Every last inch of this large wooden panel is filled with activity, be it enchanting angels or patterned finishes. Tempera was used by Fra Angelico to put together the detail for this painting, way before oils started to be the tool of choice for Italian artists. The drapery depicted in this painting is another point of interest, allowing the artist to spread detail across the background. The Madonna herself also has considerable detail in her modest clothing, with swathes of cloth draped across the centre of the composition.
In all, there are five angels placed in the corners of this painting plus a small baby perched on the Madonna's shoulder. What at first glance seems a genuinely beautiful display of colour and detail also holds elements of symbolism for those with the time to locate them. The Madonna holds a vase which contains a lily plus some accompanying roses. These symbolise motherhood and purity, perfectly in line with the Christian teachings of the Virgin (people use the terms Madonna and The Virgin interchangeably when discussing different paintings from the Renaissance).
She sits on a wide cushion as she cares for the small child who also holds a small lily, just to further embolden the symbolism. The patterned material in the background also serves more than just an aesthetic purpose, representing a cloth of honour which is held in place by several angels. The two musicians in the bottom of the picture and playing an organ and lute, classic choices from this period in the Renaissance.
The overall style can be described as typical of the 15th century, from the consistent use of the colour blue to the charming depiction of the various items of clothing in this piece. There is also considerable documentation around this painting from an early point after its completion. Renaissance artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari notes it as early as 1568.
The original painting is owned by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid but has at times been loaned out to several other institutions including the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona. Both of these fine venues are well worth a visit but check ahead if you are hoping to specifically see this painting to make sure that it is on display.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid is just around the corner from the world famous Prado Museum and itself holds several thousand paintings. Their impressive collection features a whole host of different art movements, from the Renaissance all the way up to modern art from the 20th century. Some of the artists featured that are related to Fra Angelico include Duccio, Paolo Uccello, Jan van Eyck, Sebastiano del Piombo and Domenico Ghirlandaio.
The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona is the major art museum within this region and also specialises in local art from the past centuries. It sits within the breaktaking Palau Nacional which is certainly a fitting venue for such a great collection. Besides its extended coverage of Romanesque art, you will also find original paintings from the likes of Annibale Carracci and El Greco here.