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Madonna and Child, Paolo Veneziano’s Interpretation

Updated November 19, 2020
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Madonna and Child, Paolo Veneziano’s Interpretation essay

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In the month of October, me and my family went to the Norton Simon Museum (NSM) so I could work on my art history college homework. The guidelines say I need to make an analysis on a painting and its artist. We looked around the museum for a long time before I could find a painting and to analyze an artist that was before 1350 AD. We found an exhibit room that had fourteenth century art, with some paintings to pick from. The painting that stood out to me, and the one I decided to go with, was a painting called “Madonna and Child.” The painting depicts a woman, on a throne, holding her baby while it stands on one of her knees, and what looks like a shield shaped fabric behind them with two golden circles between them that depicted holy-ness. The painting takes place somewhere golden, like a castle, though it only shows a woman and child on the throne taking up the center space.

The woman is wearing a crown, and a blue robe with gold icons spread out with a similar red dress under it, while the baby is wearing a brown cloth like old Greek gods. The painting is arranged as if it were for a church, with the woman placed in the center, as she is the focus of the painting. The frame of the painting is carved and detailed. It’s a Tempera and Gold Leaf on the Panel with the painting that was made in 1340 by Paolo Veneziano, an artist well known for his Byzantine style of art. With a size of 43-5/8 x 24-3/8 in. (110.8 x 61.9 cm), the painting was made with its movement being Proto Renaissance, a movement when the artist made paintings that was close to being realistic which happened before the Renaissance movement itself. I chose this painting because the gold leaf caught my eye and drew me to it. Like many curious people, you may have one or two questions about Veneziano and the painting. Is the painting something worth looking at, and how great of an artist is Veneziano?

To start, let’s view the painting itself. The painting uses two different type of lines, straight lines and curved lines. The straight lines are used on some parts of the throne, the woman, the baby, and clothing, while the rest, including the pendent on top of the woman’s chest and the chair fabric has curved lines. There’s a branch that the baby holds which is a curved line at the bottom while looking at a straight line on the rest. These lines would help give the painting different shapes, like both organic and geometric shapes, or even biomorphic shapes. The combination of both organic and geometric shapes is used for the objects like the throne since they are not living beings. The mother and the baby are biomorphic shapes since they are humans.

The open color palette was used so Veneziano could use more than three colors for what is needed. When subtracting the gold color as it uses the Gold Leaf on Panel material, the colors needed from more to less are blue, copper-gold, red, a light cyan-green, white, brown, and black. Its color scheme is having colors like cyan-green, blue, and red be used for things like the woman’s clothing and the throne with the rest having the gold color. This is so the things like the woman would be noticeable as the colors help them be different from the rest of the painting. The textures of objects like the light cyan-green part of the throne and the clothes may look like visual textures (though with the woman’s clothing its less of a visual texture), but they do feel like actual textures. I feel like I can touch the objects like the silk of woman’s clothing and feel its texture, including the part of the throne which it’s look remind me of Disney’s Pinocchio as it looks like something Geppetto would have carved out of wood. With the textures on everything else, the gold circles are more on the visual weight side, and it isn’t from how the gold circles are represented to be light, it’s how they don’t look like they have texture on them making them look paper-like. With its spacing, it is created by having everything in the middle, nothing on the left and right but only the middle, allowing the gold background to show itself.

I’ve talked a lot about the analysis of the painting, and I’m going to talk about the Principles of Designs that are used in it. Beginning with the unity, the fabric that’s part of the throne doesn’t seem to fit, as it looks like it’s floating or hanging behind the woman and baby. The gold circles look like they were just stamped there for both the human to have their heads in front of. The way the baby is standing upright makes it look like it’s a god or a hero, making it look like it wasn’t meant to be a baby, making him look like he was meant for a different painting. With the rest of the painting, everything fit well just fine as things like the woman and the throne look like that they can be in the same place. For if it has variety, it’s a little more of yes and a little of no. I say yes more due the painting having something to look at like the woman, the baby, and the background including the details and how the gold color is used a lot, but I say no less since those are what it offers and not more, having the painting look like a quick look at. I know that there’s the frame that surrounds the painting, and it shows some good detail to look at, but that’s more outside the painting. When talking about the painting’s balance, the visual weight does have the correct weight for these objects.

The woman and the throne look like they can be heavy if they were real, as they are the biggest parts of the painting. The baby would be the least heavy as it is the smallest human in the painting. The cloth would be the lightest because it looks like it’s hanging or floating as said before. The golden background does feel heavy thanks to what might be a clear line break, which you can find closely at the bottom left of the throne where the end of the woman’s dress is. This line makes the wall look like it’s close to the throne, making the wall’s proportion look bigger than the throne, because if it wasn’t there, then not only would there be less proportion, but it would also make the throne look like it’s floating somewhere in the atmosphere. The symmetrical and asymmetrical balance are noticeable when you look closely at the painting. The symmetrical balance is the background, the bottom half of the cloth, and the throne. As they look identical to each other on both the left and right sides. The asymmetrical part of the painting is the woman, the baby, some markings on the throne, and the top half of the chair fabric. They are not identical on the top of the chair. Another example is the woman’s face as it is almost completely shown on the left side of the painting, while the baby itself is only on the left.

The emphasis has two things that grabbed me looking at the painting the most. The two are the woman’s blue and red clothes as the colors fit well together with the gold icons and patterns all over, and the large need of the color gold on things like the cloth, the glowing circles, the background, and the frame as it makes the painting look like a treasure. The subornation would be the fabric and the gold circles due to what I said before. The scale does show how the objects are big or small, the woman is the biggest compared to the baby, but the throne is a little smaller than the woman, and the fabric is medium-large size as we can see with it behind the woman. The proportions of what’s in the painting does look like they’re the right size, with only one of them, the woman, looking like she’s a little bigger than the throne. The throne looks like it’s close to the wall behind it, the woman, the throne, and the fabric are bigger than the baby as it is small, and the fabric is medium-large to large sized. The rhythm of the painting would be the massive amount of the gold color that was used. It gives the painting a reason to be looked at thanks to the gold color used for many things like the icons on the woman’s blue clothes, the wall, the crown, the fabric, the pendant, the frame of the painting, and more.

Now let’s go through the history of the artist, the time period of the art, and the art style that was used. Paolo Veneziano was born in Venice, Italy, though there was no actual birth year, most people have said it was in the year 1300. According to Evelyn Sandberg Vavala on her article “Maestro Paolo Veneziano” from “The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs”, she says that “His birth cannot be even remotely estimated, as the various records are all in relation to payments and commissions, and fail to give us any personnel information, such as the dates of his marriage or of the birth of his sons (Vavala 160).” His father’s name was Martino, but his mother’s name was unknown. His father’s name was known because he and his other son and Paolo’s brother, Marco, were both artists. But out of the three, Paolo is the only one to have his art known. Paolo was married and had four children, Giovanni, Luca, Marco, and Gregorio. His sons would sometimes help him out on some of his paintings at the workshop, which is a part of why he’s well-known. According to Miklos Boskovits on his article, “Paolo Veneziano”, from the National Gallery of Art Online Editions database, he says that “The fame of his workshop is documented by prestigious commissions not only for the most important churches of Venice and of the Venetian mainland territories but also for churches in Bologna and for towns on the Adriatic coast (both Italian and Dalmatian)(Boskovits 1).” Paolo Veneziano died in September 1362.

Veneziano’s artwork was created during the Pre-Renaissance time period which was any art that was created between the years 1300-1400 in Italy. This time period pioneered a new form of art called “Figurative Realism”, where a person is drawn to be real as they are the focus. Veneziano’s art was “Byzantine Art”, which was influenced by religious expression murals during the Renaissance time period. Veneziano’s style during this time period was known as “Gothic Art”, which was noted as combined with the Byzantine style, for the first time by Veneziano. In page 59 of the book “Art in Venice” edited by Zuffi Stefano, she said that “-The brilliant coloring and markedly linear style of Paolo’s paintings suggest that he was moving towards Gothic, and by the fifteenth century Venice was ready to embrace the innovations of what is called the “International Gothic” style (Stefano 59).” This Gothic shape style, which I wrote about earlier, includes tempera on gold leaf panels. Because Paolo Veneziano’s father was an artist, he grew up with his father’s artistic influences and methods during the Pre-Renaissance period. Due to his artistic upbringing during this period when the Byzantine style was popular, Veneziano used this style in his rendition of “Madonna and Child.”

Now let’s end by talking about the other parts of the painting. The material is the Gold Leaf on the Panel and the techniques used is Tempera. The gold leaf in the name is actual gold, just turned into thin gold paper-like objects through a mashing tool. The process of making the Gold Leaf on Panel painting would be to paint some sticky substance that’s used for art like this on where you want to paint on the gold leaf sheet, then use a simple tool after a while to place it on the gold leaf gently, and using a gilding brush, a brush used for metal sheets, to smooth out the gold leaf. The tempura technique, which other parts of the world used in the past, uses paint that is made of two things combined: anything that can be dissolved, and an item based on one color.

The subject matter is “Madonna and Child”, the woman and the baby. The reason for this is how artists from the 14th century were making art around “Figurative Realism” and how it was to make the main person of the painting to look closely real. So, if that is what Veneziano was going for, then it would make sense for the woman and the baby to be almost real looking while being the center of the painting. The reason why the painting was made is hard to say. The only reason that could be possible would be that Veneziano wanted to do a Proto-Renaissance art in the Byzantine style. The iconography used in the painting are the flower like symbols on the fabric (when looked closely) and the woman’s blue dress. The reason for this would be that it’s all over the blue dress and the fabric, and by looking at the symbols, they look like if they are a representation of something royal. While trying to figure out the purpose of the painting being made, the description about the painting in the NSM says that the baby was holding a branch, saying that it represents the baby’s life and the end of it, making this another iconography itself.

After looking through all of this, analyzing the painting, learning about the artist and the time period of the art, the art style wasn’t a disappointment. The painting does have things that I didn’t like, but it’s still a nice painting to look at. I was interested in knowing about Veneziano’s history, what the Proto-Renaissance time period was, and learning about the Byzantine Art. So, this would hopefully answer the two questions you were wondering about, and I hope you become interested in the topics. I would recommend this painting to those that are into the art of old, or those interested in religious art. I would also recommend this to those who are interested in becoming an artist or art historians, as they can learn the interesting history of the work of Veneziano or to help them feel ready to create their own paintings. While both Paolo Veneziano and his “Madonna and Child” art aren’t the only best artist and painting in the art media, they are a good example of how a masterpiece and its creator can become well-known.

Works Cited Page

  1. Boskovits, Miklos. Paolo Veneziano. National Gallery of Art Online Education, 2016.
  2. Vavala, Evenlyn S. Maestro Paolo Veneziano. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 1930.
  3. Stefano, Zuffi. Art in Venice. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999.
Madonna and Child, Paolo Veneziano’s Interpretation essay

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Madonna and Child, Paolo Veneziano’s Interpretation. (2020, Nov 19). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/madonna-and-child-paolo-venezianos-interpretation/

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