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Madonna and Child

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (1483–1561), Madonna and Child, 16th century, oil on panel, 33 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Hazel Anna Smith.


Paintings of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus were popular subjects in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence, Italy and reflect the artistic styles and cultural interests of the Italian Renaissance. The haloed Madonna delicately holds the Christ Child, enshrined in a contemporary domestic interior. The green velvet curtain behind her head lends a sense of honor to their setting; yet their everyday surroundings and gently modeled forms reflect the naturalism of Renaissance art and its ideal of celebrating the dignity and greatness of humanity. The twisting torso and active stance of the toddler’s legs capture the busy nature of a growing baby and contrasts with His mother’s stoic form. As the infant Christ gazes out innocently toward the viewer, Mary’s eyes are disengaged and distant; commonly seen in paintings of the time, she gazes outward perhaps pondering the future of her divine child.

This painting reflects the influence of Florentine Renaissance painting of the previous century. Ridolfo was the son of artist Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 – 1494), a prominent painter with whom Michelangelo apprenticed. Ridolfo studied with Fra Bartolomeo and was acquainted with Raphael. The smooth, realistic rendering of the figures and soft line are reminiscent of both these artists, with a more modest presentation.

The landscape visible through the window was a common element in Italian Renaissance paintings and was likely influenced by the elder Ghirlandaio’s study of Northern European painting. Modestly sized devotional images were prevalent during the time in Florentine households. Devotional paintings were used for private worship and as reminders of the sacred and were also believed to convey moral values to residents, particularly the women and children of a household.

Curricular Resources

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