Madonna and Child
Bernard van Orley (1488 – 1541)
Date: About 1520
Place: Bruges, Belgium
Materials and Techniques: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 45.1 x 39 cm
Museum Number: Waddesdon Manor, 2975
This small picture helped the Christian viewer to pray by concentrating attention on the object of devotion. It was probably made to hang in a private house or chapel.
The artist depicted the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in a very human way. They do not seem distant or intimidating. This helps a worshipper feel they might help him and answer his prayers. The smiling child looks up at his mother's face and plays with her veil. She holds him close with her beautiful hands. The viewer of the painting would have connected the Virgin's sad expression with what the future held. The rose in the niche below echoes the joy and sorrow in Christ's story. The beautiful flower has painful thorns.
The building behind the Virgin and Child is in the Italian Renaissance style, which used forms from ancient Greek and Roman art. This would have appealed to an owner who wanted to appear up-to-date and sophisticated. Expensive pigments (the ultramarine blue and gold of the Virgin's robe, for example), high level of finish and detail would have made this painting expensive. The depiction of marble and gold, luxurious textiles and the Italian blue and white ceramic vase make the painted scene more precious. This did honour to God while enforcing the status of the painting's owner.