With this terra-cotta statue, slightly under life-size, we encounter figures that demonstrate the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance admiration for the human body. Earlier statues in the collection, like the Pisan Annunciation pair, The Archangel Gabriel and The Virgin Annunciate, present the figure as a relatively simple and static form, with drapery arranged in graceful, decorative patterns that tell little about the body it covers. Here, while some decorative folds remain, the clothes work more effectively to describe the form and movement of the body beneath them. Projecting folds wrap around Mary's bent right leg, and deep pockets of space penetrate the sculptural mass, articulating the figure of a young woman with the strength to move vigorously in her heavy garments and support a sturdy child. For a fifteenth-century audience, the child's nudity would have represented Christ's humility in entering the world as a small, poor, and helpless human being.
The mother, whose costume details recall ancient sculpture -- classical sandals, a fillet around the head, and palmette ornament on the sleeve cuffs -- shares much with images conceived by the Florentine master Donatello (1385/86-1466), the greatest sculptor of the early Renaissance.
Pazzi family, Florence. Count Giacomo Michelozzi, Tarvarnelle, Florence. Henry Goldman [1857-1937], New York, by 1922. (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London and New York); purchased 26 April 1937 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. "Eine Unbekannte Madonnenstatue Donatellos." Kunst und Kunstler 19(April 1921): 238, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Donatello and Ghiberti." The Art Quarterly III, no. 2 (Spring 1940): 196-203, fig. 15.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 222-223, no. A-1, as by Donatello.
- Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 253, repro. 228, as by Donatello.
- Duveen Brothers, Inc. Duveen Sculpture in Public Collections of America: A Catalog Raisonné with illustrations of Italian Renaissance Sculptures by the Great Masters which have passed through the House of Duveen. New York, 1944: figs. 9-13, as by Donatello.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 148, repro., as by Donatello.
- Seymour, Charles. Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1949: 174, note 15, repro. 59, 61-63, as by Donatello.
- Hartt, Frederick. 'Review: Charles Seymour Jr., Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art." College Art Journal 10 (Winter 1951): 205.
- Pope-Hennessy, John. 'Review: Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art by Charles Seymour." The Burlington Magazine 93, 576 (March 1951): 98.
- Pope-Hennessy, John, assisted by Ronald Lightbown. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. 3 vols. London, 1964: 1:423, 688-691, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 153, as by Donatello.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 136, repro., as by Donatello.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 623, no. 962, repro.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 108-109, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 282, repro.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 85, repro.