Madonna Salting (1460-1469)

Antonello da Messina (c.1430-1479)

Madonna Salting (The Virgin and Child)
Oil on wood, 43.2 x 34.3 cm
National GalleryLondon

The Virgin Mary glances down at her baby son, Christ, who clutches a pomegranate in his tiny fist. The fruit, with its blood-red juice, was a reminder of the torture and death he would face at the Crucifixion.

Mary was also known as the Queen of Heaven, and her coronation by Christ was a popular subject in Renaissance painting. Here, two tiny hovering angels place a solid gold crown encrusted with pearls and gemstones upon her head. The crown’s magnificence matches that of her brocade gown, jewelled cloak and translucent veil.

The excess of decorative detail reflects paintings by fifteenth-century Netherlandish artists who relished depicting a variety of textures and finishes accurately, something enabled through their great skill at painting using oil. Our painting is certainly by an artist hoping to evoke the style of his Northern European counterparts. (NG)