo Uccello, Michelozzo and Benozzo Gozzoli. While his monumental bronzes garnered him great fame, his work extended into other realms. Indeed, in his 1447/48 autobiography he boasts, 'Also for many painters, sculptors and stone-carvers I provided the greatest honors in their works [for] I have made very many models in wax and clay and for the painters I have designed very many things...Few things of importance were made in our city that were not designed or devised by my hand' (cited in R. Krautheimer and T. Krautheimer-Hess, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Princeton, 1956, p. 15). The present relief of the Virgin and Child is exemplary of private devotional works created in Ghiberti's studio, a production that flourished in 15th century Florence.

In this charming relief, the Virgin wears a billowing mantle and tunic and inclines her head towards her son. With the palm of her left hand, she gently presses the Christ Child against her, and their faces join in a tender embrace, creating a scene at once peaceful and melancholy as both mother and son reflect on his fate. On the base of the plinth, an inscription - flanked by coats of arms - reads "Ave Maria Graciia Plen[a]," further inviting the viewer to engage with the figures. Owing to their popularity, similar models were widely disseminated during the Renaissance, notably from Ghiberti's workshop. These reliefs were created in molds and further built up and refined by hand. They were subsequently painted in bright colors to render the figures more lifelike. Further details were added by hand including the delicate gilding and stippling to the edges of the garments and undergarments.

Richard Krautheimer suggests that the extant editions of this model are based on a previous work likely by Ghiberti, now lost, which influenced artists of his generation (R. Krautheimer, 'Terra Cotta Madonnas,' Parnassus, VIII, no. 7, Dec. 1936, p. 7.). Ghiberti, in turn, was inspired by the work of artists of preceding centuries as well as Byzantine painters' 'Gylkophilusa' type of the Virgin holding the Christ Child to her visage, which foreshadow the endearing nature of his own works (Krautheimer, op. cit., p. 37). Krautheimer proposes a dating of 1430-1450 for the extant Madonna and Child reliefs (Krautheimer, op. cit, p. 7).

Recent scholarship has largely affirmed his hypotheses. Two stucco reliefs similar to the present group and attributed to the workshop of Ghiberti were recently shown in the exhibition The Springtime of the Renaissance. (B. Paolozzi Strozzi and M. Bormand, eds., The Springtime of the Renaissance: Sculpture and the Arts in Florence 1400-60, Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, 23 March - 18 August 2013; Paris, Musée du Louvre, 26 September 2013 - 6 January 2014, pp. 426-429, nos. VIII.2-3). The first, from the Musei Civici Fiorentini-Museo Stefano Bardini in Florence (inv. MCF-MB 1922-722) depicts the Virgin and Child on a plinth with two angels bearing a wreath, and Antonella Nesi both affirms its association with the Ghiberti workshop - proposing a dating of the late 1430s to the early 1440s - and connects it with Ghiberti's renowned Gates of Paradise (c. 1426-1452) (Nesi, op.cit., p. 426). The second stucco from the Venerabile Arciconfraternita della Misericordia, Florence (inv. 10260) displays greater similarities to the present work including the striped highlights on the virgin's veil, and again, Nesi connects it with Ghiberti's work on the Gates of Paradise, proposing a dating of the late 1430's (Nesi, op. cit, p. 428). As these examples suggest, while the production of Ghiberti's workshop was prolific, the connection of this particular design to the master - one of the greatest sculptors of the Renaissance - remains clear.

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