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Virgin and Child Andrea Pisano


Andrea Pisano Pontedera, ca. 1295 – Orvieto?, 1348/1349

Culture Italian
Date ca. 1335
Object type sculpture
Medium, technique alabaster

36 × 12 × 7 cm

Inventory number 7167
Collection Sculpture
On view Museum of Fine Arts, First Floor, European Art 1250-1600, Cabinet 18

The Hungarian National Museum purchased this gilded alabaster sculpture in 1836, as part of the first collection of the art collector and historian, Count Miklós Jankovich. A hundred years later the statuette was transferred to the Museum of Fine Arts where it is still held today. The influence of the ivory statuettes that became popular in the fourteenth century can be felt in this artwork’s refined and uniform composition. Mary’s numinous face, her contemplative smile, and her whole being radiate the spirituality of the Christian journey through life. Thus, although the original function of the work is unknown, it was likely produced as an object of private devotion, possibly as part of a tabernacle or an altar. The creator of this small masterpiece was probably the sculptor and goldsmith Andrea Pisano, who was working on the bronze gate of the Florentine Baptistry around this time. The reliefs made for the bronze gate show a close affinity with the statuette.

Catalogue entry

The alabaster statuette came into the antiquities collection of the Hungarian National Museum in 1836 with the purchase of the first collection of the famous art collector and scholar Miklós Jankovich. Half a century later it was transferred to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it continues to be one of the most important pieces in the Collection of Sculptures. This masterpiece of Italian Gothic sculpture portrays the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child sitting on her arm. The hands of the two figures are correspondingly positioned, but neither their movements nor their gazes into the distance establish a connection between them. The statue was executed in virtuoso style; light almost passes through the veil, which has been refined to a thin layer. The once exquisite appearance of the statuette is suggested by the traces of gilding that are visible in the hair of both Mary and the Christ Child. Captivatingly beautiful, the statuette urges the viewer to silent contemplation. Its original function may also have been tied to the practice of private devotion: it was probably a devotional object placed on a domestic altar. Researchers have long wondered who may have made the statuette. It was first mentioned by Adolfo Venturi, the Italian art historian, who placed it among the works by Nino Pisano (ca. 1315 – before 1368). Venturi mentioned as analogies of the statuette several works by Nino Pisano made in the 1340s, including the Virgin and Child preserved in the Bode Museum in Berlin and the Virgin and Child at the Duomo Museum in Orvieto, albeit it was later attributed to Andrea Pisano. A more thorough visual inspection of the statuette subsequently resulted in a new attribution. As Jolán Balogh first demonstrated, the beautiful head type of the Budapest Virgin Mary, the exquisite drapery, and the rhythm of the pleating, exhibit a close affinity with works by Andrea, Nino’s father. Born in Pontedera, the sculptor and goldsmith Andrea Pisano created his major works in Florence and then in Orvieto. In both towns, he was employed as duomo master-builder. It was in his workshop with its many sculptors that Andrea’s sons, Nino and Tommaso, studied the craft of sculpture. They worked with their father on major commissions, such as the reliefs for the lower floors of the Florence duomo’s bell tower (1337–1341). Andrea’s most important work – the only one that was signed and dated – is the first bronze door of the Florentine Baptistery, with reliefs depicting twenty scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist as well as the eight virtues. On the reliefs, which were made between 1330 and 1336, close analogies are found to the alignment of the Budapest statue, to Mary’s facial type, and to the motifs on the outfit worn by the infant Jesus, which is open at the shoulder. The same motifs are also seen on panel paintings from the period. The Virgin and Child from the Jankovich collection must have been created during the first half of the 1330s. The statuette’s elongated yet elegant shape and its finely crafted details bear witness to the influence of French ivory carvings that were popular at the time. Zsófia Vargyas

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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