Matteo di Giovanni Civitali - Virgin Adoring the Christ Child, about 1480

Matteo di Giovanni Civitali (Lucca, Italy, 1436 - 1501, Lucca, Italy)

Virgin Adoring the Christ Child, about 1480

Polychromed and gilded terracotta , 99 x 103 x 38 cm (39 x 40 9/16 x 14 15/16 in.)


These three-dimensional, completely painted figures must have been startling in their believability. The tenderness of the Virgin Mary’s face is matched by her graceful gesture of prayer. Moreover, the infant Christ echoes this act of devotion and love.

The interaction between the Virgin and Christ Child not only has religious meaning, but also provides a model for harmonious family life. The early 15th-century Florentine theologian Fra Giovanni Dominici recommended that images of the Virgin and Child be placed in children’s rooms to provide examples of proper behavior.

The American painter Joseph Lindon Smith brought this work to Isabella Gardner’s attention in 1902. She competed with Wilhelm Bode, director of the Berlin museums and another collector of Renaissance art, to obtain it.