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The Throning Madonna

Madonna of Santa Trinita

Cenni di Pepi called Cimabue (ca. 1240-1302). Galleria degli Uffizi - Florence. 1280.

Madonna Rucellai

Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca.1255-1319). Galleria degli Uffizi - Florence. 1285.

Madonna of Ognissanti

Giotto di Bondone (ca. 1267-1337). Galleria degli Uffizi - Florence. 1310.

The Madonna of Glatz

The Master of the Madonna of Glatz. Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz – Berlin. 1343-1344.

The Throning Madonna

Quinten Massys (1465-1530). Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemäldegalerie – Berlin. Around 1525.

Pictures of the Virgin Mary were commissioned for almost every church in Europe. One of the most important symbols of Jesus’s message of love and empathy had to be present at least once in any church where the congregation gathered. Some of these paintings were destined for the High Altars of churches dedicated to the Madonna. The early Florentine and Siennese painters of the thirteenth century followed Byzantine examples and showed Mary on a throne, as she would reign in the heavens. This queen would intercede to her Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was a man and as he was part of God, he was also strict and austere. Jesus’s message was one of pure love, but he had retained also God’s image of the revenger when in wrath. A softer image was welcome. Mothers forgive their children more, so when you had done something wrong where could you better turn to, to be forgiven, but to a mother, the Virgin?

Two different kinds of images were needed of the Virgin. In the ‘Throning Madonna’ or ‘Maestà’ paintings, Mary was the queen of heavens. She was the one who sat with God and who would intercede with God. In the ‘Humility’ pictures, or ‘Umiltà’, the Madonna was the sweet mother, the model as every woman should be on earth. This Umiltà Madonna was the example of how women should care for children, be beautiful, always be sweet, compassionate and silent.

The three most famous ‘Maestà’ paintings are the large pictures made around the end of the thirteenth century for the main altars of Florentine churches by Cimabue, Duccio di Buoninsegna, and Giotto di Bondone. These are still very much under the Byzantine influence, but starting with Cimabue over Duccio and Giotto, one senses an evolution to liberation in form, colours and feelings, that presages the splendours to come of Western European painting in Florence, Siena, Flanders and Wallony. A less well known, strange but equally interesting and beautiful picture is a Madonna of Bohemia, Czechia, called the Madonna of Glatz.

These pictures, especially the Maestà’s, were images of pure religious spirituality. They had no other subject but the Virgin Mary. They represented the Virgin as a Queen, idealised, elevated, of a beauty and dignity that did not exist on earth. Yet we will show how evolution to images closer to humans crept in.

European pictures of the Madonna with Jesus followed Byzantine examples. Throughout the Dark Ages and the Early Middle Ages, no court was as splendid and as legitimate as the imperial court of Constantinople. The influence of that East Roman Empire was not just felt in Eastern Europe and the Near Orient. Venice especially had many trading and cultural links with Constantinople and built its churches on Byzantine models. The Throning Madonna paintings in which Mary is seated on a throne holding the infant Jesus in front on her lap is a Byzantine theme called ‘Nikopoia’. The Nikopoia was a Byzantine painting that supposedly brought victories to the Emperors of Constantinople and that was brought to battlefields by Emperor Justinian. Indeed, images were then supposed to retain some of the power and soul of the depicted. One should not underestimate such ancient feelings on pictures. Many centuries later the Muslim forbade making images of Allah and even of all humans for much the same reason and that interdiction continues till today.

Another Byzantine example was the ‘Hodegetria’, often a standing Madonna image or showing Mary only up from the waist, holding Jesus with her left arm and showing Jesus in a sign of adoration with her right hand. Yet another presentation was the ‘Eleusa’ in which Mary looks melancholically towards Jesus’s coming Passion. In European pictures of this kind Jesus often holds symbols of the Passion or of his glory and power.

Three different men made three Maestà panels for three different churches of Florence. The oldest one, painted by Cimabue, was made for the church of Santa Trinita, the Holy Trinity. The youngest one was painted by Cimabue’s pupil, Giotto, for the church of Ognissanti, All Saints. The Madonna Rucellai of Duccio was made for Santa Maria Novella; it stood there in the Rucellai chapel. The panel took its name from this chapel. The Rucellai were rich wool merchants of Florence. The panels are called Maestà’s, after Santa Maestà or Holy Majesty. They show a reigning Madonna sitting on a throne in heaven, surrounded by angels. Another kind of paintings of the Virgin Mary is called Santa Umiltà, or Holy Humility. These show Mary in more humble scenes, lovingly caring for her son. The Maestà’s represent the majesty of the Virgin, as would be appropriate for the major image on the main altar of an imposing Florentine church.


The Cimabue Madonna is still very much in the iconic Byzantine style. The Madonna is a Nikopoia but in the pose of a Hodegetria as she holds Jesus and points at him with her right hand. Jesus points to the heavens and holds a roll of scripture, a symbol of the New Testament and of the fact that his life was ordained – written – by God the Father. Cimabue thus already departed somewhat from the very tradition of Byzantine icons, but thus change should not be attributed to him alone as earlier pictures exist from Tuscany of just this image.

Mary is dressed in a long wide blue robe, the maphorion, which hides her forms and completely encloses her head. The robe is covered with gold to indicate the folds. The dominant surface in Cimabue’s painting is formed by this cloak of Mary. Byzantine pictures had a particular way of showing the draperies on figures called the damp-fold style. This style was so called because of the damp, clinging appearance of the folds. The dress clung to the body and thereby suggested the curves of knees and legs. The dress suggested delicately the contours of the body. In true Byzantine style the folds were drawn in lines, and uniform colour surfaces were painted between the lines. Emphasis was on the lines to indicate the volumes. The Florentine painters varied the colours between the lines and they drew fewer lines. By varying the colours from bright to dark, by letting thus the light form the folds, they adapted the damp-fold style to newer Italian evolutions. Thus the Byzantine damp-fold style evolved during Gothic times in Europe and we can see the evolution at work in the pictures of Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio. We can see the early style transformed to softer representations already in Cimabue and also how this artist introduced the play of light on the robes.

Cimabue’s Madonna shows the boy Jesus, who is likewise completely dressed in a cloak. He makes a blessing sign and both he and Mary look directly to the viewer. The throne is an elaborate structure, which must represent the heavenly throne, separated from the earth. The heavens are supported by columns, under the columns are the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, holding their prophecies written on scrolls. In the middle are Abraham and David, from whose lineage Jesus was born. The figures left and right are looking upwards to the Madonna, whereas Abraham and David look directly at the viewer. The angels, emphasising the authority and the hierarchical structure of Roman Catholic religion, support the throne. They are eight, maybe representing the musical octave, and they were painted somewhat smaller, in the medieval way, to indicate their subordinate role.

Cimabue knew the receding lines of perspective and used it in this painting. This is not yet full perspective, the lines are still mostly parallel, but some are more at an angle than others are. The laws of perspective were not yet discovered in Cimabue’s time, but his painter’s eye has captured the essential. The throne makes the picture rigid, strict. Cimabue softens this strictness by the various tilts of the heads of the persons: Mary keeps her head mildly inclined towards her baby and also the angels have their heads inclined, although symmetrically so to the central axe. This same axial symmetry is applied throughout the whole picture.

The Maestà of Cimabue is an imposing painting and large as it is, more than 2 meters high, it was worthy of the master altar of Santa Trinita. Paintings have been set on altars ever since the Gothic period. The habit continues till this day in European churches. It was the only image churchgoers had that could represent to them what the religious world looked like. So, of course the priests and the painters took great care to what image was represented. These pictures could - much better than the long preaches - convey a message of grandeur and majesty of the divine kingdom. The people, merchants and artisans of Florence, would need a central picture to look at during the religious ceremony, to help them imagine what the heavens were about. The painters were thus of the utmost importance to the commissioners and only true genius painters were good enough to deserve the confidence of the clergy and the rich families that would pay for the images.

Little is known of Cimabue. He was born in Florence around 1240. He died in that same city in 1302, although he worked in other North Italian towns as well, such as Assisi and Pisa. In Italy he is sometimes called the father of painters. Cimabue was the first painter of whom Vasari gave account in his ‘Lives of the Artists’ printed around 1550. Vasari wrote somewhat pompously of Cimabue, “Eventually, however, by God’s providence, Giovanni Cimabue, who was destined to take the first steps in restoring the art of painting to its earlier stature, was born in the city of Florence, in the year 1240.” For Vasari, Cimabue restored Italian art to the splendour of Roman antiquity.

We know of painters from times before Cimabue, but he is the first of which we have major, well-preserved works. And he was the master of Giotto, who would really liberate painting from its older representation forms. Cimabue still painted very much according to earlier iconography, even though his personal style appeals to us more than anything made before him. Look for instance at the mosaics of the Florence Baptisterium. There is a mosaic dating from the very beginning of the thirteenth century depicting the Madonna on her throne. It resembles very much Cimabue’s painting: the same figures with the same robes, same colours, a blessing Jesus on the lap of his mother, somewhat on her left knee. Cimabue knew these mosaics. He laid mosaics himself, as in the Dome of Pisa.

Florentines consider Cimabue more than any other painter the first artist of their town. Vasari already recalls that Cimabue made a Madonna for the church of Santa Maria Novella that hung between the Rucellai chapel and the chapel of the Bardi da Vernio G46 . Vasari told that the figure was larger than any that had been painted up to that time, and that Cimabue was gradually adopting something of the draughtsmanship and method of modern times. “As a result this painting so astonished his contemporaries that it was carried to the sound of trumpets and amid scenes of great rejoicing in solemn procession from Cimabue’s house; and Cimabue was generously praised and rewarded for it G46> .” This procession scene appealed to later Romantic painters of the nineteenth century. Frederick, Lord Leighton made in 1853 to 1855 a picture of this ‘Cimabue’s Madonna being carried through the Streets of Florence’ that was much admired and bought by the Royal Couple Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England.

Vasari told this story more than a hundred and fifty years after it had happened. His sources may not have been very reliable, the story merely an anecdote remembered by the Florentines. The most famous Madonna of Santa Maria Novella is Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna originally made for the Compagnia dei Laudesi of that church and later transferred to the Rucellai chapel. So, either Vasari’s account pertains to a lost Madonna of Cimabue or to the Santa Trinita painting. The veneration of the Florentines for Cimabue did not stop there. In November of 1966 a cyclone brought such heavy rains to Florence that the Arno flooded the town G25 . Cimabue’s Christ, a huge painted cross, was torn from its wall and was found floating in the dirty waters. The heavily damaged cross was put on a cart and transported, pushed by men, through the town to higher grounds. The Florentines stopped their work, came out of their houses, knelt in the water and signed themselves in silence when Cimabue’s cross passed.


Duccio de Buoninsegna’s Maestà is a second evolution away from the Byzantine presentations. The Madonna is still clothed in the maphorion, but the cloak is softer and less formal. One can see the ending of the robe and the seams gently curving, so that the cloak is lighter. Our eye follows the playful, sinuous line of gold on the dark blue robe. These meandering decorative lines are typical of Duccio. He modified entirely the Byzantine damp-fold style in that he emphasised the substance of the cloth, let it play by itself instead of merely by the lines of the body, and he definitely exploited the decorative effects of the folds.

In Duccio’s picture the head of the Madonna is still enclosed. Mary seems more gentle, but holds her head inclined just as Cimabue painted. Little Jesus is not wearing a heavy robe as in earlier pictures, but a light shirt in flesh colours. He does not hold his hand to a blessing anymore and Mary has her hand on his knee, in a tender caress. She is not solemnly showing the child. Duccio painted Jesus without a scroll in his left hand. Jesus holds his robe and that robe is painted in the Byzantine style with clear golden lines used to indicate the folds of the cloth. Jesus’s right hand does not point upwards. Jesus stretches his arm and seems therefore to bless the angels on the left of the panel. This is a natural movement that breaks with tradition and shows an effort to bring the holy figures closer to the viewers than before. Unlike in the Nikopoias also, Jesus does not look straight at the viewer, a feature that was still obvious in Cimabue’s picture.

The scene is more intimate and more elegant, more refined. The throne also is lighter: only curtains form the background. The stiles of the throne still resemble Cimabue’s, but the base is also lighter, gentler, finer. The sides of the throne are covered with coloured panels, which remind of Florentine furniture worked with inlays of ‘pietre dure’, multi-coloured marble intarsias. All this indicates a growing refinement and sense of decoration. The thirty medallions of saints and biblical figures on the frame also enhance decoration. Sophistication, elegance and ease of living were on the move. Elegance and harmony can also be found in the colour symmetries of the robes and cloaks of the angels and in their poises. Duccio was more aware of the realistic representation of space than Cimabue. Mary’s throne is smaller than Cimabue’s, thus stands prominently out against the background. There are less angels and they are smaller, so that the whole frame is simpler and brighter. Cimabue’s angels are standing on part of the throne, Duccio’s angels seem to fly in the air and hold the throne up. This adds to the sense of lightness

Duccio was born in Siena in 1255 or 1260, half a generation or so later than Cimabue, but both painters worked in the same period. His first pictures appear in his native town in 1278. Duccio died in Siena in 1319. All his known activities were exercised in Siena except the Rucellai altarpiece, which was commissioned around 1285. We see him in this Maestà and in other paintings as a tender painter, showing some of the feelings that Mary inspired, and evolving to innovation, further on than Cimabue. The gentleness and naïve sweetness would become a predominant feature of the Siennese painters, as opposed to the more formal Florentines.

Cimabue and Giotto were fresco painters, of Duccio only panels are known. Note that although Duccio was a Siennese, and although Siena and Florence were rival towns, an important family of Florence found no problem in giving him an order for a main piece of art to be shown in a major church of Florence.


Giotto’s Madonna is very different. Mary is still robed in the maphorion, but there is no gold to indicate the folds: there are more shades of colour here than in the two previous Maestà’s. The robe is half opened and we see shades of Mary’s chest. She is a real woman now, less a heavenly queen. This must have brought her image more intimate to the viewers, more close to their everyday world. In the Giotto picture the Byzantine damp-fold style is abandoned. He used a way of presentation in which the material of the robe seems to have more importance than the contours of Mary’s body. But Mary’s form is heavy, probably not anatomically right and not elegant, but it is there. Giotto was a Florentine realist, more concerned with the immediate image than with decoration even though he tried more than Cimabue to introduce decorative elements to enhance the noble image of the Virgin.

The shirt of Jesus has become almost entirely transparent, but the anatomy of the child seems somewhat clumsy. Jesus’s body is too robust, his legs too thin and the shirt clings artificially around the child. Anatomy was not the strength of Giotto. The blessing sign of the right hand of the baby has returned as in Cimabue’s Maestà. Jesus again holds a scroll in his left hand, as in Cimabue’s painting and likewise holds fingers of his right hand upwards, here however more in a sign of blessing. Mary’s right hand however has the same pose as in Duccio’s painting: tenderly on the child’s knee.

Giotto has turned the throne into a chapel, perspective is used, and the architecture is light as with Duccio. Giotto reached a dramatic effect of space with the perspective of the throne panels. The throne is in marble and like Duccio’s inlaid with very many small motives of white and red marble. Giotto’s decorations are still more delicate than Duccio’s. The open panels suggest windows, airy lightness. By their sharply receding forms they create more space and volume than the Duccio and Cimabue scenes. Giotto wanted to emphasise more than Duccio the majesty of the scene, which he obtained by setting the throne and Mary as in a chapel. By doing this, Giotto brought more weight and volume in the Virgin and child, indicating thereby their importance to the scene.

In Giotto’s Maestà there are again more angels, as with Cimabue, but the two angels at the bottom are smaller and dressed in white so that they are lighter. The standing angels also are longer and more slender, adding to the impression of airiness. Remark how an angel offers the crown to the Madonna. Another one presents to Jesus the pyx containing the Eucharist, a symbol of the child’s future passion. Two angels further below offer a vase with red roses and white lilies, also symbols of Mary. The Italian painters did not use so profusely medieval symbolism as the northern artists of Flanders and Germany; yet Giotto shows here he knew all these means. As in all three paintings, there is axial symmetry and harmony in the colours. Here also we find eight angels, the same number, but also four apostles, which may represent the Four Evangelists, and two female figures who probably represent Mary Magdalene (carrying the pot of balms to anoint Jesus) and Mary Salome (carrying a crown) who were with Mary at Jesus’s tomb.

Behind the Virgin, on her throne, we find star motives, here in snowflake patterns. Stars also can be found on Mary’s robe in Duccio’s picture. These refer to the star of Betlehem that announced the nativity. The star was a symbol of Mary. She was often called in the Middle Ages the ‘Stella Maris’, the star of the seas. The golden stars on the deep blue robe of Mary in Duccio’s painting was the standard for many later paintings; we find this motif back for instance on the maphorions of Fra Angelico and of Botticelli.

Other similar common elements, probably of Byzantine origin, can be found elsewhere in the panels. Thus in Cimabue’s painting the Madonna’s halo consists of a circle of small blue dots and red diamonds. These details are also on the golden halo of Jesus in Cimabue’s picture. Exactly the same small blue dots and red diamonds are positioned in the same pattern of four blue dots and one red diamond in the halo of the child in Duccio’s panel. Duccio paid a subtle tribute to Cimabue, as Giotto paid an equally subtle tribute to Duccio. Paolo Veneziano, a painter of the early fourteenth century, the founder of the Venetian school and a painter still of Byzantine style applied these same dots in several of his pictures. They can be seen in his ‘Virgin and Child’ now in the Courtauld Institute Galleries of London and in a painting on the same theme in the Accademia of Venice. They can be found in a ‘Madonna and Child’ of Venice’s Museo Civico Correr, a picture made by Stefano di Sant’ Agnese of the fourteenth century. These details are a remnant of Byzantine symbolism. The heavenly Jerusalem had walls studded with oval sapphires, rectangular emeralds and white pearls. A fifth century mosaic of the heavenly Jerusalem in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome shows these precious stone patterns in the walls of the Golden Gate. We find such patterns of gems repeated often in pictures of the throning Mary and also of Christ. Precious stones captured light in unusual ways and were resplendent with rays as no other material. Christ was the light of the world, and the heavens were a source of pervasive light. Thus, the precious stones were associated with the Godly light. In the ‘Revelation of John’, an angel shows to John the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down of heaven from God. John wrote that ‘it shone with the glory of God and its brilliance was like that of a precious jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’ G121 . And furthermore, ‘The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone’ G121 . John mentions stone âmes that can be variously translated, like diamond, sapphire, lapis lazuli, emerald, turquoise, carnelian, crystal, beryl, topaz, agate, jacinth and amethyst. The twelve gates of the city were twelve pearls. Mary was thus associated by the jewels she wore and the gems in her halo with the Holy City.

Giotto, Cimabue and Duccio knew the importance of balance and harmony in art by tradition. We would be tempted to state that Giotto has more followed Cimabue’s example than Duccio’s. An overt tribute to his teacher? Giorgio Vasari wrote that Cimabue found Giotto as a shepherd boy drawing on a stone and that he took him in as his pupil. Vasari wrote that Cimabue was on his way from Florence to Vespignano. He met a young shepherd, Giotto who guarded his sheep. Giotto was drawing one of his sheep by scratching the image on a large, smooth rock with a pointed object. Giotto had had no courses yet at that time, yet the drawing was very fine. Cimabue looked at the drawing and he was very astonished. Then he asked the shepherd whether he might be interested in living with him, to learn more about the art of drawing. Giotto answered that if his father agreed he would gladly follow Cimabue. So Cimabue talked to Giotto's father, Bondone, and the man granted the painter's request. Cimabue took the young Giotto to Florence. Giotto became a great master in no time. he had a natural talent for drawin gand painting and instructed by Cimabue, he captured Cimabuer’s style and also began to break decisively with the traditional Byzantine style, drawing from nature, and created a style of apinting as was later further sophisticated in the Renaissance epoch G46 . We find in story text two elements that were very dear to the Florentines of the Renaissance: the art of drawing and the art of drawing from life.

Giotto di Bondone was born in Vespignano, Vicchio di Mugello, near Florence, in 1267. He died in Florence in 1337. Giotto was first mentioned in Florence in 1301 but his first surviving work was the Arena Chapel of Padua. These mural frescoes date from 1304 to 1313. Giotto was a fresco painter first, but he also worked at mosaics as in the Saint Francis cathedral of Assisi. He painted tempera panels such as this Maestà, for which the paint pigments were bound by egg-yoke, as oils were not yet known for painting. He was also an architect: he designed the Campanile, or bell-tower, of the Dome Santa Maria dei Fiore of Florence. Giotto worked at the Campanile from 1334 on but died before he could finish the tower. When this Maestà was painted, he already had accomplished his greatest masterpiece: the frescoes of the Santa Maria del’Arena chapel in Padua. His Maestà was made when he was at the height of his painter’s profession, capabilities and art. While Giotto was working in Padua the Popes left Rome, the centre of fresco painting, to permanently reside in Avignon. So Giotto returned to Florence and worked for instance on the frescoes of the church of Santa Croce. From 1328 to 1334 he painted at the court of Anjou in Naples. After 1334, he returned to Florence for the last time, to work at the cathedral. From that time dates his participation in the design of the Campanile tower.

The Italian Middle Ages

We sometimes think of the Middle Ages as the dark ages, where people except maybe the Kings lived in abject poverty, fixed in place, without much trade between towns and countries, not much knowledge spread. Of course the contrary is true. There was intense travel and trading across Europe at all times. The North Italian city-states, but also Rome, had even organised their head bank in the early thirteenth century outside of Italy, in neutral territory. It was established in Montpellier in France, which was then part of the Provence region ruled by a member of the Aragon family. In 1278, the bank was moved to Nimes due to better agreements with the French king. Despite long distances and long travel duration, merchants roamed all over Europe and much farther than that. The end of Roman civilisation had not stopped the trade and travelling around the Mediterranean. This is particularly true of the thirteenth century, in which it all intensified. The last crusade ended around 1270, but this was the eight crusade to the Holy Land and the Near East. The crusades opened the Mediterranean again so that trade intensified over these seas.

The German Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Frederick II Hohenstaufen ruled in the first half of the thirteenth century over a very large territory. This not only comprised Germany, but also parts of France such as Burgundy and the Provence regions, Brabant in Belgium and practically the whole of Italy and Sicily. Of course, he was only a feudal lord there and his crown was handed to him by the Popes who could give and take. The Popes sometimes supported him, mostly fought him and even threw him in church bans. His father died young and his mother was Sicilian, so he grew up on that island. He grew up amongst Arabs, knew the Arabic language and also later intensively cultivated contacts with the Arab world: Egypt, Tunis, and Damascus. Part of his army and personal guard was constituted of Mohammedans. The struggle with the Popes continued also under his sons, and ended only with the death of Manfred at the battle of Benevento in 1266. Frederick II favoured Arab trade and culture. He did organise a crusade to the Holy Land in 1228, forced to that by the Pope, but won the crown of Jerusalem more with diplomacy than with arms so that the next year already he could be back in Italy. He kept good relations with the Sultan of Egypt and negotiated a peaceful occupation of Jerusalem. This knowledge and sympathy of Arab culture by the most important European monarch of the times was not of small importance to open the Mediterranean even more. At the same time however he showed himself the fervent, even obsessive Christian in his own lands. He chased the Mohammedans from his island of Sicily and brought the survivals of his persecutions finally to a part of mainland Italy.

But we should not see the Hohenstaufen Emperors as wise men, which were open to gentler cultures than their native Germany and than the societies of the Italian city-states. Frederick II was a warrior, avid for power. He oppressed Italy with his part Mohameddan police force and in the struggle for supremacy of these Emperors they were finally destroyed. Frederick’ grandson Conradin, supported by his uncle and natural son of Frederick II, Manfred, was the last Hohenstaufen to rule over Germany from Italy. The armies of Charles d’Anjou captured Conradin. Charles was a French Duke leading the battle against the last Hohenstaufens as an adventurer but with the full support of the Pope. Charles d’Anjou was ambitious to expand his territories to Italy at the expense of the weakened German emperors. Charles decapitated Conradin in Naples. Conradin was then merely thirteen years old.

The advantage went to the Italian city-states. Venice and Genoa were the merchant cities that profited most from these developments. They grew rich on overseas trade, Venice particularly with Egypt. But also the trade routes with China opened. Both cities had posts on the Crimea peninsula. The compass was used in he Mediterranean by the end of the thirteenth century; it could allow faster and more direct sea routes. The Venetian Marco Polo’s voyages to Mongolia and China took place from 1270 to 1295. Polo was imprisoned after his return in Venice’s archrival town Genoa and wrote his journals out of a Genoese prison. The two cities increasingly became rivals on Mediterranean trade and made war on each other. Together with navigation, the silk trade boomed again, manufactures were founded both in Venice and Genoa, but also elsewhere: Genoese brought silk industry to Lyon in France. The intensification of trade was not just the case for Northern Italy, similar developments can be found in the rest of Europe. Let us only cite here the founding of the Hanseatic League cities beginning around 1250. The Hanseatic League was a string of German, Danish, Russian, Swedish, Dutch and even Flemish cities – Bruges one among them – of the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic. The League intensified and protected trade. Its cities were bound by economic agreements. Florence had a very strong wool industry and traded much with Bruges, a city that would grow to the largest port of Western Europe at the end of the thirteenth century. Bruges formed the connection between the Hanseatic League and the Tuscan cities.

As trade opened Europe, so was Europe opened to cultural movements. Painters travelled throughout Europe, though hesitantly at first. We know that the Siennese Duccio worked for Florentine merchants, the Florentine Cimabue worked also in Assisi and Pisa, Giotto in Assisi, Padua, and Rome. Trade and movement meant exchange of information, and more attraction to farther lands. It meant quest of wealth and searching for more information, and journeys for sheer curiosity. Thus, the opening of travel opened the mind to new horizons, not just in geography, but also in ideas. It meant that art and images could not be seen only in the churches or in the halls of kings. There were more rich merchants and aristocracy now who could order paintings and other works of art. These merchants travelled far and as they opened foreign subsidiaries, took the works of art with them.

We feel this strongly start in Northern Italy in the second half of the thirteenth century. Travel, trade and thus the circulation of information incited to think about other images and encouraged experimentation. Painters like Duccio and Giotto advanced the traditional mosaic-based Byzantine art to the painting of real people in natural surroundings. Duccio went probably the farthest here, and was earlier than Giotto in this. Giotto always remained in the majesty of the heavens; his environments were more used as symbols than as natural settings. But Giotto more than Duccio combined feeling and rationality, and profound reflection into painting. And volume and space, maybe because he also had the soul of an architect.

Opening of the minds also happened in literature. This was the time of Thomas of Aquino (1221-1274) and François Bacon (1215-1294), then of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), later still of Petrarca (1304-1374) and Boccaccio (1313-1375). The universities of Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier and Bologna were thriving with students and professors; the Parisian Sorbonne opened in 1254. New universities were founded, like Naples in 1224 – although more the result of a political will of the Holy Roman Emperor to give advantage to his kingdom of Naples versus the headstrong, difficult north Italian states. These universities had thousands of students. Public schools for the youngest opened in Florence. These schools received many hundreds of students who would form the clerks and accountants needed for a merchant state.

Northern Italy in the days of Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio had remained politically confused: it had evolved out of the strives between the Catholic Popes of Rome and the German Holy Emperors as a set of independent city-states. Battles and political struggles between the old parties, one party supporting the German Emperor and the other party supporting the Popes continued and were turned into other battles for other causes. But in Northern Italy the strives remained much within the city-states. Battles amongst the cities were more seldom after 1280. Pisa that was still a sea power had lost a decisive sea battle against Genoa in 1284. Venice had fought its last battle in 1289 with Trieste and lost. In Florence, struggles were for the supremacy of the merchants versus the supremacy of aristocracy. Aristocracy lost: the Signoria with six chosen leaders was installed in 1282, a chosen Gonfaloniere di Giustizia or Upper Judge took the last power away from nobility in 1292. The strives continued though. During one of these battles between aristocracy and merchants, started in the town of Pistoia but continued in Florence, the parties now called Blacks and Whites clashed. The Whites lost. Dante Alighieri was banned out of the city in 1302, never to return to Florence, as was the father of the poet Petrarca.

The Madonna of Glatz

The three Maestà's of Cimabue, Duccio and Giotto are undoubtedly the great masterpieces of early Italian art. Equally great masterpieces were made in the north. It would be impossible not to mention the Madonna of Glatz.

This Maestà dates from a somewhat older period than the three Italian Maestà's since the panel was painted around 1343 to 1344. The panel stood in Glatz or Kladsko, a town in Silesia that was part of the diocese of Prague in Bohemia, our modern Czechia. The Madonna stood in the church of Glatz, the hometown of the future first cardinal of Prague, Ernst von Pardubitz G67 . Von Pardubitz would also be buried in Glatz after his death in 1364. The dates of 1343 and 1344 refer to the appointment of von Pardubitz as bishop (1343) and to the year in which Prague became an archbishopric (1344).

The Madonna of Glatz could be an evolution of the Sienese Maestà of Duccio. It resembles Duccio’s refined sweetness and elegance more than Giotto’s solidity. The Madonna of Glatz is elegant with elaborate decoration and one perceives at first sight a tendency not to realism but to exaltation. The picture shows all the buoyancy, outcry, brilliance of the High Gothic period combined with various styles of Italian and German origin to an astonishingly mature work.

The Madonna of Glatz is a throning Madonna in the traditional Byzantine style. She is seated on a throne and has Jesus on her lap. She is clad in a blue robe and a splendid rich, red cloak. Here already is a deviation from the traditional depiction of the Maestà, for the colours of robe and cloak are inverted. This allowed for a picture that was more joyful and brilliant, more pleasing to the eye in the bright colours. The Master of the Madonna of Glatz, the anonymous artist of whom we know nothing, transformed the Byzantine damp-fold style of Mary’s cloak in the Sienese way. The Bohemian master evolved Duccio’s changes still more to a dazzling complexity of sensuous lines. The draperies have their own life here. The lines and shadows still show the curves of the body of the Virgin in the Byzantine style, but these are so well combined that we really feel physically the softness and lightness of the fabric. The curves of the folds are then also emphasised by golden decorations and intricate patterns that are painted delicately and are a feast for the eye. These patterns are lilies, the royal pattern of France but also a symbol of purity of the Virgin. The tautness of the damp-fold style was less marked in the Cimabue and Giotto Maestà's and we see the style entirely transformed to the decorative grace of Duccio in this Bohemian picture.

There is also ample magnificent detail to discover in the decorations of the robe of Jesus. The golden pattern continues on Jesus, but the patterns are different. Since Jesus was still more important than Mary was, the painter gave all his attention and patience to the decoration of Jesus’s dress. Gold is also used in the haloes of Mary and Jesus. We find here the Byzantine traditional blue and red stones in Mary’s crown and in the halo of Jesus. The stones are set in Jesus’s halo in the star pattern that we discovered in Duccio’s picture. It is remarkable how in cities and cultures so different, that lay so far apart as Florence and Prague, separated by the Alps, the old imagery of Byzantium was remembered and copied. Yet, the elegance and grace of the Madonna of Glatz are far more an evolution of Duccio’s views and of Simone Martini’s views than of those of the Florentine masters Cimabue and Giotto.

The Madonna of Glatz is a refined, sophisticated, richly decorated picture that must have taken much patience to its master and hence a long time in work. That means always that wealth must have come to the region in which such a masterpiece was made. Here the wealth came from a man called Charles of Bohemia, elected as Emperor of the German nation. Charles IV was elected Emperor only in 1346, but he had already been ruling Bohemia in his father’s name since 1333. He was born in Prague and apparently he liked the town. When he became Emperor he chose Prague as his seat. Prague became even more a centre of the arts. The town was only a bishopric but it was raised to an archbishopric in 1344. Charles arranged that. Indeed, Charles had been brought by his father to France to be educated there and one of his tutors was a French nobleman who became his friend. This tutor and friend of Charles was appointed to the papacy in 1342 as Pope Clemens VI.

In the Middle Ages, and in particular in the period we are interested in, of the last half of the thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth, German emperors were still elected by the Prince-Electors of Germany and dynasties had not yet stabilised. In 1273 Rudolph of Habsburg was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, then Adolph of Nassau in1292, followed by Albert of Habsburg. But in 1298 the count of Luxemburg, a region close to France was elected as Henry VII. Henry VII received Bohemia in 1310 as a personal property from the Bohemian nobles and he handed rule of Bohemia over to his son John, who would hence be called John of Bohemia. John did not become emperor in his turn. At the death of Henry VII two emperors were chosen by fractions of Prince Electors, the same year 1314. These were Ludwig of Bavaria, or Lewis, and Frederick of Austria. The two emperors fought each other in a civil war until Lewis won the decisive battle of Mühldorf in 1322. Lewis made Frederick a prisoner. He had to face new challenges however. This time the dispute was with Pope John XXII. In the meantime John of Bohemia made friends in France. His sister Maria was engaged to King Charles IV of France and John turned around the Popes. John had a son, Wenzel, born in 1316. John brought his son Wenzel to France to be educated there, changing his name to Charles. The nomination of Lewis of Bavaria remained always contested.

Pope John XXII had already pronounced that Lewis was not the rightful emperor but the majority of the Prince-Electors recognised Lewis anyhow. John of Bohemia profited from the confusion and from his close links to France and the Popes. In 1342 a friend of Charles of Bohemia was appointed to the papacy. This was Clemens VI. This Pope declared Charles as emperor in 1346, against the still living Lewis. Charles was thirty years old. That same year 1346 John of Bohemia died in the French army at the battle of Crécy, fighting against the English. But Charles IV had not participated in that battle. Lewis of Bavaria died the next year and Charles was easily recognised as the rightful next emperor of Germany.

Charles IV was born in 1316 in Prague. He ruled Bohemia as from 1333, barely sixteen years old. He liked Prague and stayed in this city also after his coronation as emperor. He embellished Prague. He had a stone bridge built over the river. He modified entire quarters of the town. Charles spoke five languages fluently; he was a learned man. The poet Petrarca lauded him in his poems. In 1348 Charles founded the first German university in Prague. But the nineteenth century German historian Friedrich Schlosser tells of Charles that the Slavs, the French and the Italian had educated him. He wrote that Charles combined thus the hidden nature of the Slaves, the diplomatic abilities of the French and the perfidious, egoist and political arts of the Italians. Charles was emperor during the great plague epidemics that ravaged Europe especially in 1348 to 1350 and also during his reign Germany continued to be the scene of wars and battles between the princes. The Madonna of Glatz dates from just before the period of the great plague epidemics, from 1344, when man could still feel triumphant and have an unwavering faith in Christianity.

From the date of 1344 also started the construction of the Gothic cathedral that is one of the prides of the city of Prague. A French architect, Mathias of Arras, who had previously built the cathedral of Narbonne, was called in. Arras lies in the North of France, in the Artois region, where the finest Gothic cathedrals were erected first. Mathias died in 1353 so a German master mason called Peter Parler took over. Prague cathedral became the finest monument to Christianity of Bohemia. Charles also had himself built a new palace and castle outside Prague, called Karlstein after his own name. The finest Bohemian painters and sculptors decorated Church and palace with frescoes. As we told, Charles had been raised in France. His wife was a French noble lady, Blanche de Valois, who was the sister of King Philip VI of France. Blanche died in 1348 but Charles had seen enough of the rayonnant splendour of Gothic art in France, like the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, to want also to shine and use this art to glorify his power. The Bohemian artists knew undoubtedly French and Italian art. Maybe Charles took them with him on his trips to France and Italy as members of his court. One only has to glance at the Madonna of Glatz to see the Sienese influences. These Sienese influences could not only be seen in Italy. We know that Simone Martini worked in Avignon and since Charles’ friend was Pope in Avignon, the artists may have come in contact with Sienese styles also at the papal court. But Charles’ artists remained anonymous. We only know of one name, Theodoric, of the painter of the frescoes of the chapel of the Karlstein castle, but we have no biography of him.

In the lower left corner of the ‘Madonna of Glatz’ we see the donour, Bishop Ernst von Pardubitz. He is painted much smaller than the Virgin and even than the angels, in a demonstration of humility. This was the habit in medieval art. Ernst’s bishop’s staff lies at the feet of the Virgin and this staff is sharply pointed to a dangerous pike. Ernst will decidedly defend the holy faith in the name of the Virgin. Mary is seated in an elaborate structure of a throne, entirely in the great Byzantine tradition of a throning Madonna. Somewhat higher than Bishop Ernst one can discern through the windows or the loggia low black walls on either side. These may refer to the enclosed garden, a Marian symbol from the Song of Songs of the Bible. This symbol was frequently used in medieval and Renaissance pictures.

The Virgin’s throne is the most elaborate of the four Maestà's we present here. It is also of wood, maybe made of the Lebanon ceddar of which is also referred to in the Song of Songs G67 . The master of Glatz turned the throne into an elegant splendour of exaltation that we do not find even in Giotto’s Maestà. The throne is heightened on the left and right by towers pierced with high windows to enliven it and to make it as light in structure as the Gothic cathedrals. We are used to these elevated lines in the French Gothic churches and the master of Bohemia in this whole picture expresses the same feelings of an incantation to God.

In each window appears an angel. Each angel is rendered in detail, each robe and each cloak is decorated as in a miniature book of hours. Most of the dresses of the angels bear the star sign of the Virgin. The two lowest angels have magnificently coloured delicate wings. They are in different poises. One angel carries the golden ball with cross, the sign of imperial dignity and the symbol of the reign of Jesus. Mary also on her blue robe has this symbol right behind Jesus. The left angel has a gesture as if it wants to make us a witness to the glory of Mary and Jesus on earth. All angels look to the Virgin and their lines of sight cross at her face. Higher up, two angels painted red only appear with their heads and arms out of smaller windows. They hold incense burners and thus they envelop the scene in fine scents. This also is an image from the Song of Songs.

Still higher up, two angels again are seated on top of the tower structure, high up against the upper border of the frame. These are dressed in white. In the folds of their robes one remarks the old Byzantine damp-fold influence and even the angular style of draperies popular in Germany a century before. In Germany, in the later part of the twelfth century appeared a new trend in the Byzantine damp-fold style. It lasted until the first half of the thirteenth century. The folds in this new Gothic style were painted in very angular, almost metallic, flat and spiky shapes. This style has remained known in only few pictures. It is most striking in an altarpiece from the cathedral of Soest in Westphalia. Less angular forms gradually evolved from this indigenous German style. The difference in style between the draperies of these two angels and of the cloak of the Virgin is striking. In Mary’s cloak Sienese influences are obvious; the draperies have their own substance and the flowing borders are gracefully decorated. In the angels the Byzantine damp-fold style, germanised to the spiky metal-like Westphalian style is also clear. We have with the Master of the Glatzer Madonna an artist who was well aware of these various modes of representation and it is as if he showed his knowledge proudly in a blending to his own decorative aims.

The master of Bohemia was creating space and he used space splendidly in his picture. When we compare his throne with the structures of Cimabue and even Giotto, the evolution is clear. The master of the Madonna of Glatz created depth wherever he had some surface to cover. He gave ample illusion of space in a masterly composition. Whereas with Cimabue the throne remains almost two-dimensional, the Bohemian master was dissatisfied with his flat canvas and he tried heroically to sculpt in space. Remark the towers of the throne, the Gothic turrets that launch themselves to the skies in the upper part of the frame and of course the two chapel-like light structures flanking the turrets.

In these two chapels the master of Glatz painted two lions. With these elements he added symbolism, for they refer to king Salomon. They are a reference to the royal power of Bohemia, later to become imperial power, the power of Charles IV. Furthermore we already encountered various references to the Song of Songs. This poem was called in Germany ‘Das Hohelied Salomons’, the High Song of Salomon. Thus the Madonna of Glatz was designed as an incantation to the king of Bohemia, the later Emperor Charles. Other symbols of kingly powers are the sceptre worn by the Virgin and the gold ball with the cross, representing the Christian world.

The Song of Salomon lauds love to a lady. That beloved was black in the song. Maybe because of that the Virgin has a dark face. We know of a long tradition of black Madonnas in Eastern Europe. Some of these were simply sculptures covered with silver blackened over time by oxidation. The Madonna of Glatz is one of the striking examples of this tradition. One can imagine other symbols to the Song of Salomon, although these references are less obvious and must remain conjectures. Thus the wooden aspect of the throne is enhanced. The painter showed explicitly the fibres of the wood. As we mentioned already, this might be a reference to the Lebanon ceddar with which is compared the face of the girl. The Virgin is a slender lady, slender also as Lebanon ceddars. And on top of the frame we find the star of the ‘Stella Maris’ as Mary was called, a theme repeated on the robes of the angels. Further symbols can be found in the painting. Jesus holds a small scroll of paper in his hand. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was the word become flesh, the action of God. The scroll represents the written word. Finally, an angel seems to hold or bring the golden halo to Mary. Mary was enthroned, a theme called the Coronation in the heavens.

Just how mannered and elaborate the decoration of this picture is, is most strikingly demonstrated in the Gothic green coloured chapel ceiling high above Mary. The last piece of surface had to be used in a final dramatic show of skill and space. Behind the whole scene the uppermost angels hold a gold brocaded dais with splendid motives of Marian flowers, eagles and griffons. These are all royal symbols. The Italian masters used merely a uniform golden background. The Master of Bohemia must have wanted to surclass these painters in splendour.

The Virgin Mary wears a white veil that contrasts nicely in colours with her dark face and her splendid cloak. The face of the Virgin is serious, introspective and distant. But is a real woman’s or girls’ face of character, whereas one has the impression that Cimabue’s and Giotto’s Maries remain types. Mary here has fine features and in a dignified way she does not look at the viewer, also contrary to the Virgin of the Giotto Maestà. Mary holds her face inclined and the same direction is given to the face of Jesus. Mother and child are in symbiosis.

The anonymous Master of the Madonna of Glatz had other objectives with his picture than Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio. The Tuscan painters made pictures of personal devotion. Yes, they wanted a painting that could be admired for their heavenly inspiration, but these geniuses wanted also to bring Mary close to the viewers. They worked for republican city-states and for an audience that consisted of intelligent merchants and artisans who each had worked for the grandeur of their towns. They worked for an audience that had known a long, almost immutable Byzantine tradition. The Madonna of Glatz was made for the exaltation of a royal and noble, more arrogant audience. Splendour and worldly glory had to be shown. Tuscany had to be over-classed by show of intelligence in symbols and by grandness of decoration. The Madonna of Glatz is complex in its imagery and elaborate in its decoration. It displayed wealth and extravagance in the exaltation of the concept of the Virgin linked to a Salomon, one of the greatest kings of the Bible. This Byzantine tradition had to be adapted for a worldlier picture. In the patience and skill with which it was painted we recognise however a universal genius. The picture can be compared with the splendid pictures of Flemish Gothic that came more than fifty years later. The Madonna of Glatz is a pictorial splendour of the exaltation of the figures of the New Testament.

Quinten Massys

Quinten Massys was born in the town of Leuven, in the county of Brabant (Belgium) as the son of a blacksmith. He was born in 1466. He exercised the profession of blacksmith himself and a splendid iron well still exists of his hand. Only paintings of the last two decades of his life are known. He died in 1530. One of his most famous paintings is the Saint Anne altar, now preserved in the Royal Museum of Ancient Arts of Brussels. In 1491, Massys became a painter in Antwerp however and was one of the first and best representatives of Renaissance art in Brabant and Flanders. Massys was a friend of the scholar Erasmus. He made a portrait of Erasmus that was sent by the humanist writer to Thomas More of England. Massys’s picture of the ‘Throning Madonna’ is an image that can be situated between a Maestà and a ‘Mater Amabilis’ of which the ‘Umiltà’, the Virgin sitting on the ground, is a particular image.

Massys’ Virgin is sitting on a throne, but she is also represented as a loving mother who gives her son a tender kiss. This was a new representation of the Virgin. One can follow the evolution in representing the Virgin from the austere Maestà of Cimabue for instance over the Annunciation of Filippo Lippi to these more intimate pictures of Mary and her son. The Italian Renaissance had by the end of the fifteenth century also fully reached Flanders. Massys shows these influences for instance in the exuberant stiles of the throne of the Virgin. The play of the window lines above the Madonna is almost organically growing. These lines remind us however of the Gothic cathedrals. Massys combined the detail of traditional Gothic painting of Flanders with the newer, freer modes of representation of the Italian painters of the Renaissance. Thus, there are shadows on the baby Jesus and on the red robe of the Madonna. Such shadows were not so much used in Madonnas of Flanders. Flemish Primitive artists preferred not to apply heavy shadows so that the heavenly light pervaded all the scenes. Their scenes thus remained somewhat cold. The shadows make the picture warmer, more real, thus more reachable and closer to the viewer.

The northern tradition is shown also in the landscape behind the Madonna. Landscape painting had reached popularity in Flanders with the pictures of Joachim Patenier. Massys also has applied here all the symbols of the Virgin that were used in medieval pictures. Thus, the bread and wine on the little table announce the Last Supper and sacrifice of Jesus. The cherries are the fruit of paradise. Cherries were with the whole Paradise of Eden a gift from heaven; thus they symbolise heaven. The apple of course is a reference to the original sin that Jesus has come to erase. Behind the Virgin is a closed garden delimited by a fence with wild roses. In the garden is a fountain. The closed garden and fountain are images of the ‘Song of Songs’ of the Bible. They are symbols of Mary’s virginity and purity: a virgin is like a closed garden in which flows a pure fountain. We see here how the abundant use of symbols of the Late Middle Ages entered Northern European painting. That symbolism was less apparent in the Maestà’s of the Florentine and Siennese masters such as Cimabue, Duccio and Giotto.

The blend of two cultures in Massys’ ‘Throning Madonna’ makes this a picture of a very personal taste, made by a master who sought detailed, civilised refinement and who applied his intelligence of the world with dexterity.


Cimabue, Duccio and Giotto were the most important among the painters of the new age of Western Europe. This was not yet its Renaissance or new birth, but the ingredients were created by men of their times. It was birth before re-birth. We see in the Maestà’s as in other of their paintings this new evolution that broke slowly but steadily with the old Byzantine images which were still prevalent in Italy throughout former ages. The Madonna of Glatz was a Middle European picture of a pomp and magnificence that would not be seen anymore until after the plague epidemics of the second half of the fourteenth century.

Why Maestà’s? Sir Kenneth Clark has written about the remarkable concept of the Holy Virgin in European civilisation G1 . No other religion but Catholic Christianity emphasises so much the image of a gentle woman and of a woman caring for a baby. The cult of the Madonna introduced a very civilising element in European history. Every churchgoer saw the Maestà images, be it in earlier times in mosaics or in sculptures. The Maestà’s went back to Byzantine traditions. We have many wooden sculptures of the Madonna in Western Europe, from the eleventh, twelfth century certainly. Many are magnificent, polychrome coloured and all represent a Madonna seating on a throne with Jesus on her lap. They are called ‘Sedes Sapientiae’ and you can still find them today in small Catholic country churches of France, Belgium or Germany. A Sedes Sapientiae remains the emblem of the University of Louvain in Flanders/Brabant, a university founded in the fifteenth century.

These images and sculptures were the only images of pure, altruistic love that existed. And they were there to be seen and to be referred to at all time. They meant that mothers would go to heaven if they cared well for their children. They forced men to respect women and families and they spoke of the virtue of a caring pater familias. Love itself was of a higher realm, love was aesthetic, pure and of the heavens. So, for Europeans, marriage became not just the sharing of solitude, the sharing of sex or the sharing of fortunes. Marriage should and could lead to a higher objective, to a transcendence that instilled respect, care and love in the spouses and that would lead to retribution in the life after death.

The Madonna was one of the most powerful civilising influences the Catholic Church has introduced. No wonder then that the greatest painters of their age were asked to use all their genius and intelligence to offer splendid images of the Virgin. When these men painted, they thought thoroughly about their subject, with all the intelligence that was certainly not less that the intelligence of modern man. What was the image about? What should be the effect? Why this kind of painting at all? How best to please the wealthy commissioners? What did the commissioners want to obtain as effect with such a painting? What would they like so that payment would be assured and next commissions to be received? So, naturally, the painters would reflect profoundly on the sense of the Madonna in life and represent majesty and tenderness. Majesty was represented since the earliest times. It was necessary now to show that a higher state should be pursued in life.

Gradually, according to the changes in society, Cimabue still emphasised the majesty. But Duccio especially and other Siennese painters introduced the representation of feelings of tenderness and caring love in their paintings. Giotto was the more rational artist, but one who used his rationality and realism to show the human feelings still more. His Maestà is the best representation both of the majesty in the universe and the loving tenderness of the Madonna that has become so much a part of European mind and hearth.

From these early pictures on, evolution in the art of painting Madonna’s in various free, individual ways grew, as can be seen in the Massys picture.

Other paintings:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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