VERROCCHIO, Andrea del
(b. 1435, Firenze, d. 1488, Venezia)
Madonna with Sts John the Baptist and Donatus1475-83
Wood, 189 x 191 cm
Although clearly revealing the large participation of his workshop, the intricate composition of the altarpiece is the product of Verrocchio's careful planning.
Verrocchio's inclination to aggrandize the human figure at the expense of the background does not appear to typify the paintings completed later in his life. In the documented altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with Sts John the Baptist and Donatus in Pistoia Cathedral, commissioned in 1474 by Bishop Donato de' Medici and executed almost entirely by Lorenzo di Credi, the different elements - protagonists, architecture and scenery - acquire a balance that is lacking in the Baptism, the Virgin and Child and Tobias and the Angel. They are interrelated in size and proportions to create a unity where no detail, no matter how important, overshadows another.
The composition consists of three spatial tiers, beginning with the plane close to the spectator where the saints are seen standing, proceeding through an elaborate throne in which the Virgin and the infant are seated in mid-ground, and ending with a rich view of mountains, forests and winding paths at the back. Within a triangular alignment that brings the figures together both formally and emotionally, a series of subtle relationships emerges. St Donatus, on the right, gazes at St John the Baptist, on the left, who looks at us while pointing his finger at the Christ Child. The seated mother and infant draw our attention back to the standing saints. Whereas the Virgin's legs project towards St Donatus, her face turns to St John the Baptist, who appears to gain more prominence as the infant's blessing is directed at him as well. Regular and irregular forms blend into a harmonious whole. The severe lines that define the architecture in horizontal and vertical parallels contrast with the undulating lines that separate the landscape from the sky. Likewise, the harsh and angular surface of the marble is juxtaposed with the soft texture and round shapes of the leaves and flowers.
While appearing a bit austere, Verrocchio incorporated the motifs that had modern appeal: the most recent architecture, still-life elements, a carefully modulated tile floor, and the beautiful oriental carpet down below with the fringes hanging over the last step.