The Madonna In Art by Estelle M. Hurll - THE MADONNA IN ADORATION. (THE MADRE PIA.) part 2

Only second in popularity to this was Andrea's circular medallion of the Nativity, with the Virgin and St. John in adoration. There are two copies of this in the Florentine Academy, one in the Louvre, and one in Berlin. The effect of crowding so many figures into a small compass is not so pleasing as the classical simplicity of the former composition.

Contemporary with the Della Robbias was another Florentine family of artists equally numerous. Of the five Rossellini, Antonio is of greatest interest to us, as a sculptor who had some qualities in common with the famous porcelain workers. Like them, he had a special gift for the Madonna in Adoration. We can see this subject in his best style of treatment, in the beautiful Nativity in San Miniato, "which may be regarded as one of the most charming productions of the best period of Tuscan art."[5] The tourist will consider it a rich reward for his climb to the quaint old church on the ramparts overhanging the Arno. If perchance his wanderings lead him, on another occasion, to the hill rising on the opposite side, he will find, in the Cathedral of Fiesole, a fitting companion in the altar-piece by Mino da Fiesole. This is a decidedly unique rendering of the Madre Pia. The Virgin kneels in a niche, facing the spectator, adoring the Christ-child, who sits on the steps below her, turning to the little Baptist, who kneels at one side on a still lower step.

[5] C.C. Perkins, in Tuscan Sculptors.

Lorenzo di Credi,Adorazione dei pastori,1510

Passing from the sculpture of Florence to its painting, it is fitting that we mention first of all the friend and fellow-pupil of the Umbrian Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi. The two had much in common. Trained together in the workshop of the sculptor Verrocchio, in those days of intense religious stress, they both becamefollowers of the prophet-prior of San Marco, Savonarola. Their religious earnestness naturally found expression in the beautiful subject of the Madre Pia. The Florentine artist, though not less devout than his friend, introduces into his work an element of joy, characteristic of his surroundings, and more attractive than the somewhat melancholy types of Umbria. His Adoration, in the Uffizi, is an admirable example of his best work. Following the fashion made popular by the Della Robbias, the artist chose for his composition the round picture, or tondo. By this elimination of unnecessary corners, the attention centres in the beautiful figure of the Virgin, which occupies a large portion of the circle. In exquisite keeping with the modest loveliness of her face, a delicate, transparent veil is knotted over her smooth hair, and falls over the round curves of her neck. In expression and attitude she is the perfect impersonation of the spirit of humility, joyfully submissive to her high calling, reverently acknowledging her unworthiness.

This picture may be taken as a typical example of the subject in Florentine painting. Lorenzo himself repeated the composition many times, and numerous other works could be mentioned, strikingly similar in treatment, by Ghirlandajo, in the Florence Academy; by Signorelli, in the National Gallery; by Albertinelli, in the Pitti; by Filippo Lippi, in the Berlin Gallery; by Filippino Lippi, in the Pitti; and so on through the list.

Filippo Lippi.—Madonna in Adoration.

In many cases the subject seems to have been chosen, not so much from any devotional spirit on the part of the painter, as from force of imitation of the prevailing Florentine fashion. This is especially true in the case of Filippo Lippi, who does not bear the best of reputations. Although a brother in the Carmelite monastery, his love of worldly pleasures often led him astray, if we are to believe the gossip of the old annalists. We may allow much for the exaggerations of scandal, but still be forced to admit that his candid realism is plain evidence of a closer study of nature than of theology.

Browning has given us a fine analysis of his character in the poem bearing his name, "Fra Lippo Lippi." The artist monk, caught in the streets of the city on his return from some midnight revel, explains his constant quarrel with the rules of art laid down by ecclesiastical authorities. They insist that his business is "to the souls of men," and that it is "quite from the mark of painting" to make "faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true." On his part, he claims that it will not help the interpretation of soul, by painting body ill. An intense lover of every beautiful line and color in God's world, he believes that these things are given us to be thankful for, not to pass over or despise. Obliged to devote himself to a class of subjects with which he had little sympathy, he compromised with his critics by adopting the traditional forms of composition, and treating them after the manner of genre painters, in types drawn from the ordinary life about him. The kneeling Madre Pia he painted three times: two of the pictures are in the Florence Academy, and the third and best is in the Berlin Gallery.
 In the Madonna of the Uffizi, he broke away somewhat from tradition, and rendered quite a new version of the subject. The Virgin is seated with folded hands, adoring her child, who is held up before her by two boy angels. His type of childhood is by no means pretty, though altogether natural. The Virgin cannot be called either intellectual or spiritual, but "where," as a noted critic has asked, "can we find a face more winsome and appealing?" Certainly she is a lovely woman, and

"If you get simple beauty and naught else,
That's somewhat: and you'll find the soul you have missed
Within yourself, when you return him thanks."

The idea of the seated Madre Pia, comparatively rare in Florentine art, is quite frequent in northern Italy. Sometimes the setting is a landscape, in the foreground of which the Madonna sits adoring the babe lying on her lap. Examples are by Basaiti (Paduan), in the National Gallery, and by a painter of Titian's school, in Berlin. Much more common is the enthroned Madonna in Adoration, and for this we may turn to the pictures of the Vivarini, Bartolommeo and Luigi, or Alvise. These men were of Muranese origin, and in the very beginning of Venetian art-history were at the head of their profession, until finally eclipsed by the rival family of the Bellini. Among their works, we find by each one at least three pictures of the type described. As the most worthy of description, we may select the altar-piece by Luigi, in the Church of the Redentore. As it is one of the most popular Madonnas in Venice, no collection is complete without it. A green curtain forms the background, against which the plain marble throne-chair is brought into relief. The Virgin sits wrapt in her own thoughts, an impersonation of tranquil dignity.

Luigi Vivarini.—Madonna and Child.

A heavy wimple falls low over her forehead, entirely concealing her hair, and with its severe simplicity accentuating the chaste-beauty of her face. Two fascinating little cherubs sit on a parapet in front, playing on lutes; and, lulled by their gentle music, the sweet babe sleeps on, serenely unconscious of it all.

Before such pictures as this, gleaming in the dim light of quiet chapels, many a heart, before unbelieving, may learn a new reverence for the mysterious sanctity of motherhood.