francesco pesellino - Virgin and Child, about 1453 - 1457

francesco pesellino (Florence, about 1422 - 1457, Florence)

Virgin and Child with a Swallow, about 1453 - 1457

Tempera on panel, 59.7 x 39.5 cm (23 1/2 x 15 9/16 in.) panel


Object details

Accession number



Frederick R. Leyland (1832–1892), shipowner and art patron, Liverpool by 1876.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from the sale of the Frederick R. Leyland collection at Christie, Manson & Woods, London on 28 May 1892 for £315 through Benjamin Franklin Stevens (1833–1902), bibliographer, bookseller and library agent. (as Filippo Lippi)


Label inscribed and printed in ink (adherred to the back of the frame): Royal Academy Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters, 1876 / Name of Artist: Filippo Lippi / Title of Work: Madonna & Child / Name and Address of Proprietor: Fredrick R. Leyland W. / 49 Princes Gate S.W.


Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters,... Winter Exhibition, Seventh Year. Exh cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1876), p. 24, no. 196. (as Fra Filippo Lippi)
Christie, Manson and Woods. Catalogue of the very valuable collection of Ancient and Modern Pictures of Frederick Richards Leyland, Esq,... (London, 28 May 1892), p. 23, lot 105. (as Filippo Lippi)
William Roberts. Memorials of Christie's: A Record of Art Sales from 1766 to 1896, vol. 2 (London, 1897), p. 190. (as Filippo Lippi)
Art Exhibition: Mrs. John L. Gardner, 152 Beacon St., Boston. Exh. cat. (Boston, 1899), p. 7, no. 11. (as Filippo Lippi)
Catalogue. Fenway Court. (Boston, 1903), p. 8. (as Filippo Lippi)
Philip Hendy. "Pesellino." Burlington Magazine 53, no. 305 (Aug., 1928), pp. 66-69, 72-74, pl. 2B. (as Pesellino)
Magda Oberschall. "Un Élève Inconnu de Fra Filippo Lippi." Gazette des Beaux-Arts (July 1930), pp. 216-22. (as a student of Filippo Lippi)
Hans MacKowsky. "Pesellino Trinity." Burlington Magazine 57, no 332 (Nov., 1930), pp. 212, 216-19, 222-23, pl. 2B. (as Piero di Lorenzo)
Philip Hendy. Catalogue of Exhibited Paintings and Drawings (Boston, 1931), pp. 257-259. (as Pesellino)
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 120.
"Pesellino's Masterpiece." The Toledo Museum of Art News, no. 110 (Dec., 1945), pp. 1-23, ill.
Morris Carter. "Mrs. Gardner & The Treasures of Fenway Court" in Alfred M. Frankfurter (ed.). The Gardner Collection (New York, 1946), pp. 55-56.
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), pp. 178-80. (as Pesellino)
Gabrielle Kopelman. "Second Thoughts." Fenway Court (1979), pp. 54-58, nos. 1-3.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 28-29. (as dated about 1440-1450)
Laurence Kanter in Hilliard Goldfarb et al. Italian Paintings and Drawings Before 1800 in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Unpublished manuscript. (Boston, 1996-2000). (as Pesellino)
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 48-49. (as Pesellino)
John Marciari. "Virgin and Child before a Rose Hedge." Italian, Spanish and French Paintings Before 1850 in the San Diego Museum of Art (San Diego, 2015), p. 68 (as Pesellino)
Paul Tucker. A Connoisseur and his Clients: The Correspondence of Charles Fairfax Murray with Frederic Burton, Wilhelm Bode and Julius Meyer (1867-1914) in The Seventy-Ninth Volume of the Walpole Society (London: The Walpole Society, 2017), p. 160, no. 259 (as Pesellino).

Rights and reproductions

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This accomplished Virgin and Child by Francesco Pesellino, dating from the mid-1450s, was one of the most reproduced paintings in fifteenth-century Florence. It was a pivotal work in an unusual and prolific copying enterprise. From the 1450s to the mid-1490s, the composition appeared in thirty-eight panel paintings executed by a workshop close to Pesellino and Filippo Lippi. These copies and variants were produced using a mechanical transfer method – stencil-like pounced cartoons, possibly generated from a tracing taken from the Gardner panel, rubbed over with charcoal dust. A very similar painting in Esztergom, Hungary, is probably also an autograph work by Pesellino. The Gardner panel, however, is clearly the prototype and a more accomplished work. The modeling is very delicate and the brushwork fluid. Underdrawing is visible through the transparent paint film and shows that changes were made in the drapery and body contours of both the Virgin and the Christ Child.

The Gardner Museum’s Virgin and Child is an important work within the small body of paintings attributed to Pesellino, a celebrated, but little-studied fifteenth-century Florentine master whose paintings were collected by the Medici family. Made at a time when painted and sculpted half-length Virgin and Child images were becoming standard features in middle and upper class Florentine homes, Pesellino’s painting has much in common with the work of the most successful Madonna manufacturers of the day — Filippo Lippi, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia. There is tension between the sacred and profane within the picture. The holy protagonists are positioned close to the picture plane, creating a sense of intimacy and accessibility. The Christ Child — appealingly childlike — meets the eye of the beholder. In contrast, the Virgin refuses visual engagement: she asserts decorum and distance; her physical grace and beauty are designated sacred, not of this world.

Source: Megan Holmes, "Virgin and Child with a Swallow," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 49.