This famous iconography is one of the three versions of the theme of Madonna and Child created by Antoon Van Dyck during his stay in Italy – between 1621 and 1625 – and recorded in his Italian sketchbook. One of the best versions of this painting – quite similar in subjects, compositional setting, and pictorial quality – is now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London and dated 1630-32. Van Dyck’s painting here is indebted to the experience of Guido Reni,to the ecstatic, skyward gaze of the Madonnasof this Emilian artist, as well as to his extraordinarytechnical skills. The powerful presence of the figures recalls the examples of the great Italian Renaissance, such as Bellini’s Madonnas, although the volumes of the bodies are exquisitely Baroque.Particular attention is given to the contrast between the intense tones of the Virgin’s clothes and the dark background from which an imposing column is barely visible. Mary’s gaze, which recalls the iconographic solutions of the Mater Dolorosa and the Mourners on the body of Christ, is contrasted by the Child’s decisive and jaunty gaze, which looks outwards from the composition. Jesus’ soft, naked body, the detailed hair, and the great psychological rendering of both figures show the painter’s direct observation of the great master’s work.
Bibl.: E. Larsen, L’opera completa di Van Dyck 1613- 1626, vol. 1 e vol. 2, Milano, Rizzoli, 1980.