Madonna and Child

The work placed alongside the Triptych of San Giovenale in the Masaccio Museum of Sacred Art in Cascia di Reggello comes from the Uffizi Gallery. It is the so-called Casini Madonna, whose name derives from its probable owner and purchaser, Antonio Casini from Siena, canon of the Florence Cathedral, Bishop of Pesaro and Siena, besides being the governor of Bologna and Romagna and, beginning from 1426, a cardinal.

The cardinal’s hat which surmounts the coat of arms of the Casini family on the back of the panel, confirms that the work’s dating is undoubtedly subsequent to, even though probably shortly after, Casini’s appointment. And yet the artistic evolution of the Valdarno painter over these few years is evident. The golden background as well as the subject attest to a link with classical iconography, but in this work the theme of the Virgin and child is treated in a totally new and original way.

Also the attribution of this work to Masaccio was long and complicated, as for the Cascia one. It was Roberto Longhi who, in 1950, once and for all attributed the paternity of this work to Masaccio, even if for some decades it was still discussed. He called it for the first time the “Tickling Madonna” emphasizing the domestic and tender gesture of the mother who tickles her son under the chin provoking a spontaneous and merry laugh and, as Caterina Caneva stresses in the exhibition catalog, “here the artist has distracted the Virgin from her official role as Queen of Heaven and Mother of God, a necessary obligation as her images were meant to be placed on altars, catching her in a “private” moment with her baby son”.

When Masaccio painted the Casini Madonna, he was an older artist, more mature and confident in his painting skills. Here the artist allowed himself a fascinating contamination between modernity and the past, the traditional gold background on one hand; on the other the rendering of the hands and heads, the oblique placement of forms in space, the masterly movement given to the golden edge of the mantle or to the impalpable folds of the little voile shirt (Caneva). The skilled play of nuances and chiaroscuro effects confer on the faces softness and spontaneity giving the sacred representation a human and family dimension, it is just a mother playing with her child.

Masaccio, Madonna and Child, also known as “Casini Madonna”, tempera on a wooden panel; 24.5 x 18.2 cm. Florence, Uffizi Gallery