GIOTTO di Bondone
(b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)

Madonna and Child

Tempera on panel, 85,5 x 62 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

This wood panel was originally part of a polyptych which is now scattered among the collections of several museums. The central panel was this Madonna currently in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, other panels are in the in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Chaalis and in the Museo Horne, Florence.

While Duccio - with his reliance on Byzantine traditions, flat planes, and decorative line - can be said to sum up the past, Giotto was recognized even by his contemporaries as anticipating the future. Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch all praised his naturalism. Giotto's panel, probably the central section of a five-part altarpiece, was painted late in his career. The colours are sober and restrained. Soft shadows model the Virgin and child. We sense the weight and volume of their bodies and feel the pull of gravity on them.

We also sense that they are actors in a quiet drama. We are witnesses to the human interaction between a mother and a child. The infant steadies himself by grasping his mother's finger and reaches - like any baby - for the flower she holds. This emphasis on the humanity of the participants is a departure from the devotional Byzantine tradition, as in the Gallery's Enthroned Madonna and Child, in which the infant Christ does not turn to his mother, but rather offers a blessing to the worshiper.