In the second quarter of the fourteenth century or trecento, small portable triptychs for private devotion became popular in Florence. Later in the century they were produced in considerable numbers and the arrangement of subjects - an enthroned Madonna with saints flanked by the Nativity and Crucifixion - is a common type. Jacopo di Cione's Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints was probably the centre of such a triptych and is a fine example of Italian trecento painting at the point of transition to the International Gothic style.
Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints presents a highly formal face to the viewer. The Virgin sits regally enthroned beneath a richly decorated canopy. The deep blue of her robe, trimmed with royal ermine, adds to her imperial air. The Christ Child is also quite stiff in His self-possession; the carriage of His head and positioning of His arms mirrors the Virgin's aristocratic stance. He holds an inscribed scroll. On the Virgin and Child's left are Saints Catherine, Nicholas, Lawrence, Benedict, John the Baptist and Peter. At their right are a bishop saint, St Helena or St Elizabeth, St Jerome, an unidentified male saint, St Paul and St Andrew. Below, kneeling angels offer a vase of flowers, while God the Father blesses all from the roundel above. The regal and courtly formality of this scene is intended to demand adoration and respectful worship. It invites the viewer to be overwhelmed by the perfection and splendour of the heavenly kingdom.
Carefully orchestrated colour values and the unifying repetition of delicately-tooled haloes among the surrounding saintly entourage contribute to the evocation of a shimmering celestial panoply. Within the overall decorative ensemble, however, a wealth of minutely-observed naturalistic details lends a certain authoritative veracity to this heavenly vision. This fluid tension between formal arrangement and naturalistic observation became one of the hallmarks of the emerging International Gothic movement. The architectural detail of pointed arches is characteristic of both the second quarter and the later half of the fourteenth century, although the decorative motif of formalised leaves and stems is more typical of the later period.
The Madonna and Child enthroned with saints is in good condition and most of the frame is original. If the work was indeed originally the central part of a triptych, the wings would have hinged where the twisted colonettes are now located.
adapted from Ted Gott, 'Two Madonnas in the Collection', National Gallery News, March - April 1994, p.2, by Lucina Ward