Barnaba da Modena
Madonna and Child, 1367
The inscription beneath the Madonna tells us that Barnaba da Modena painted her in Genoa in 1367. Originally, this depiction was the central panel of a multipartite altarpiece, and it was among the first to be signed by the painter. His pride in the work was justified: to this day it is considered one of the most important North Italian paintings of the second half of the fourteenth century in the Städel Museum.
Why important? At first sight, what we see is a traditional religious painting in the Italian–Byzantine style – executed, of course, with exceptional mastery. Note, for example, the elegant curves in the lines of the folds which lend the image an almost 3-D effect. Yet the work is captivating not only by virtue of the artistry and the radiant gold paint, for Barnaba endowed the celestial holy beings with a bit of terrestrial humanity as well. We sense intimacy and maternal love. And Jesus is teething – the amulet of red coral is the medieval version of the present-day teething ring. What is more, he is clutching his foot as any normal child would do. The painting paves the way for a new perception of man and divinity, and thus already anticipates the Renaissance.