Unknown Venetian Artist

Unknown Venetian Artist

The Madonna Enthroned with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Mary Magdalen

Venice, late 14th century

Tempera on wood

27.2 x 40 cm

This is a fully intact, portable triptych (painting of three parts). Most early Italian paintings were divided to be sold more easily on the art market and now only exist as fragments. The Barber has one other complete triptych, the Deposition from the circle of Rogier van der Weyden, from about 1450.

The outer panels of this small triptych fold inwards and on the reverse are two figures. One is an unnamed female saint, and the other is a Dominican monk; this may be a clue to the identity of the original owner.

In the centre of the triptych is the Virgin Mary on a throne, with Christ seated on her lap. She sits in front of a richly embroidered tapestry with a geometric design. Byzantine tapestries became popular in Venice from the thirteenth century when these luxury objects arrived from overseas.

On the left panel, John the Baptist holds a parchment with Latin letters that relate to ECCE AGNUS DEI (‘Behold the Lamb of God’ from John 1:29). He points towards the child on Mary’s lap, leading the viewer to contemplate Christ as the Lamb of God.

On the right panel, notice how Mary Magdalene’s body is cocooned in her own blond hair. It miraculously grew to cover her nakedness while she lived as a hermit in the desert.

Above the outer figures is a small motif of the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will conceive Christ. The triptych reveals both the promise of Christ’s birth in these outer wings, and the fulfilment of the promise in the central panel.

Purchased 1960 (No. 60.5)

Further reading:

Joana Antunes, ‘The Late-Medieval Mary Magdalene: Sacredness, Otherness, and Wildness’, in Mary Magdalene in Medieval Culture: Conflicted Roles, ed. Peter V. Loewen and Robin Waugh, London, 2014, pp. 116-40.

Keith Christiansen, Duccio and the Origins of Western Painting, New York, 2008.

Angeliki Lymberopoulou, ‘Late and Post-Byzantine Art under Venetian Rule: Frescoes versus Icons, and Crete in the Middle’. in A Companion to Byzantium, ed. Liz James, West Sussex, 2019, pp. 351-370.

Victor Michael Schmidt, Painted Piety: Panel Paintings for Personal Devotion, Florence, 2005.

John Witty and Laura Llewellyn (eds.), Paolo Veneziano: Art & Devotion in 14th-century Venice, New York, 2021.

The Green Gallery Project

This artwork was part of a research project into the Barber’s pre-1600 Italian paintings.