Florence 1420 /1424 – Pistoia 1497
Madonna of Humility
[Madonna dell'Umiltà] 1449-50
tempera and gold on wood panel
34.7 (h) x 29.4 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866
Benozzo Gozzoli created one of the most discussed fresco cycles of the Florentine Renaissance, the Procession of the Magi 1459�1462, with depictions of the legendary Medici family among the crowded scenes along three walls of their private chapel in the Benozzo Gozzoli created one of the most discussed fresco cycles of the Florentine Renaissance, the Procession of the Magi 1459–1462, with depictions of the legendary Medici family among the crowded scenes along three walls of their private chapel in the Medici Palace. By contrast this small Madonna of Humility is a mysterious and haunting image made for private and mystical devotion. Painted on cherrywood, it has the detailed beauty and refinement of a miniature painting, and is an object that commands sustained contemplation—just as those frescoes by Fra Angelico, Benozzo’s master, with whom he worked in the convent of San Marco in Florence. From the time it was in the Lochis collection, and until recently, this panel was attributed to Fra Angelico.
The theme of the Madonna of Humility emerges in the mid thirteenth century in Italy and France to become fashionable throughout Europe because it represented the humanity of Christ. There are many traditions for the representation. The Christ Child in the Bergamo panel comforts his Mother by placing his hand on her cheek as she looks down at him tenderly. The pose of the Madonna seated on the ground denotes that she is a humble Madonna. But her pose is also triumphant and celebratory, her dress gorgeously luxuriant; and the ground is a pavement of highly coloured marble smudged with blues, reds and blacks. The Florentine tradition prefers a humble Madonna who is less accessible to the viewer, more of a ‘remote and visionary apparition’ than those favoured in other parts of Italy.
Over a richly patterned red dress the Madonna’s sumptuous blue mantle is elaborately bordered in gold. The Child’s little black coat is also decorated with motifs in gold. Benozzo appropriates the rich golden backdrop from his master Fra Angelico—as in his Madonna of Humility 1436/1438. He also adopts the motif of the angels holding the curtain from various versions of the subject by Angelico. In the far background the stylised hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden emblematic of the Virgin, is filled with a variety of sweet-smelling flowers. Especially conspicuous are the white lilies, a symbol of purity and a traditional reference to the Annunciation. The angels seated at the Madonna’s feet play a portable organ and a lute: this grouping of the Madonna and Child and the two music-making angels constitutes a perfect Mystical Triangle.
Benozzo made other versions of the humble Madonna, notably the panel for Fra Jacopo da Montefalco who is represented as a diminutive elderly donor, now in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna. The Madonna is related to the frescoes by Benozzo that Fra Jacopo commissioned for the choir of San Francesco at Montefalco, indicating that the panel in Vienna was a personal commission, a humble Madonna for himself. We have yet to discover the first owner of the Bergamo panel.
 Cristina Acidini Luchinot (ed.), The Chapel of the Magi: Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, London and New York: Rizzoli, 1994.
 Fra Angelico (c.1395–1455).
 First proposed by Miklós Boskovits, ‘Il Beato Angelico e Benozzo Gozzoli. Problemi ancora aperti’, in Bruno Toscano and Giovanni Capitelli (eds), Benozzo Gozzoli: Allievo a Roma, maestro in Umbria, Milan: Museo di San Francesco, Montefalco, 2002, pp. 41–56; endorsed by Pia Palladino, ‘Benozzo Gozzoli (Benozzo de Lese di Sandro)’, in Laurence Kanter and Pia Palladino (eds), Fra Angelico, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005, pp. 301–03.
 Beth Williamson, The Madonna of Humility: Development, dissemination and reception, c.1340–1400, Bristol: Boydell Press, 2009.
 Millard Meiss, ‘The Madonna of Humility’, Art Bulletin, vol. 18, 1936, p. 448.
 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
 Benozzo Gozzoli, Virgin and Child, with Saint Francis, the donor Fra Jacopo da Montefalco, and Saint Bernardino of Siena c.1452, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, Gemäldegalerie. See Diana Cole Ahl, Benozzo Gozzoli, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p. 363.