This expressive, masterful painting of Mary and Child with Angels was made by Pellegrino da San Daniele, as evidenced by the cartellino (Italian for “little shield”) at the bottom of the painting. He studied in Udine with Antonio da Firenze and in the workshop of Domenico Da Tolmezzo. The painter received several commissions from noble families in Friuli and stayed at the court of Ercole I d’Este (1431-1505) in Ferrara around 1500. Later he made works for the Cathedral of Udine, being particularly known for the great cycle of frescoes in the church of Sant’ Antonio Abate.
This painting can be considered as a remarkable early work of the technically extremely skillful painter, who at the beginning of his career oriented himself with great interest on great Venetian painters of the time. This painting is particularly comparable to a depiction of the Madonna by the Venetian painter Antonio Rosso (Tai di Pieve di Cadore 1440 c. – 1509/10 Belluno) – possibly one of Pellegrino da San Daniele’s teachers. The latter was active in the second half of the 15th century and produced around 1460-1465 a work related in expression entitled “Madonna in trono col Bambino e angeli”, now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice (Catalogo 644).
The depiction of the Madonna in the popular Byzantine type of Eleusa (Greek for “the merciful”) emphasizes the loving care of Mary and the infant Jesus. This emphasizes the relationship between mother and child and shows the humanity of Jesus in his tender affection for the Virgin Mary. This is expressed in the cuddly touch of the cheeks as well as the hands; the child playfully reaches for Mary’s moving pleated veil, while the mother parallels this by holding the cloak and gently gestures her left hand towards that of her child. With her right hand, she presses Jesus against her, framed by the bowl fold of the cloak. Although their gazes do not meet, the intimacy of the two is clearly shown. While Jesus looks upward with rapt gaze, Mary looks down obliquely at the viewers, as whose intercessor she acts without losing contact with her child.
The iconic, deconsecrated image is enlivened by the ornamental gold ground with punctuated nimbs and vegetal drapery motifs, as well as the angels that populate the rest of the picture ground. This addition of angels is also typical of the painter’s later work. The two angelic figures on the upper spandrels act as curtain bearers, presenting the central display. The two angels, perkily seated at the table in the foreground, play lute instruments and relate both to the mother-child depiction and to the viewer. Here is revealed the compositional playfulness of the painter, who in diagonal axis variegatedly alternates angels with red wings in green dress or angels with green wings in red dress. Through this compositional trick, the two axes meet in the center of the picture, namely in the contact of Mary’s hand with that of the child. Interesting are also the two, much smaller putti in back view, which seem to turn the pages of a book lying on a pedestal with a sculptural angel’s head. In all likelihood, this is the Bible, the Holy Scripture of Christianity.Overall, the depiction reflects a religious exaggeration as a devotional image, suggesting a certain distance from the viewer. However, a dynamic moment of immediacy is equally demonstrated through the involvement of multiple senses. Not only the sense of sight is involved, but also the sense of hearing through the angels playing music and the rustling book pages; furthermore, the sense of touch is also stimulated by the luxurious textile, the delicate touches of cheeks and hands and the parchment of the book page that has just been turned.