Italian, active c. 1480 - 1515

The Madonna Adoring the Christ Child with Angels and the Infant Saint John The Baptist, 15th Century

Oil and tempera on panel
37 x 37 in.

Collection of The Bass
Gift of John and Johanna Bass

The subject matter of the Madonna Adoring the Christ Child in a landscape surrounded by saints and angels was one of the most common devotional images of late fifteenth century Florentine painting. It was introduced into Renaissance art by Fra Filippo Lippi in the 1460s in a series of three paintings – The Madonna Adoring the Christ Child (Berlin, Dahlem Museum), painted for the altar of the chapel in the Medici Palace, The Madonna Adoring the Christ Child (Florence, Uffizi), painted for the penitential cell at the monastery of Camaldoli belonging to the wife of Piero de’ Medici, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, and The Madonna Adoring the Christ Child with St. Hilarion (Florence, Uffizi).

The Bass tondo shares a number of symbolic features present in Lippi’s earlier versions. The Christ Child is shown pointing to His mouth with one finger, identifying Himself as the ‘Word’ (John 1:14) and emphasizing His humanity. John the Baptist holds a banderole inscribed conspicuously with the word “Ecce,” the beginning of the phrase “Ecce agnus Dei” which is pronounced by the adult Baptist when he baptized Christ (John 1:29). His presence thus emphasizes the divinity of Christ, foreshadowing His future sacrifice. The flowery field in which the Virgin kneels and the Christ Child lays may be symbolically understood as the new garden of Eden in which the new Eve (Mary) adores the new Adam (Christ). The fragmentary wall, dividing the foreground occupied by the figures from the background, alludes to the old order which came to an end with the advent of the new era of grace under Christ. Finally, the landscape of rocks and a distant seashore, elements that are not present in Lippi’s paintings but which was a common setting for many Renaissance paintings of the Madonna, also has a symbolic significance. The seashore is a reference to Mary’s title in her litany, the “Star of the Sea and the Port of our Salvation.’ Her symbol of the star (of the sea) can be seen embroidered in gold on the shoulder of her dark mantle.

The Master of the Borghese Tondo refers to an artist about whom little is known. Their name represents artwork attributed stylistically to them, a style that is undeniably influenced by the works of his contemporaries like Cosimo Rosselli and Domenico Ghirlandaio.