Virgin of the Nativity. Sculptor active in the Adriatic area, early 15th century


Polychrome wooden sculpture, depicting the recumbent Madonna, also known as the Virgin of the Nativity. Maria is reclined, her right hand supporting her head, while her left is extended and rests on her side. She is dressed in a long tunic and a cloak that is red on the outside and blue on the inside, which completely wraps around her legs. Her head is veiled; on her face with fine and delicate features an absorbed expression.

Dimensions: 25 x 150 x 40cm


Historical-stylistic analysis:

The iconography of the Virgin as a mother, present above all in the Byzantine context, is quite rare and aims to underline the human aspect of Mary and the birth of Jesus. In Italian art, it asserted itself between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, above all in painting, as in the frescoes by Pietro Cavallini, Giotto and Pietro Lorenzetti.
It is more difficult to find plastic examples, despite the famous Madonna della Natività by Arnolfo di Cambio for the facade of Santa Maria del Fiore; even rarer are the wooden sculptures, such as the one in the Neapolitan Gallerie di Capodimonte (formerly the Museum of the Certosa di San Martino) and coming from the monastery of Santa Chiara.
The sculptural group conserved in the Museum of the Basilica of San Nicola in Tolentino is certainly significant: here the Virgin is accompanied by other figures, to create a real scenography, showing how ours too could have appeared originally, almost certainly flanked at least by the Saint Joseph and the Child, to set up a chapel or an oratory dedicated to the cult of the Madonna of childbirth.
The work in question was already created in the fifteenth century, as indicated by the casual posture and the characterization of her face, but also by the way of treating the drapery of the clothes and the mantle; doubtfully created by an artist from the Adriatic area, between the Marches and Abruzzo.

Comparison bio:

  • E. Neri Lusanna, Il gruppo ligneo della natività di San Nicola a Tolentino e la scultura marchigiana, in Arte e spiritualità negli ordini mendicanti. Gli Agostiniani e il Cappellone di San Nicola a Tolentino, atti del Convegno di Tolentino, 1990, Roma 1992, pp. 105-124, in part. p. 107;
  • G. Drobot, La lettura delle icone: introduzione storico-teologica all’icona della Natività, [1975] ed. italiana, Bologna 2000.
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