Madonna delle stelle (c.1575-1585)

Tintoretto, Jacopo (1518-1594)

Madonna delle stelle (The Madonna of the Stars)
Oil on canvas, 92.7 x 72.7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

This is one of a small group of loosely related paintings of the Madonna and Child that have been linked to Jacopo Tintoretto. It is evident that several different hands were involved in the production of these pictures, which vary in degree of quality. Some were undoubtedly painted in Tintoretto’s studio, while others may be by followers outside the shop. Of the group, the Gallery’s picture is the only one with a plausible claim to be at least in part by Jacopo Tintoretto. Within the painting, certain areas are handled more skillfully than others. While the face of the Virgin is confidently rendered and convincingly three-dimensional, the hands, an important compositional element, do not show the same care. Jacopo may have participated in the painting’s execution to some extent, either leaving the peripheral areas to an assistant, or perhaps correcting and completing the assistant’s work after the figures had been worked up. Alternatively, the entire work may have been executed by a member of the studio skilled at mimicking Tintoretto’s types and technique. Since the canvas may have been cut down, it is unclear whether the original composition was significantly different. Similar extant paintings suggest that it might have been only slightly larger, standing in the long Venetian tradition of half-length Madonnas. However, the presence of the heavenly light and cherubim raises the possibility that the Virgin was originally seated on a crescent moon, as seen in several other versions by Tintoretto and his followers. Shown from the knees up, a seated woman is surrounded by an arch of disembodied, winged baby heads as she gazes down at an infant lying across her lap in this vertical painting. They all have pale, peachy skin, and are placed against a honey-gold background. The floating heads are all angled inward to face the woman. The woman sits on straw-yellow clouds that billow up from the lower right corner, and more clouds fill the upper corners around the floating heads. The woman and baby take up most of the canvas. The woman’s knees are angled to our left but her upper body turns to us. Her hands are together, fingertips touching and coming toward us. Her chestnut-brown hair is pulled back and gathered at the back of her head, and is covered by a translucent white veil that falls to her shoulders. Her shoulders and upper arms are wrapped in an ivory-white shawl over a fawn-brown dress with rose-pink sleeves. Pale yellow stars create a ring around her head, which tilts down as she gazes toward the child with large brown eyes. The plump baby lies on his back, with his head resting on the woman’s right leg, farther from us. He has short, brown hair with dark eyes looking straight up. The white cloth on which he lies wraps around his midsection and upper thighs. One hand rests on his belly and the other by his side, and his chubby knees are bent over the woman’s leg. (NGA)