Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints
Tempera on wood, 191 x 200 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
by Domenico Ghirlandaio (b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze)
The painting depicting the Madonna
enthroned with Saints was painted for the church of San Giusto.
Altar paintings depicting the Virgin Mary and Christ together with several saints were common in Ghirlandaio's day. In Renaissance Italy, enthroned Madonnas, surrounded by saints, were extremely popular. In such a picture, which was called a Sacra Conversazione, or "holy conversation", it was possible to combine various saints in accordance with the requirements of the individual donors and church representatives. The donor's patron saint would, for example, be depicted next to the main patron saint of the church or altar, or the founder of an order. It is frequently possible to tell, by looking at the depicted saints, which church a painting was in and to which order the church belonged. The choice of saints could in effect be extended to include, for example, the patron saints of a town or guild.
Two such works by Ghirlandaio are now in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence . In both pictures the Christ Child is depicted in a similar posture, his hand raised in blessing. In the earlier painting with the tied back curtain, in Lucca Cathedral, Ghirlandaio depicted all the saints in a standing position. But in the later works the two saints at the front are kneeling. This makes a better use of the surface of the picture and at the same time achieves a more interesting arrangement of figures by creating a pyramidal composition formed by the kneeling saints and the Madonna. The panels in the Uffizi are filled with decorative accessories, such as the carpets on the steps leading up to the throne and the flower vases, and these were surely influenced by Flemish works. The depictions of the Madonna are, however, still in keeping with Verrocchio's models.
The picture is composed in a strictly symmetrical manner. The archangel Michael in shining armor is similar to St Julian in Ghirlandaio's earliest Sacra Conversazione in Sant' Andrea a Brozzi. The trees are a quotation of the Last Supper in Ognissanti, and the carpet is similar to the table covering in the Ognissanti St Jerome.