An unknown Italian Baroque artist captures the relationship between Mary and Christ

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In the spirit of Christmas and the holiday season, we hope you enjoy this drawing from the collection.  

Unknown (Italian)
The Virgin and Child Presenting Jewels to Two Saints, 1733
Ink on laid paper
8 1/8″h x 6 5/8″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of William T. Hassett Jr., A1180,62.0203       

In this beautiful drawing, the artist emphasized the tender relationship between Christ and Mary, and focused on their emotional interaction with the figures below. Likely created after a study for an easel painting or altarpiece by an Italian Baroque painter, this drawing depicts the Virgin and Child handing jewels or beads to two saints dressed as friars in monks habits. Although the subject is unclear, it is possible that the work depicts the blessing of several members of a Catholic mendicant order, potentially the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, or Servites. Note how the artist also effectively captured the response of the saints; their poignant facial expressions and gestures convey both piety and devotion.   

During the 1600s and 1700s, works like this example reflected the importance of Church patronage and parallel the Catholic Counter Reformation, which sought to inspire worshipers and rekindle their faith through large-scale, dramatic compositions. Through copying and learning from venerable works of the past, young artists practiced drawing and their compositional skills. In some cases, they even improved upon the style and technique of the earlier master by altering and reinterpreting their figural representations.