A Closer Look at Four Renaissance Madonnas
by Sharon Himes

The Renaissance was a time of rebirth and rediscovery that took place in Europe between the 14th through 16th centuries. It was more a time of gradual changes than a single art movement. The Church and patrons commissioned artists to paint religious works, and the Madonna and Child were among the most popular subjects. Here are four versions of the Mother and Child theme as seen by artists from the Renaissance.

Click on each image to see larger version of the painting.

The Virgin and Chancellor Rolin was painted in 1435 by Jan Van Eyck of the Netherlands. Van Eyck used the new technique of oil painting to produce an extreme realism. He shows the world in a sharp, clear light painted with glowing jewel tone colors. The donor of this panel, Rolin, the Chancellor of Burgundy, is painted in a very natural style. This is no doubt a very lifelike portrait. The figures are larger in the forground and set against a wide panaramic view. The design is in symmetrical balance. The heavenly figures are set distictly apart from the earthly Chancellor. There is close attention to the realism of every detail in the foreground and background.
The Virgin and Infant with St. John the Baptist was painted about 1470 by Florentine painter, Sandro Botticelli. There is a delicate sentiment and grace in the figures which are drawn closely together. The two are treated as one subject. Boticelli placed an emphasis on the ornamental aspects of the background, including flowers and trees. Botticelli is known for the elegant lines of his figures. These make the painting essentially a drawing with color. He contrasted the smooth textures of the faces with the more complex flowers and foliage of the background. Note the ornament in the lower right that balances the diagonal lines of the figures.
La Belle Jardiniere by Raphael was painted in 1507 during a stay in Florence. His rich colors were influenced by Roman murals that had been recently rediscovered. He paints the sacred figures as real and healthy human beings. Their serene expressions identify them as sacred subjects. The composition is a pyramid formed by the figures of the Virgin and the two children set against the horizon line in the landscape. It is a formal harmony, but the pose of the children is soft and natural. Note that the arm of the Child forms a continuous line as he glances at his Mother. This is a sentimental scene with a more natural pose than many earlier works .
The Madonna with the Long Neck by Italian Girolamo Francesco Parmigianino was painted in oil on a wooden panel in 1535. His figures are elongated and tapering in a stylization that is often called Mannerism. The subjects are distorted in a fluid manner to give the static composition a sense of movement. The group of figures on the left is balanced with the background on the right in a scene that has an other worldly atmosphere.

© 1998 - 2007 ArtCafe Network All Rights Reserved