JACOPO Cione | Enthroned Madonna and Child with saints [Madonna in trono col Bambino e santi]

Florence 1320 /1330 – 1398/1400

Enthroned Madonna and Child with saints [Madonna in trono col Bambino e santi] 1367
tempera and gold on wood panel
not signed, inscribed "_ _ _ DOMINI" and dated "MILLE.CCCLXVII" (1367) on predella
91.2 (h) x 45.5 (w) x 8.1 (d) cm Purchased 1987
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1987.1843

The Madonna sits upon a throne under an ornate protective canopy holding her Son on her knee. They face us directly, flanked by six pairs of saints in profile, with two angels offering flowers below, all surmounted by God the Father in a roundel. She is dressed in a rich red gown, her blue cloak decorated with royal ermine; while the Child’s patterned clothing is echoed in the angels’ garb. He holds a parchment inscribed with a Latin proclamation. Both appear regal and formal, ‘demanding adoration and respectful worship from the viewer [and inviting] the worshipper to be overwhelmed by the perfection and splendour of the Heavenly kingdom’.[1] Everything seems precious and shimmering, from the flat gilded background to gold stars spangled on the carpet; tooled gilt haloes and arches set up circular rhythms, while golden flowers hold sparkling coloured gesso jewels.

A pointed Gothic arch, its shape repeated within the scene, encloses the painting and directs us to its period and meaning. Jacopo di Cione dated his image of the enthroned Madonna and Child with twelve saints ‘MILLE.CCCLXVII’, or 1367, on the predella below the panel. During these years, from 1366 to 1368, Jacopo decorated the large chamber of the Florentine guildhall of judges and notaries. He was one of four brothers, including Andrea di Cione Orcagna,[2]who dominated Florentine painting in the third quarter of the fourteenth century, in those decades before the Renaissance took firm hold in Central and Northern Italy. They formed part of the International Gothic style, competing with the moving dramas and new naturalism of Giotto’s heirs.[3] The stiffly formal attitudes of Mary and the Christ Child might be traced to the Black Death which devastated Italy, including Florence, in 1348. One religious and cultural response may have been a return to severity and the importance of authority, in reaction against the humility of saints such as Francis, who made the divine and human closer.

Enthroned Madonna and Child with saints is a portable devotional work, commissioned for a home or for someone in Holy Orders. The panel was probably the central image of a triptych, with its twisted columns marking the hinges where shutters would have closed.[4] On the left Jacopo would have painted a Nativity, on the right a Crucifixion. The client may have specified favourite saints to be depicted: here at the right from below are Saint Paul and Saint Andrew, Saint Jerome in his red cardinal’s robes and an unidentified male saint, then a bishop saint and Saint Helena (or Saint Elizabeth). At the left stand Saint John the Baptist and Saint Peter, Saint Laurence and Saint Benedict, Saint Catherine and Saint Nicholas. Ornate and beautiful small altarpieces such as this were increasingly popular in Florence; they were used for private prayer or sacred contemplation.

Christine Dixon

[1]Ted Gott, ‘Two Madonnas in the Collection’, National Gallery News, March–April 1994, p. 2.

[2]Andrea di Cione di Arcangelo, called Orcagna (c.1308–1368); Nardo di Cione (active 1343–1365?); Matteo di Cione (1330–1380).

[3]Giotto di Bondone (1266/1267–1337) influenced such painters as Masaccio (1401–1428).

[4]Most of the frame is original; the larger twisted columnettes were inserted when the triptych was disassembled. Some jewels are missing.