Madonna and Child Enthroned

Recent cleaning removed heavy overpaint and stucco additions to reveal delicate sculptural details in the dress, cloth hanging behind the Virgin, and hair of both figures. Most extraordinarily, the restoration unearthed the toothy smile of the Virgin. In Renaissance art, polite, elevated figures (especially women) do not show their teeth -- the teeth are generally only visible for servants, fools, or those experiencing extreme agony. So the smile here is singular not only in Pugliese sculpture but in Italian Renaissance art more generally. This smile, the gentle tilt of Mary's head, the carefully delineated fastener on her dress just beneath the neckline, and solidly fleshy Baby Jesus serve to humanize these holy figures. Even the curtain behind her, a traditional cloth of honor, is shown realistically supported by strings on a rod, and pulled open by angels that look like curious and potentially mischevious toddlers. Some of the original polychromy has been lost, and so these figures would have been even more immediate in their fleshy presence originally. The stiff poses and weighty drapery, which pools around Mary's feet, add a counter-balancing sense of majesty of this enthroned Madonna, but cannot outweight the friendly informality of her grin. This sculpture is dated on the base 1505, and the inscription names not the artist, but the patron, the priest don Leonardo di Leone Tronio. Though his other depictions of the Madonna have impassive faces, the stylistic similarities between this Madonna and Child enthroned and the sculptures of the same subject matter by Stefano da Putignano at San Benedetto in Brindisi, the Chiesa Matrice in Turi, and San Francesco in Monopoli have led scholars to attribute this sculpture to Stefano as well. Stefano's Madonnas have characteristically square jaws in keeping with his generally blocky composition of the body. This attribute is seen here in both the faces of the Madonna and the Baby Jesus. Similar to the arrangement at the Chiesa Matrice in Turi, the Madonna is seated with a cloth behind her held by two putti. The epitaph on the base of the sculpture indicates its completion in 1505. In the early decades of the 16th-century Stefano was working in the nearby areas of Turi and Monopoli, making it plausible that he created this statue around the same time. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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