Several members of the Berlinghieri family were active in the Tuscan city of Lucca in the thirteenth century. Their Italo-Byzantine style of painting was inspired by the religious icons of the Eastern Christian (Byzantine) tradition. In this style, elongated figures with solemn expressions are silhouetted against a gold background. Long, continuous lines define facial features such as the brows and nose, and dark triangles represent shadows under the eyes. A web of lines articulates drapery folds and highlights. The Madonna and Child appear to be incorporeal, two-dimensional images rather than flesh and blood human presences.
The Virgin Mary’s fringed veil is adorned with stars to show that she is the “Star of the Sea,” the meaning of the Jewish form of her name, Miriam, and a reminder that she is as constant as the North Star by which mariners navigate. She holds the Christ Child high as he extends his right hand in a gesture of blessing. Mature in his wisdom, he holds a scroll of Old Testament scriptures, which is also a reminder that he is the Messiah foretold by the Jewish prophets.
The Madonna and Child was probably the central panel of a triptych. The flanking wings, which may have depicted saints and/or scenes from the life of Christ, are lost. The wings would have closed underneath the spandrels in the upper corners of the panel. An angel is still visible in the right spandrel, while its mate on the left has been damaged beyond recognition.
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