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Madonna and Child, between a pope and a bishop

Author
Lippo di Benivieni (Florence, documented between 1296 and 1316)
Date
c. 1315
Collection
Location
Room 48
Technique
Tempera on wood, gold base
Size
103 x 176 cm
Inventory
Contini Bonacossi, no. 31

This altarpiece has the appearance of a triptych; however, the form of the backing - which is made from long, horizontally placed boards rather than from assembled single panels, following a method commonly used in the 13th century - confirms the antiquity of the piece and places the artistic culture of the painter somewhere between Cimabue and Giotto.  The origin of the reredos is unknown, and there is no room for speculation, since no attributes allow us to identify the saints alongside the Virgin and Child. The inscriptions with names placed in the gold base of each panel have also been lost, although the initial letters, “S” (Sanctus) remain. Both men are dressed in ecclesiastical robes and were therefore members of the secular Church. The different style of the tiaras they wear identify the saint on the right as a pope and the one on the left, who is also holding a book and a crozier, as a bishop. Although the gold background to the painting is seriously damaged, it is still possible to make out the decoration of the halos, created with freehand engraving. This too is a technique that was replaced in the early 14th century by more complex decorations, incised using mechanical punches.

Today it is part of the Contini Bonacossi Collection, and comes from the Iandolo Collection in Rome.