“It’s halfway between drawing and low relief: and great design and invention are needed to conduct it”, said the cultivated Filippo Baldinucci in his Vocabolario Toscano dell’Arte del Disegno, to describe virtuoso images in very low relief, so-called stiacciato, such as that exemplified by the Madonna being presented here. Baldinucci emphasized the composite disciplinary vocation and the difficulties of a “genre” which, as Vasari had already declared, seemed to be comprised among the most eloquent testimonies of an unchallenged “primacy of design” in its “love of contours”, skill in “perspectives and other inventions”, and the “clarity, finish and beautiful form of the figures carved in it”. It is design that becomes sculpture… and sculpture that becomes painting, if, as in the present case, the art of an elaborate and highly delicate polychromy concurs to ennoble and enrich it. The brilliance and beauty of this delicate low relief (rilievo stiacciato) in painted stucco representing the Virgin absorbed in the act of supporting and contemplating her Son, who in turn is wholly intent on play (goldfinch in hand), though pensive in mood, can be derived from a fortunate type of Marian effigy known under the conventional name of Madonna of the candelabre, due to the precious motif of the two candelabra that embellishes its background.
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