Madonna Benson (c.1475)

Antonello da Messina (c.1430-1479)

Madonna Benson (Madonna and Child)
Oil and tempera on panel, 58.1 x 43.2 cm
National Gallery of ArtWashington

Shown from the waist up, a young woman embraces a baby in this vertical painting. They both have peachy skin, reddish-blond hair, and round faces. The woman is angled to our left and almost takes up the height of the painting. She looks down with gray eyes through lowered lids, under slender, arched brows. She has a straight nose and her pale pink lips are closed. Barely visible, a thin dotted white line spans her brow. A few loose, copper-colored tendrils frame her face under an azure-blue mantle that drapes over her head, shoulders, and arms. Under the mantle she wears a brick-red robe with a stylized, plant-like pattern in gold on the upper bodice and the cuff we can see. Her left elbow, on our right, rests on a sage-green ledge that runs along the bottom edge of the composition, and that hand dangles over the child’s leg. Her other hand curves around the baby’s back. The child is turned to our right to face the woman. He is wrapped in a cloak the same red as the woman’s robe, and it has a thin gold border. He sits on a kelly-green cushion resting along the left side of the ledge. His head is turned to gaze off to our right with large hazel eyes under thin brows. He has a button nose and a rosy flush around his small pink mouth, which is slightly open. His right hand dips into the woman’s neckline while the other arm embraces her neck. His right leg stretches out toward her so one pudgy foot peeks out from under the red cloth. The horizon of the landscape behind them comes halfway up the painting. Sloping fields are dotted with trees. Low hills are ice blue in the hazy distance along the horizon, and the sky above is nearly white near the mountains, deepening to pale blue along the top edge. (NGA)