The composition of this Virgin and Child is loosely based on the Hodegetria, one of the more powerful and enduring icon types of the Orthodox Christian church. The Virgin gestures toward the child to show him as the “way” (hodos in Greek), the source of salvation. The throne and her red shoes present her as the Queen of Heaven, and the archangels in the roundels beside her hold imperial regalia, which are typical attributes of archangels. The first of this type, housed in the Hodegon monastery in Constantinople, was an active part of civic and religious life in the Byzantine capital. Said to produce miracles daily, it was taken out of the monastery every Tuesday so the public could see it. It was invoked against plague and carried by imperial armies as a talisman in battle.
Expert opinion differs about the origin of this painting (known as the Kahn Madonna after an earlier owner) and the National Gallery of Art’s
Byzantine art made a powerful impact on 13th- and 14th-century Italian painting, which emphasizes the spiritual world of Paradise, with elongated and weightless figures, more like spirits than physical human beings, skies of heavenly gold, and flat, stylized patterning of drapery. The gold striations that define folds in clothing, the round volume of Mary’s veiled head, and Jesus’s frontal pose—looking more like a miniature adult than a child—are all part of the Byzantine tradition.
The painting shows the Virgin seated on an elaborate wooden throne with openwork decoration. She supports the blessing Christ child on her left arm, according to the
Terms that refer broadly to the study of subjects and themes in works of art. Iconology, which is based on the results of iconography, is the more wide-ranging and comprehensive. One of the principal concerns of iconography is the discovery of symbolic and allegorical meanings in a work of art. —Willem F. Lash, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
On the iconography of the Hodegetria, cf. Gregor Martin Lechner, “Maria,” in Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. Klaus Wesse, 7 vols. (Stuttgart, 2005), 6:59 – 71. On the cult of the image, see also Christine Angelidi and Titos Papamastorakis, “The Veneration of the Virgin Hodegetria and the Hodegon Monastery,” in The Mother of God: The Representation of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, ed. Maria Vassilaki (Milan and London, 2000), 373 – 387.
While the motif of the scroll alluding to Christ as the Word of God (Jn 1:1) appears frequently, that of the Christ child with a belted waist is less common; cf. Klaus Wessel, “Buchrolle,” in Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. Klaus Wessel, 7 vols. (Stuttgart, 1966), 1:784 – 795. The belt could possibly allude to the liturgical dress of the oriental church; cf. Athanasios Papas, “Liturgische Gewänder,” in Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. Klaus Wessel, 7 vols. (Stuttgart, 1995), 5:750 – 752. Hans Belting, “The ‘Byzantine’ Madonnas: New Facts about Their Italian Origin and Some Observations on Duccio,” Studies in the History of Art 12 (1982): 10, interpreted the motif more functionally as the “belt for carrying the Child.”
These are among the symbols of the power of the Byzantine emperor, which subsequently became attributes in the representation of angels; cf. D. I. Pallas, “Himmelsmächte, Erzengel und Engel,” in Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. Klaus Wessel, 7 vols. (Stuttgart, 1978), 3:26 – 32, 35 – 40.
Art historians have held sharply different views on not only the attribution of the painting but also its origin and even its function. Apart from Osvald Sirén’s attribution to Pietro Cavallini (1918),
Osvald Sirén, “A Picture by Pietro Cavallini,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 32 (1918): 44–47.
(Cenni [Benciviene] di Pepo) (c. 1240–before July 14, 1302) Italian painter and mosaicist. His nickname means either “bull-head” or possibly “one who crushes the views of others,”’ (It. cimare: ‘top, shear, blunt’), an interpretation matching the tradition in commentaries on Dante that he was not merely proud of his work but contemptuous of criticism. Filippo Villani and Vasari assigned him the name Giovanni, but this has no historical foundation. He may be considered the most dramatic of those artists influenced by contemporary Byzantine painting through which antique qualities were introduced into Italian work in the late 13th century. His interest in classical Roman drapery techniques and in the spatial and dramatic achievements of such contemporary sculptors as Nicola Pisano, however, distinguishes him from other leading members of this movement. As a result of his influence on such younger artists as Duccio and Giotto, the forceful qualities of his work, and its openness to a wide range of sources, Cimabue appears to have had a direct personal influence on the subsequent course of Florentine, Tuscan, and possibly Roman painting. —Robert Gibbs, Grove Art © Oxford University Press
Miklós Boskovits (1935–2011)
March 21, 2016
Said to have come from a church, or convent, in Calahorra (province of La Rioja, Spain); (art market, Madrid), in 1912. (Herbert P. Weissberger, Madrid). (Emile Pares, Madrid, Paris, and New York); (his sale, Anderson Galleries, New York, 18-19 February 1915, 2nd day, no. 306, as by Giovanni Cimabue); (Emile Pares, Madrid, Paris, and New York); sold 26 November 1915 to (F. Kleinberger & Co., New York). Otto Kahn [1867-1934], New York, by 1917; by inheritance to his widow, Addie Wolff Kahn [d. 1949], New York; gift 1949 to NGA.
- Loan Exhibition of Italian Primitives, F. Kleinberger Galleries, New York, 1917, no. 69, repro., as The Madonna and Child by Pietro Cavallini.
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The support is a three-member poplar panel
The NGA scientific research department analyzed a cross-section of the wood from the panel and found it to be poplar (report in NGA conservation files dated December 24, 1985).
Attaching a woodent grid to the reverse of a panel to prevent the panel's warping.
The state of the painting in 1915 is illustrated in the sale catalog published in that year, which shows it unrestored, except for the loss in the gold ground above the Virgin’s head. Sometime between 1915 and 1917, before it was sold to Otto Kahn, New York, the work evidently was restored. The various reproductions published from 1917 on show it much darkened by dust and opacified varnishes but without paint color losses and presumably already cradled. Judging from the reproduction given by Walter Felicetti-Liebenfels in 1956, the picture may have been cleaned again sometime later; Walter Felicetti-Liebenfels, Geschichte der byzantinischen Ikonenmalerei (Olten, Lausanne, 1956), 61 , pl. 64. Unfortunately, no documentation of these operations is available.
A layer of paint that covers original paint.
A mixture of finely ground plaster and glue applied to wood panels to create a smooth painting surface. —Grove Art © Oxford University Press
The layer or layers used to prepare the support to hold the paint.
The NGA painting and scientific research departments analyzed the ground using polarized light microscopy (PLM) and found it to be calcium sulfate. At the same time, the pigments were also analyzed using PLM, x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF), and microchemical tests. The results of this analysis were published in Ann Hoenigswald, “The ‘Byzantine’ Madonnas: Technical Investigation,” Studies in the History of Art 12 (1982): 25 – 31.
The NGA scientific research department analyzed a cross-section of the wood from the frame and found it to be fir (report in NGA conservation files dated December 24, 1985).
An initial layer of paint applied to a ground that begins to define shapes and values.
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
Application of restoration paint to areas of lost original paint to visually integrate an area of loss with the color and pattern of the original, without covering any original paint.