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: Nardo di Cione's Standing Madonna with the Child


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
A visitor to The Minneapolis Institute of Arts encounters many treasures, but none perhaps as rare and wonderful as the relatively small yet extraordinarily monumental image of a standing Madonna and Child by the mid-trecento painter Nardo di Cione.1 One of the greatest painters of his age, Nardo remains little studied.2 Thus the exceptionally beautiful image he painted, which Minneapolis now preserves, affords an excellent opportunity to examine his style and its origins as well as the artist’s relationship to his time, one vastly different from ours but no less troubled.This Madonna was probably painted in Florence during a decade that witnessed the most cataclysmic devastation to strike European civilization in recorded history. In 1348 an outbreak of bubonic plague, commonly known as the Black Death, rolled across Europe, eradicating the population of entire cities and leaving stunned survivors with little explanation for the catastrophe except that of divine retribution. Florence lost half its population during this period,3 and contemporary chronicles suggest unfathomable human misery. The effects of the plague were wide-reaching. Coming on the heels of economic decline and other misfortunes, the Black Death is credited with altering the cultural climate of trecento Tuscany to such a degree that painters of the time developed a new style of painting.4The Black Death style, as it has come to be known, is thought to be the creation of Nardo and his brother, Andrea di Cione (called Orcagna); it is considered to be a rejection of the progressive artistic and humanistic ideals first expressed by Giotto at the century’s more optimistic beginning. Nardo and Orcagna, we are told, painted harsh, remote deities which elicited little or no sympathy from the viewer and which were isolated from their surroundings, much like earlier, pre-Giottesque images had been. Chastened by their horrifying experiences, the theory continues, these painters held a new conception of man’s relationship with God and a new view of God as a stern, relentless judge. Subsequent generations followed in their steps, leaving Giotto’s ideals all but neglected until the arrival of Masaccio in the early fifteenth century.5Such a direct cause-and-effect relationship between artistic development and a historical event can rarely, if ever, be documented. Yet in this instance the notion is so universally accepted that for this reason alone it is worth examining Nardo’s Madonna to seek the origins of the ideas it expresses. Only when the sources for Nardo’s artistic development are investigated can the extraordinary thesis concerning a direct relationship between the Black Death and mid-trecento painting be tested fully.What, then, is known about Nardo di Cione? Surviving documents tell us very little. No birthdate has come to light. He is though to have entered the Arte de Medici e Speziali guild in 1343. We have no information regarding his training. He was included on a 1347 list of artists considered worthy of a commission for a church in Pistoia. The same document mentions his brother Orcagna. Sometime at the end of the forties Nardo most likely began the decoration of the walls of the Strozzi Chapel, a commission also involving his brother. In 1363 Nardo was commissioned to paint the vault for the Oratory for the Campagnia del Bigallo located near the Duomo. The following year he joined the Guild of St. Luke. His will, dated 1365, left his estate to his brothers, Andrea and Jacopo, and he is listed as dead the following year.6 This is sparse information indeed about a painter of his stature.Nardo left no signature to guide us in identifying his oeuvre, and no document can identify with certainty a surviving fresco or panel. Undoubtedly he had numerous assistants of every level and skill in his shop who learned his style, and they must have assisted in large commissions. Therefore, it is with caution that his hand is assigned to anything but the design of a large-scale painting such as the Strozzi Altarpiece.Yet a distinctive style can be perceived in a number of paintings attributed to Nardo by Richard Offner. Offner succeeded in identifying ten panels, including the Minneapolis Madonna.7 The linchpin for all these attributions is the large and impressive fresco cycle in the Strozzi Chapel in S. Maria Novella. First assigned to Nardo by Ghiberti in his Commentarii, the cycle has gradually come to be accepted as Nardo’s key surviving work, and it is upon these frescoes that Offner based his other attributions.8The frescoes were an ambitious undertaking. Covering three high walls, they are an elaborate depiction of the Last Judgment. The window wall describes the Judgment itself; the left wall, Paradise; the right wall, Hell. Enclosing a dark narrow space, the three frescoed walls gracefully complement a hauntingly powerful altarpiece of the Tradidio Legis by Orcagna which is signed and dated 1357. Most likely the whole chapel encloses the burial site for the chapel’s donor, Jacopo di Strozza degli Strozzi, who died in 1351.It is assumed that the decoration of the chapel was begun after Strozzi died and was completed around the time that Orcagna placed his polyptych on the altar. It is also safe to assume that the subject and design for the chapel were probably worked out before Strozzi’s death, since Strozzi himself must have had a hand in deciding that he should be depicted rising from his grave to join the ranks of the blessed in Paradise.No subject could be more suitable for a burial site, and certainly no Tuscan burial site is more completely preserved than the Strozzi Chapel. Here patron and artist have produced a fascinating interpretation of faith and an affirmation of life in the face of death which is all the more interesting for having been conceived in the very wake of the plague itself.High above the tall central window, Christ orders the archangels to sound the trumpets awakening the dead. The Virgin, John the Baptist, and the Apostles somberly observe the moment when man’s final destiny is decided. The tombs have opened, and rising from them are people (presumably the Strozzi family) whose appearances have not altered since their interment. Joining the ranks of the blessed, they greet other familiar faces and gaze upwards at Christ, perhaps to plead on behalf of other family members. The action is slow and trancelike—having waked to find their hopes fulfilled, the Strozzi family and others calmly accept their blessed state. To Christ’s left, the damned (with a remarkable number of Dominican nuns) react with horror as they are banished into Hell.To the right is Paradise, where the blessed surround Christ and Mary, who are seated on the throne of heaven. Here saints, angels, clerics and a few other select mortals are enchanted by the celestial music made by singing and instrument-playing angels. Tall, graceful women quietly listen. Nardo most fully expresses the wonder of paradise in the physical beauty of these inhabitants. Despite the perfection of these sublime creatures, their beauty has an earthly core, and they exhibit a languorous sensuality.For all their transcendence, the fleshed-out, heavy-lidded faces of Nardo’s figures, with their small soft lips and long graceful necks, have their origins in a thoughtful observation of human forms. Nardo’s interpretation of the figure is like no other, and his women are among his greatest creations. Stately yet voluptuous, they bridge the gap between this world and the next most successfully.The Minneapolis Madonna find her closest parallel among these women, supporting quite clearly the accuracy of Offner’s original attribution. As with the frescoes, one’s first impression of the Minneapolis Madonna is of its profound sense of calm. Cradling her child, the sloe-eyed Madonna gazes into the distance, her wistful glance capturing a mood we previously encountered examining dreamy creatures of Paradise.Such a quiescent, enigmatic quality permits endless contemplation. And the stimulation of contemplation is the function of a devotional picture like the Minneapolis panel. Suffused in serenity, the Madonna is captivating yet forever distant. The curves that are formed as her body meets the gold ground are pleasingly decorative, and yet they never overpower the entity which has so captured our attention, but rather provide a graceful transition between the smooth, gold background and the drapery that cascades in a series of exquisite arabesques within the Madonna’s form. Despite her dramatic presence, the Virgin does not clash with her surroundings. Nardo has skillfully united her solid, three-dimensional form with the flat gold background in such a way that the juncture between them becomes an important part of the picture’s form.A muted punched border sparkles like transparent lace along the panel’s edge, a carefully balanced counterpart to the dramatic, brocaded ground upon which the Madonna stands. Enshrined by the panel itself, the two holy figures exist in a world removed from, though reminiscent of, our own. And we are compelled by their presence precisely because the echoes of reality reverberate so convincingly in an image of such idealized beauty.Nardo has achieved a balance in his picture not attained by any other painter of his time. His Madonna is motionless yet charged. Her monumentality is softened by a dainty, sensual femininity, and her child is robust, but also not without a fragile delicacy. A striking presence, this Madonna is nevertheless aloof. Perhaps part of Nardo’s genius was his ability to endow her inscrutable image with something that stirs a spark of recognition in the viewer. Traces of human tragedy can be read beneath the Madonna’s masklike face. But it is tragedy that has been transformed by Nardo into a universal realm of mythic proportions.Since the Madonna finds her closest stylistic parallel in the figures of the Strozzi chapel frescoes, we can assume that the images are nearly contemporary and were executed at roughly the same time—in the late 1340s or in the 1350s. We can also see that Nardo’s art is different when it is compared to Giotto’s masterpieces painted in the first decade of the trecento. Giotto’s magnificent Ognissanti Madonna clearly relates to the viewer—the child appears to bless the viewer, and the throne, with its accurately described spaces, becomes an extension of the viewer’s space. We join, in a sense, the circle of worshipers surrounding the Madonna’s throne, and the holy group becomes at once more accessible and tangible than that of earlier hieratic images.Clearly Nardo’s Madonna and Child departs from Giotto’s example in many respects. We cannot engage the glances of mother or son, who look away. No architectural elements create a space that allows our own world to flow into that of the painting. Instead of including numerous details, Nardo has placed his Madonna in a spartan setting. The language of scale in Nardo’s painting obeys only the formal laws of his picture. The brocaded ground upon which Madonna stands is both space-denying and deliberately enlarged to juxtapose delicate, minute punching in the gold.9 Aside from a convincingly three-dimensional form of exquisite beauty, nothing about the image suggests a realistic environment to which the viewer can relate.The image and the onlooker have been parted, and the formal language has changed. Instead of cohesion we have tension—the tension of two contradictory notions fused in one image, just as three-dimensional forms are deliberately juxtaposed with non-illusory flatness. Are these conscious changes due to the catastrophe of the Black Death? Or can we find other sources for Nardo’s ideas?As we examine the origins of his style we can find some intriguing answers that can help us re-examine the role played by history in his development. If Nardo matriculated in 1343, we can assume that he had been living and working in Florence for at least five years,10 or from about 1338 on. His style was most likely influenced by the art being produced in Tuscany between roughly 1325 and 1340. This was a watershed period for Tuscan art, witnessing the end of Giotto’s brilliant career—with his Bardi and Peruzzi chapel frescoes of S. Croce in the late thirties—and the ascension of a new generation of painters: Bernardo Daddi, Maso di Banco, Simone Martini, and Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti. Each of these artists dealt in his own way with the problems and challenges posed by the introduction of realism into an art whose traditional function was devotional, and whose form for centuries past had been flat and non-illusionistic.From the first decade of the trecento, during which Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna and his Santa Maria Novella Crucifix forever altered the direction of Italian painting,11 artists strove to achieve a balance between the older traditions of painting and this new-found realism. Incapable of abandoning one for the other, they demonstrated in their solutions a variety of styles developed from out of this dichotomy.Bernardo Daddi’s career amply demonstrates this development.12 Somewhat older than Nardo, Daddi in his earliest work reflects Giotto’s monumental style. But by the 1330s Daddi had developed most of the notions that would also prove to be of such critical importance to Nardo’s generation. In Daddi’s wonderful and still-spatial Bigallo Triptych of 1333, each of the elements has become generalized and primarily decorative. Each is meant to relate as a surface pattern, and this aesthetic (rather than Giotto’s cohesive spatial continuum) influenced Nardo and subsequent generations.By the 1340s the tendencies already seen in the 1333 triptych dominate Daddi’s style. His S. Maria Novella polyptych and his Courtauld Institute polyptych, signed and dated 1344 and 1348 respectively, seem removed from the viewer’s world.13 The figures have grown increasingly larger in relation to the panel size and their actions are less animated and more ritualized. While the amount of decoration has decreased, the scale and emphatic repetition of decorative components has increased. If Daddi had no influence on Nardo directly, then clearly both artists were reacting in a related manner to common impulses that affected their work in similar ways.Several other artists explored ideas that also might have had their impact on Nardo. Among these is Maso di Banco, whose career is still problematic,14 but whose surviving panels, notably the S. Spirito polyptych and the Solly polyptych (now in Berlin), both produced about 1335, reveal an artist whose style must have greatly inspired Nardo.Maso’s Madonnas (like Nardo’s) impose a powerful spell; they suggest a deep, brooding melancholy beneath their composed exteriors; their haunting faces are the embodiment of a mystery that is beyond comprehension. Like Daddi and, later, like Nardo, Maso was more interested in confronting the viewer with an indelible image than he was in exploring further the extension of the world of the viewer into that of the painting. Thus Maso, like Daddi, was inspired by Giotto’s use of monumental form, but he placed it in a different context.Holding the viewer at bay, so to speak, Maso used Giotto’s conception of monumental human form to create religious images that imposed themselves on the viewer. Maso’s Solly Madonna and Child actually project into the viewer’s space, a perception that is reinforced by the overlapping of the tooled halos on the punched border of the background. There is, however, no suggestion of real space around Maso’s figures—like Daddi’s, they had begun to create an order across the picture’s surface, reiterating the space-denying potential of the gold ground.A more subtle artist than Daddi, Maso incorporated ideas that must have been important later to Nardo. Within his large and imposing forms, Maso added touches of breathtaking delicacy. Veils fall in exquisite films around the Madonna’s forehead and neck; small, dainty patterns move through her softly colored gown. There touches of consummate refinement surely inspired Nardo’s sense of sparing decoration in his own work.There was, however, another artist who grappled with questions of realism in devotional art, of volumetric forms existing in a non-illusionistic space: Simone Martini. Active in Sienna from the second decade of the trecento,15 Simone’s most significant surviving solution to problems of realism was painted in 1333. His Annunciation, originally painted for the Duomo of Siena and now in the Uffizi in Florence,16 reflects the most original approach to the problem raised in the art of Daddi, Maso, and later, Nardo.Faced with the challenge of presenting the story of the Annunciation of the Virgin as the central rather than secondary focus of a panel painting, Simone produced a revolutionary composition of lasting influence.17 The action takes place on a bare stage. An exquisite angel has apparently just entered the Madonna’s chamber to deliver his divine message. Recoiling at his approach, the Virgin nonetheless betrays little emotion—her highly refined features remain frozen in an elegant mask. The two perform a delicate duet, a ballet in which motion comes to rest and resting forms come into motion. As the angel’s cloak hovers in the air before settling around his kneeling form, the Madonna shrinks away, her twisting gesture full of tension and implied movement.There is a palpable psychological tension, as well, between the two principals in the narrative, the more striking because so much more is implied than is explicitly stated. The relationship between angel and Virgin is more profoundly expressed in this pantomime than in any literally rendered description.Simone chose to heighten the emotional key through his formal treatment as well. Using a language of deliberately juxtaposed solids and voids, Simone far earlier than any other painter recognized the potential of such a device. The junctures between forms and space create a series of lines that slip and slide across the picture surface with a life of their own quite apart from the marvelous shapes they are defining. The boundaries separating gold from figure, and one cloth from another, interact with dynamic tension.Simone, then, provided examples that would preoccupy Nardo some twenty years later. Simone’s Annunication presented a daringly large and empty filed of gold and remarkably lifelike yet elegantly majestic beings; the forceful and deliberate juxtaposition of the two produced a fusion that was the first supremely decorative alternative to Giotto’s heroic style. His luminous images must have dazzled and inspired the younger Nardo both for their decorative effect and for the haunting impact of Simone’s masklike faces that only hinted at the thoughts behind their enigmatic eyes.But Simone was not the only Sienese painter to influence Nardo. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, whose Good and Bad Government cycle in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, was painted about 1330, clearly affected Nardo’s ideas about grace and movement. The sensuous women who move with such grace in Nardo’s paintings clearly have their antecedent in Ambrogio’s Siena frescoes. If we compare Ambrogio’s S. Petronilla altarpiece of about 133518 with several fleshly, sensuous feminine profiles in Nardo’s fresco, the relationship between Nardo and Ambrogio instantly becomes clear.From this survey, we can see that the 1330s were a watershed period for Tuscan painting. In this decade, painters had begun to re-orient themselves, taking their painting in new directions that were antithetical to the monumental yet fundamentally humane orientation of Giotto’s painting. This decade produced the painters—Daddi, Maso, Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti—who would have the greatest impact on Nardo’s painting. The Sienese had the most advanced theoretical basis for their art; moving easily between realism and abstraction, they demonstrated in a powerful and original fashion that picture-making was a bridge between one world and another, belonging to neither.Nardo was one of their most ardent and gifted Florentine admirers. While he never abandoned a Florentine disposition towards the monumental seriousness of Giotto’s art, he nevertheless had a deep affinity for Ambrogio’s sensuousness and Simone’s emphatically decorative style. More than any Florentine painter of his century, Nardo expressed a gentle lyricism, introducing a tranquil note rarely found in Florentine painting.The major elements of Nardo’s style, then, come from paintings that preceded the Black Death by almost two decades. Maso, Simone, Martini, and Ambrogio Lorenzetti had already taken many of the steps which would, in Nardo’s art, take us to the style still identified so closely with this cataclysmic event. But, as we have discovered, Nardo’s style must have been formed prior to the disruption of day-to-day life that the plague produced.Nardo’s surviving work shows no dramatic shift in style that could be identified as a response to a gloomier and more pessimistic world. In fact, his frescoes, coming as they do in the wake of the plague, seem rather a reaffirmation of earthly joys and pleasures—pleasures that were perhaps fragile, but no less cherished, than before. Life in Nardo’s Paradise is expressed in completely human terms—a poignant evocation of the glories of this life and an ardent hope that they would be extended into the next.Granted, Nardo’s Minneapolis Madonna is different from the art of Giotto’s time in style and in its relation to the viewer. But we have seen that a gradual shift in style and emphasis took place in the art of Daddi, Maso di Banco, and Simone Martini in the two decades preceding the Black Death. Thus, while the plague no doubt deeply affected most Florentines and probably turned their attention more fervently than before to the magical powers of religious images, Nardo himself most likely relied on his predecessors in formulating his paintings. Thus, in this case at least, historical events and art are less closely linked than has been thought.Nevertheless, Nardo’s talents and his importance, as his Minneapolis Madonna shows, were great. Guided by the examples noted above, Nardo created something entirely new. Majestic and solemn, Nardo’s Madonna holds us in her spell. The image is beautiful, its formal language perfect. But the decorative effects are sparing, the sensual pleasures limited. Nardo, more than any painter before or since, shifted the emphasis to his picture’s compelling, pensive mood. The very essence of this picture is meditative; Nardo engaged the viewer, then helped him to lose himself so that through his contemplation he could be transported into the mystical realm his Madonna represents.Nardo forged a bond between viewer and image that remains unique in the history of art, which is neither a reiteration of the old, hieratic formula where worshipper and image were eternally separate, nor a continuation of Giotto’s dramatic involvement of viewer and image in related spatial contexts. Standing before Nardo’s Madonna the worshipper is caught up on the spirit of the image. Nardo’s was a rare gift indeed, to understand the potential inherent in his art and thereby invent a new and mystical relationship between object and viewer. This, above all else, remains Nardo’s greatest legacy.Adelheid M. Gealt is Curator of the Indiana University Art Museum. She wrote her Indiana University doctoral dissertation on Lorenzo di Niccolo. Publications Dr. Gealt has contributed to include Burlington Magazine, Art News, The Academic American Encyclopedia, and Festschrift for Diether Thimme.Endnotes
  1. Tempera on panel, 38 1/2 x 17 1/8 x 7/8 (97.79 x 43.50 x 2.22 cm), bequest of Miss Tessie Jones in memory of Herschel V. Jones, 68.41.7. The panel has survived in unusually good condition.
    For a catalogue entry, see European Paintings in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1970, no. 200. For a more complete bibliographic entry, see R. Offner, Corpus of Florentine Painting, sec. 4, vol. 2 (New York, 1962), pp. 28-29.
    Nardo’s standing Madonna is one of the most beautiful examples of a relatively rare image type in trecento painting. Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death (Princeton, 1951), suggests (p. 42, fig. 51) that Nardo’s Madonna is the first of a new crop of such images in the second half of the trecento, an example of the revolution in art that took place after the Black Death. He does not list the images of this type executed in the frist half of the trecento. At least five of the known surviving examples (see list below) were produced prior to Nardo’s image: the early Florentine example, the Lorenzetti School, the Duccio School, the Daddi follower, and the Taddeo Gaddi workshop. Further, three of the surviving images are small portable ones, a type most often copied from images found on large important works. It is therefore likely that Nardo and subsequent generations of painters had numerous examples of the standing Madonna available to them. It is also likely that there existed a fairly unbroken tradition for the image type. The relationships between such painted images and sculpted ones need further exploration.
    Offner, Corpus, suggests that Nardo’s panel was part of a dismembered polyptych. Most of the known images survive as single panels. Since so few panels survive, it is possible that all have experienced dismemberment, but (see list below) it is also possible that the panels were meant to stand alone, much as the sculpted images did. Since no single panel appears to survive in situ, we have no firm way of knowing how these images were meant to hang. However, these panels may have functioned in a manner similar to those images of saints (also single panels) that hung on pillars within churches.Arezzo, Pinacoteca, no. 13
    Niccolo di Tommaso
    (R. Fremantle, Florentine Gothic Painters [London, 1975], no. 343).Arezzo, formerly Chs. Kaufman, Paris
    (D. Shorr, The Christ Child in Devotional Images in Italy during the XIV Century [New York, 1954], nos. 18, 21).Cortona, (formerly Uffizi no. 3144), Museo dell’Accademia Etrucca
    School of T. Gaddi, shutter for small tabernacle
    (L. Marcucci, I dipinti Toscani del secolo XIV [Rome, 1965], no. 32).Florence, Horne Museum, no. 67
    Early 14th-century Tuscan
    (Garrison, Italian Romanesque Panel Painting [Florence, 1949], no. 45).Florence, Berenson Collection
    School of P. Lorenzetti, Reliquary panel
    (Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Central & North Italian Schools [London, 1968], vol. 2, fig. 85).Florence, SS, Apostoli
    Jacopo di Cione
    (O. Siren, Giotto & Some of His Followers, vol. 2 [Cambridge, 1917], pl. 188).Florence, Private Collection
    Orcagnesque Master
    (D. Shorr, Christ Images, nos. 18,25).Florence, sig. Luigi Albrighini
    Master of the Fabriano Altar
    (Offner, Corpus, vol. 3, p. 203).Florence, S. Martino a Mensola
    Central panel of triptych
    (Fremantle, Florentine Painters, no. 565).Lentini, SS. Maria e Alfio
    Sicilian, early 14th century
    (Garrison, Romanesque Painting, no. 46).Peccioli, S. Verano
    Florentine, late 13th century
    (Garrison, Romanesque Painting, no. 47).Rome, S. Silvetro al Quirinale
    Roman, third quarter 13th century
    (Garrison, Romanesque Painting, no. 48).Rome, Private Collection
    Sicilian (?), second half 13th century
    (Garrison, Romanesque Painting, no. 49).Rome, Pinacoteca Vaticana, no. 14
    Giovanni del Biondo
    (Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, The Florentine School [London, 1963], no. 298).Tyninghame, Earl of Haddington
    Naddo Ceccarelli, central panel of small triptych
    (Berenson, Central & North Italian Schools, vol. 2, fig. 322).Yale University Art Gallery (Griggs Bequest)
    Daddi follower
    (C. Seymour, Early Italian Painting in the Yale University Art Gallery [New Haven, 1970], no. 11).Location unknown
    School of Duccio
    (D. Shorr, Christ Images, type 22).
  2. The most thorough bibliographic and iconographic study of Nardo’s work is found in Offner, Corpus. Offner’s study does not include an examination of Nardo’s stylistic origins or a detailed discussion of the formal implications of Nardo’s individual paintings.
  3. For a thorough and readable recent account of Europe during these troubled decades, see B. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (New York, 1978). See also G. Deaux, The Black Death, 1347 (London, 1969) or G. G. Coulton, The Black Death (London, 1929). For a summary of the plague’s effects on various populations, see J. Larner, Culture and Society in Italy 1290-1420 (New York, 1971), p. 124.
  4. The source of this undisputed thesis is Millard Meiss’s groundbreaking book, Painting in Florence & Siena after the Black Death (Princeton, 1951).
  5. It is true that Orcagna, especially, had many followers in Florence (among them, Niccolo di Tommaso, Giovanni del Biondo, Niccolo di Pietro Gerini, and Andrea da Firenze who favored a flat, decorative style). It is now becoming evident that stylistic developments in trecento Florence are not that simple. A second (still unstudied) group of painters (principally, Antonio Venziano, Giovanni Bonzi, Niccolo di ser Sozzo Tegliacci, and Spinello Aretino) owe a great deal to Nardo, and these painters (who also number among them the late Taddeo Gaddi) retained an attitude toward monumental naturalism and favored greater volume and physical palpability in their paintings. These painters were largely responsible for fostering the developments of early Renaissance painting.
    For examples of their work see: R. Fremantle, Florentine Gothic Painters (London, 1975). See also M. Boskovits, Pittura Fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento (Florence, 1975); and B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, The Florentine School, revised ed. (London, 1963), 2 vols., B. Berenson, Italian Painters of the Renaissance, Central and North Italian Schools, revised ed. (London, 1968), 3 vols.
  6. For a survey of all known documents, see Offner, Corpus, pp. 3-4. See also Sir Dominic Colnaghi, A Dictionary of Florentine Painters (London, 1928), pp. 192-3.
    For a discussion of the Guild of S. Luke, see Larner, Italy 1290-1420, p. 299. The standard study of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali is R. Ciasca’s L’Arte dei Medici e Speziale (Florence, 1927). See also I Huek, “Le matricole dei pittori fiorentini prima e dopo il 1320,” Bollentino d’Arte, April-June 1972, pp. 114-21.
  7. They are as follows:
    Triptych (dismembered): central panel, Coronation of the Virgin, London, V&A; side panels, Munich, Pinakothek.
    Triptych (portable): National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Kress 372.
    Polyptych: Prague, Narodini Galene.
    Triptych: National Gallery, London.
    Panel with Crucifixion: Florence, Uffizi.
    Panels, two saints: Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
    Panel, Madonna and Child with Saints: New York Historical Society, now Metropolitan.
    Fragment, Christ Blessing: Paris, formerly Montor Collection.
    Predella panels of St. Benedict: Stockholm, National Museum; Berenson Collection, Florence.
    Panel, Crucifixion: Germany, Private Collection.
    See Offner, Corpus.
  8. See Offner, Corpus, p. 47, n. 2.
  9. An interesting survey of the appearance of brocaded silk cloth in trecento Italian painting has been made by B. Klesse, Seidenstoffe in der italienischen Malerei des 14 Jahrhunderts (Bern, 1964).
    The pattern in the Minneapolis Madonna is duly recorded as no. 2°1, p. 342 and illustrated as fig. 197. While the purpose of Klesse’s work is to trace the use of silk cloth in altarpieces, some of the fundamental changes in this development have not been noted in her survey. Among these changes, critical to Nardo, is the appearance of brocaded cloth over the ground plane. This is clearly a formal device of utmost importance since it helps to diminish dramatically the spatial recession created by the more three-dimensional figure and thereby heighten the tension within the picture.
    Klesse does not enlighten us as to the possible origins of this device. The earliest surviving datable appearance seems to be Bernardo Daddi’s use of brocade in his Santa Maria Novella polyptych, see Fremantle, Florentine Painting, fig. 119 (signed and dated 1344). Klesse does note Meiss’s contention that the use of brocaded cloth is a conscious revival of duegento imagery by later artists. The popularity of silks and brocades in trecento painting from Giotto, Duccio and the Lorenzetti on, however, leaves this notion open to question. Moreover, the appearance of brocaded cloth on the ground plane (something that is a common feature of Orcagna school paintings) is rarely found in surviving duegento images (only the Pisan standing saint, Pisa, Museu Civico, #4; Garrison, Romanesque Painting, no. 399, appears to have this as a distinguishing feature). The use of brocaded patterns on floor planes is apparently more popular among the Florentines than among the Sienese, with the earliest datable example being the Daddi mentioned above.
  10. Artists normally entered a guild after completing their apprenticeships. Although no exact length of time has been assigned to their training, seven years was the most typical apprenticeship. Once independent, the artist would join the guild in order to pursue his craft as a master. Therefore, it is logical to assume that if Nardo entered the guild in roughly 1343, then he must have completed his apprenticeship shortly before that date. For a summary of these problems, see Larner, Italy 1290-1420, pp. 298-303.
    Nardo’s name is recorded in the codex of the Arte de Medici e Speziali in a notary’s hand—whose inscriptions begin in 1343 and end in 1346. We can safely assume, therefore, that Nardo’s entry took place in this three year time space. Given Nardo’s appearance on the Pistoia document of 1347, we can safely assume that he had already been an accomplished master by that date, allowing us to deduce a fairly early matriculation into the Arte—roughly 1343.
  11. For a thoroughly readable and useful survey of Giotto’s role in the development of Florentine painting, see B. Cole, Giotto and Florentine Painting (New York, 1976).
  12. For Daddi, see Colnaghi, Dictionary, p. 84, no. 1.
  13. For these paintings, see Fremantle, Florentine Painters, figs. 119-120.
  14. Not much is known about Maso’s training. Most likely he matriculated in the Arte de Medici e Speziali around 1320-1330, indicating that he was at least a decade older than Nardo. Several documents indicate he died during or just after the plague. See Colnaghi, Dictionary, p. 174, no. 47; Fremantle, Florentine Painters, pp. 125-34; Berenson, Florentine Schools, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 135-6. See also D. Wilkins, PhD. Dissertation, U. of Michigan, 1972, pp. 150-1; app. 1, no. 1&2.
  15. See G. Contini, L’Opera Completa de Simone Martini (Milan, 1970). See also Berenson, Central and North Italian Schools, vol. 1, pp. 401-2, pls 117-135.
  16. See L. Marcucci, Gallerie Nazionale di Firenze, I Dipinto Toscani del secolo XIV (Rome, 1965), no. 108, pl. 108.
  17. Something of this painting’s importance can be ascertained by the many copies that were made from it. At least seven copies (and probably more) were made by subsequent generations of painters:
    1) Donato Martini, Berlin, Stattlich Museen; repr. in C. de Benedictis, La Pittura Senese, 1330-1370 (Florence, 1979), fig. 48.
    2) Francesco Vannuncio, Cambridge, Girton College; Berenson, Central & North Italian Schools, vol. 2, fig. 383.
    3) Andrea Vanni, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge; Berenson, Central & North Italian Schools, vol. 2, fig. 383.
    4) Attr. Andrea di Bartolo, Buonconvento, Museo d’arte Sacra della Valdarbia; repr. in catalogue for Mostra di Opere d’Arte Restaurate neele Province di Siena e Grosetto (Genoa, 1979), no. 36.
    5) Niccola da Voltri, S&D, 1401, Rome, Vatican Pinacoteca; Berenson, Central & North Italian Schools, no. 283.
    6) Taddeo di Bartolo, d. 1409, Pinacoteca, Siena; see P. Torriti, La Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena (Genoa, 1977), no. 131.
    7) Matteo di Giovanni, Siena, S. Pietro Ovile; see B. Berenson, Homeless Paintings of the Renaissance (Bloomington, 1970).
  18. See Torriti, La Pinacoteca, no. 77.
    For a survey of Ambrogio, see A. Rowley, Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Princeton, 1958).
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Nardo di Cione
    Italian, active about 1343-1366
    The Standing Madonna with the Child
    Tempera type on panel, 38 1/2 x 17 1/8 x 7/8
    Bequest of Miss Tessie Jones in memory of Herschel V. Jones, 68.41.7
  2. Nardo di Cione
    Last Judgment, detail
    Florence, S. Maria Novella, Strozzi Chapel
    Photo: Alinari 17232
  3. Nardo di Cione
    Paradise, detail
    Florence, S. Maria Novella, Strozzi Chapel
    Photo: Alinari 4060
  4. Giotto de Bondone
    Italian, 1266/7-1336/7
    Ognissanti Madonna
    Florence, Uffizi
    Photo: Alinari 1502
  5. Bernardo Daddi
    Italian, 1290(?)-1348/51
    Portable Triptych with Madonna and Scenes from the Life of Christ, signed and dated 1333
    Florence, Museo Bigalio
    Photo: Alinari 4779
  6. Maso di Banco
    Italian, active 1341/50-
    Center Panel of Solly Polyptch, Madonna and Child
    Berlin, Gemaldegalerie
    Photo: courtesy of the museum
  7. Simone Martini
    Italian, 1283(?)-1344
    Annunication, signed and dated 1333
    Florence, Uffzi
    Photo: Alinari 820
  8. Ambrogio Lorenzetti
    Italian, (?)-1348
    Madonna and Child with Sts. Dorothy and Mary Magdalene
    Siena, Pinacoteca
    Photo: Foto Grassi
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Source: Adelheid M. Gealt, "Nardo di Cione's Standing Madonna with the Child," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 64 (1978-1980): 68-79.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009