Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
Madonna and Child, 1621 – 22
A painting without a single straight line or sharp angle; everything is soft, round and flowing, the fabrics are fluffy and velvety. The head covering entwined in turban-like manner virtually symbolizes this basic principle of the painting – the intimate togetherness of mother and child. The strong chiaroscuro contrasts known from the work of Caravaggio have likewise here been executed without severity to create a delicate plasticity. In every detail and every brushstroke, Guercino – one of the most important painters of the Italian Baroque – thus finds an expression of the situation’s warmth and peacefulness.
Yet, this Mary has no halo and wears no jewellery – there is no indication at all that she is the Mother of God. And the Christ Child has been depicted in a likewise natural and human manner. It is an infant like any other, with downy hair and baby fat. The work also differs distinctly from the typical devotional painting in the asymmetrical composition cut off so abruptly on the left – it is as if we have happened upon this intimate scene by chance. Only one detail alludes to the protagonists’ special status: Mary is not smiling, as any other mother would in this moment. Her gaze, rather, is characterised by a devout, almost mournful silence; she is well aware of whom she is holding in her arms.