Virgin and Child
Ugolino di Nerio (Siena, documented from 1317 to 1327)
The usual theme of the Madonna and Child is characterised here by an intimate dialogue between mother and child, which is emphasised by Jesus’ posture, who grasps the veil worn under Mary's mantle with both hands. In addition to rendering this sacred representation more natural and direct, Jesus’ gesture has also been interpreted as a foreshadowing of his future sacrifice. Mary's veil heralds the shroud with which Christ's body will be wrapped after his descent from the cross.
This work was the central panel of an altarpiece. In the past, the work has been attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna, the founder of the fourteenth-century Sienese school of painting, but is more likely to be the work of one of his close followers and collaborators: Ugolino di Nerio. Ugolino was perhaps the most faithful interpreter of the Duchy's artistic style, whose sophisticated elegance he often accentuated. Although little about his life is revealed in documents and sources, Ugolino must have possessed good business skills as he achieved considerable fame outside of Siena, so much so that he received commissions for the altarpieces of two of the most important churches in Florence: Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce.
The panel, which belongs to the Contini Bonacossi Collection, possesses features of Ugolino’s earlier works, namely the full-centred arch frame, which was gradually replaced by a Gothic arch, and the gold leaf decoration on the halos, which appears to have been applied by hand rather than with a punching tool, as Ugolini was wont to do in his later years.
The work belonged to the Tadini Boninsegni Collection in Pisa in the early twentieth century and was later purchased by Alessandro Contini Bonacossi in 1950.