Madonna and Child, 1295–1300
This panel painting represents an innovation in the history of western European painting and a moment in religious iconography: depiction of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus in Byzantine icons was traditionally symbolic. In the past, the figures were not humanized, but represented the qualities of divine beings and episodes in sacred history. This painting from the late 13th century by Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsega, in contrast, expresses the emotions of love and tenderness between mother and child. The infant Jesus returns the Madonna's placid but intense gaze. The painter depicted Jesus in a life-like, natural pose with his toes touching his mother's hand, one foot slightly raised as he reaches up to play with the folds of his mother's veil, almost touching her cheek. The artist retained many of the features of iconographic painting, including the use of gold background, the basic composition of the two figures, but added a humanizing element. Although the figure of the Christ child in this panel is more playful than in previous artistic depictions, his physique is still more that of a middle-aged man than a baby. This typical representation of children also donning adult clothing is what led to the widespread assumption that childhood as a separate stage of life did not exist. However, recent research that draws upon a wide range of primary sources—iconography, archaeology, letters, romances, pedagogical texts, miracle accounts, and law codes—reveals that children were regarded as vulnerable and in need of special protection. Examinations of the everyday lives of children demonstrate, for example, that orphans were protected from abuse by medieval laws and that sick children received different medical treatments than adults.
Madonna and Child, ca. 1295–1300, Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, active by 1278, died 1318) Tempera and gold on wood, with original engaged frame; 11 x 8 1/8 in. (28.0 x 20.8 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/07/eust/ho_2004.442.htm (accessed March 23, 2009).