MONTAGNA, Bartolomeo
(b. ca. 1450, Orzinuovi, Brescia, d. 1523, Vicenza)

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints

Oil on canvas, 410 x 260 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Signed and dated on the step: "OPVS/BARTHOLOMEI/MONTA/GNA MCCCCLX- XXXVIIII." The represented figures are Sts Andrew, Monica, Ursula, Sigismund and angel musicians. The large capitals in the background frieze are the initials of the Latin phrase meaning: "Implore God's grace for us." The medallion on the left portrays Matteo de' Pasti's profile plaque of Christ. Another Latin inscription on the step records a 1715 restoration, which does not seem to have much altered the painting. Preliminary drawings for this work are in the Uffizi and at Windsor Castle. Documented as having been in San Michele, Vicenza, it has been in the Brera since 1811.

Trained in Venice, Bartolomeo interpreted the great Venetian models in an archaising vein, as did all the contemporary artists of the mainland. His prodigiously skillful draftsmanship defined lapidary forms that may be splintered or flaked but are always pure and as resonant as crystal. His strict sense of order is open, however, to an aristocratic feeling for nature, which is shown in pungently descriptive passages. In this altarpiece, the noble figures are displayed within a purely Lombard architectural setting. The composition is also architectonic, and its precedents go back through Antonello da Messina to Piero della Francesca, whose device of a pendant ostrich egg has been adopted here. The brown and silvery harmonies of the Lombard palette add a note of elegant austerity.