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Domenico Ghirlandaio

Christ and the Virgin Interceding for Mankind


Domenico Ghirlandaio
Florence 1449 – Florence 1494


Christ and the Virgin Interceding for Mankind


About 1490


Oil and tempera on wood


87.6 x 55.2 cm


Purchase, John W. Tempest Fund, inv. 1953.1084


Western Art

In the presence of the Trinity, the Virgin intercedes for man, exposing her breast that nurtured Christ. At the same time, Christ points to his mother and to his own wound as he looks upward towards a heavenly God the Father in a light mandorla, while the Holy Spirit, as a dove, descends towards him. The source of this double-intercession imagery as being a citation from the old popular book In Praise of the Virgin Mother by Ernaldus of Chartres, commonly attributed at the time to the founder of the Cistercian order, Bernard of Clairvaux. Christ as mediator, and Mary, mutually pleading on behalf of man, are imagined and described. A second source for the imagery is the early fourteenth-century Speculum humanae salvationis, one of the most widely read religious texts of the age. The monk is almost certainly Saint Bernard. There are six other Florentine versions of the subject. Their execution, including this one, can be dated during the rise of the intense pietism associated with Savonarola and his followers in Florence. This elated monk, instituted a theoretical dictatorship in Florence from 1494 to 1498 and a bonfire of the vanities to cleanse the city of its excesses.

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