(b. before 1300, d. ca. 1360)

Madonna and Child with two Votaries

c. 1325
Tempera on panel, 142 x 90 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Paolo Veneziano, the first great identifiable artist in the history of Venetian painting, was clearly well-acquainted with Byzantine traditions. Indeed he seemed to need to go back to the anachronistic world of Byzantine art to find a means of expression for the most sincere insights of his poetic vision though he must also have been aware of the great advances being made in western art, particulary by the Tuscan masters Giovanni Pisano and Giotto whose work he would have seen at the Scrovegni Chapel in nearby Padua.

The Madonna and Child with two Votaries still in its original red and blue notched frame is a good example of Paolo's personal blending of mainland art with the iconic and aulic idioms of Byzantine tradition. The resulting image is completely oriental in feeling. The Virgin sits rigid on the throne and holds out the Child for the adoration of the devotees. The Child is surrounded by a blue mandorla in accordance with a Syrian iconographic schema. But the liveliness of the drawing of the sacred and human figures in the background makes them stand out from their gold setting in a way which is not entirely untypical of the stiff, wooden figures which populate the work of contemporary painters of religious images working in the Veneto-Byzantine style. Thus the artist brings together western formal components and Byzantine compositional schemes in his personal vision of colour.