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By the fifteenth century, Florence had become a small city-state with widespread influence in philosophy, art, and architecture. As scholars unearthed classical sculptures and translated ancient texts from the Roman Empire, humanism blossomed and the worlds of the sacred and the secular became more intertwined. Ghirlandaio’s Madonna and Child takes a sacred subject and places it in a secular setting. What elements of sacred and secular contexts can you identify in this artwork?

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Unlike the medieval traditions of gilding and depicting concourses of angels, this scene of the Madonna and Child is cast in a relatively uncelebrated, even ordinary setting. Only the haloes seem to reference the divinity of these figures.

In the customary attempt to relate to contemporary Italian viewers, Christ appears as a sweet, loveable child. He and his mother Mary appear cheek to cheek in a naturalistic depiction of a mother/child relationship.

Although the painting is smaller and intended for the domestic space of an Italian home, it also continues the traditional Madonna and Child theme that had been flourishing over the last century and was the focal point of almost all altarpieces in major churches at this time.