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A Closer Look at a 15th century Florentine terracotta Madonna and Child 


Despite considerable attention by art historians, who have suggested such renowned early Renaissance artists as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, Luca della Robbia, and Jacopo della Quercia, the polychrome terracotta Madonna and Child (1943.4.93), known as the “Kress Madonna,” remains unattributed. The size and hand-modeling, the exquisite gilding with punchwork and delicately painted details, together with the inscription and wooden backing render this work unique among the many of its kind, and suggest an important commission for a wealthy patron.

Left: Detail of the “Kress Madonna’s” face, after conservation treatment.

A conservator painstakingly removes deposited dirt and over-paint to reveal the original painted surface of the “Kress Madonna.”

With the aim of improving the appearance and gaining a greater understanding of the work, a full treatment and a technical study of the “Kress Madonna” were undertaken. A variety of analytical tools was employed during the course of the study to learn more about this work of art, including ultra-violet and infrared illumination, X-radiography, polarized light microscopy[k1], X-ray fluorescence, X-ray diffraction, Fourier-transfer infra-red spectroscopy, and scanning electron microscopy. The results of the study confirm the authenticity and the exceptional nature of the work, offering important clues to the artist or workshop. 


The 15th century Florentine sculpture Madonna and Child, shown during conservation treatment on the left, and after conservation treatment on the right.


Read the full story here.

Cristanetti, S. 2010, ”Hatching a Theory of Attribution: A 15th-Century Madonna and Child at the National Gallery of Art,” ICOM-CC Glass and Ceramics Interim Meeting, Corning, NY, pp. 219-227.

Cristanetti, S. 2012, “The Kress Madonna: Revelations of an Extraordinary Sculpture.” Technè No. 36, pp. 47-53.

Detail of the Madonna’s mantle with gilded and punched decoration.