Sano di Pietro
_Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome, John the Baptist, Bernardino and Bartholomew_ 1450-81
AGNSW collection

Sano di Pietro

Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome, John the Baptist, Bernardino and Bartholomew

1450-81

This is one of the oldest European artworks in the Gallery.

It was probably made for the altar of a Christian church as a focus for prayer. In the centre is the Madonna or Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus. The two figures at the top are angels. The other four figures are saints.

To give a suitably rich appearance to this glimpse of heaven, the artist has made clever use of materials and generations-old techniques. The blue is made of a ground gemstone called lapis lazuli, which - along with gold - was one of the most precious materials of the time.

In making this work, many coats of a plaster-substance were applied to the wood panel to give a smooth white surface. The design was drawn out on this then a red clay-like substance applied in areas and gold leaf applied on top. You can see the red showing through where the gilding is worn. After polishing, the gold was tapped repeatedly with a punch to leave small decorative marks, which you can see if you look closely.

In the next step, paint was applied. In those days, only a limited number of colours were available, and the pigment was mixed with egg yolk. Because the yolk dried quickly, artists couldn't get the sophisticated effects of light and shade that you can see in oil paintings, like those surrounding this work in the Gallery, and this is why oil painting took over from egg tempera painting in Europe from around this time.

gold leaf and tempera on panel, 60.5 x 43.2 cm, gift of John Fairfax and Sons Ltd. to commemorate the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Sydney Morning Herald 1971, 151.1971