This stylish Madonna of Humility with two angels shows the Madonna and Christ child, robed in an ermine-lined cloth, tenderly embracing against a radiating gold ground while two diminutive angels offer vases of lilies to the holy pair. Mother and child are seated on a pillow atop a floor patterned by means of a lavish sgraffito technique, in which leaves of hammered gold are arranged on the gessoed ground layer, covered with tempera, and then scraped away in an ornate pattern to reveal the gold below.
The Master of Borgo alla Collina was an anonymous Florentine painter named by Georg Pudelko in 1938 for an altarpiece of the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine with Saints Francis, the Archangel Raphael with Tobias, the Archangel Gabriel, and Louis of Toulouse in the parish church of San Donato in Borgo alla Collina in the province of Arezzo (G. Pudelko, 'The Maestro del Bambino Visto', Art in America, XXVI, 1938, pp. 47-63). Though understood in the past as an artist influenced by Gherardo Starnina (1360-1413), and possibly as a follower of that master, recent scholarship suggests that the two artists may have worked more closely together than was once thought. Alberto Lenza, in fact, has suggested that the Master of Borgo alla Collina may even have accompanied Starnina on his sojourn to Spain (c. 1401-1404), and may well have been active in Tuscany into the sixth decade of the 15th century. Indeed, the present work was once attributed by Bernard Berenson (recorded in the photoarchives at the Villa I Tatti) to the so-called Master of the Bambino Vispo, an artist now identified by most scholars with Starnina himself. As Lenza points out, the study of the paintings and artistic personality of the Master of Borgo alla Collina is useful not only in tracing the stylistic profile and influence of Starnina, but in understanding, in a more general sense, the development of Tuscan painting in the early decades of the Quattrocento (op. cit., p. 14).