St Vitus Virgin, c. 1400, Prague, National Gallery

St Vitus Virgin, c. 1400, Prague, National Gallery


Madonna of St Vitus Cathedral Prague c1420

Unknown master

The Madonna of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague

c. 1420
Tempera on wood, 89 x 77 cm
National Gallery, Prague

The half length figure of the Virgin holding her Child in front of her on her right side appears in an ornate, three-dimensional frame – though we are not sure whether the frame originally belonged to the picture.

Although the whole composition and the manner in which Mary is showing her Child to the congregation of the faithful has preserved the formal solemnity of devotional pictures, the almost coquettish posture of her head and the animation of the Child radiate a natural atmosphere.

The striking three-dimensional qualities of the painting point to the influence of the sculptures of “Beautiful Madonnas” of the period, indeed, some scholars believe that the painter is identical with the master of the Beautiful Madonna of Krumlov. Precise and subtle modelling conveys the full forms of the figures, as do the deep, falling folds of the Virgin’s mantle, which is made of some heavy fabric; the Child’s body and hands are represented organically, and the two figures constitute a group imagined in spatial terms. The Virgin is depicted in a complicate counterpoise: her body is not only bent sidewise, but is also drawn backwards, whereas the whole torso of Jesus faces the spectator. The movements of the two figures in opposite directions stress that the construction of the composition is determined by the two diagonals of the oblong standing frame. The torso of the Virgin is bent into the direction of the diagonal line directed towards the upper right corner, while her head and the Child’s body parallel with it point to the opposite direction. The two flesh-coloured areas, the face and the body, are placed in the middle of that diagonal line. The harmonious overall effect of the well-poised composition is intensified by the fact that the Infant’s right shoulder is merged with that of His mother and by this means a single, undisturbed outline encloses the two figures.

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