Bartolomeo Bulgarini

(Active in Siena 1337 - 1378)

Madonna and Child, c. 1360

tempera on panel, 91 x 63 cm (35.83 x 24.80 inches)

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Bartolomeo Bulgarini

(Active in Siena 1337 - 1378)

Madonna and Child, c. 1360

tempera on panel, 91 x 63 cm (35.83 x 24.80 inches)

Re: 852

Provenance: Private collection


Millard Meiss, Ugolino Lorenzetti, in The Art Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 3 (settembre 1931), pp. 388, 396, nota 17, fìg. 28, come bottega diUgolino Lorenzetti

Dorothy Shorr, The Christ Child in Devotional Images in Italy during thc XIV Century, New York, 1954, pp. 158-159, 163, fìg. 24 Siena 3, come Ovile Master

Cristina De Benedictis, La Pittura Senese 1330-1370, Firenze, 1979, p. 85, come bottega di Ugolino Lorenzetti.

Judith Steinhoff-Morrison, Bartolomeo Bulgarini and the Sienese Paintings of the Mid-Fourtheenth Century, PhD diss., Princeton, 1990, pp. 316, 510-512, n. 33, fìg. 33 e 33a, alla voce Autograph and Workshop Paintings, come assistente di bottega di Bulgarini


Bartolomeo Bulgarini is one of the most intriguing, enigmatic, and talented painters of mid-14th-century Siena. Although he was the only artist of his generation in his native city to be mentioned by Vasari, it was not until the 1930s that the details of his career and his oeuvre began to be reconstructed by scholars. In 1917, Bernard Berenson assembled a group of works that revealed the influence of two leading and distinctive Sienese painters -Ugolino di Nerio and Pietro Lorenzetti -dubbing this artist "Ugolino Lorenzetti."[1] Ernest De Wald later assigned several of the paintings in this group to an artist that he named the Ovile Master after a Madonna in the church of San Pietro Ovile in Siena[2]. Millard Meiss united these two groups in a 1931 article, and in 1936 he convincingly attributed these paintings to Bartolorneo Bulgarini based on a documented biccherna panel -or painted cover of an account book for the Sienese government- by the artist[3]. The present painting was first published by Meiss when in a private collection in Genoa. Since then, the painting has been known and studied primarily from photographs, as it has remained in private hands, which has prevented proper assessment of its manifestly high quality. Following the recent conservation of the painting, it can now be confidently assigned to the hand of Bartolomeo Bulgarini.

The influences of Ugolino di Nerio and Pietro Lorenzetti that Berenson first detected in Bulgarini's works point to the artist's unique position in the history of Sienese painting. Bulgarini has been described as having an archaizing tendency, given the central importance of the works of Duccio -Giotto's counterpart in Siena and the founder of the Sienese school- to his artistic output. However, Bulgarini's style was by no means retardataire. The beauty of his art is that he was able to maintain the hallmarks of early Sienese painting and blend this with the stylistic innovations of the generation that came after Duccio -principally Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti. Although his activity before 1338 is not documented, it remains a possibility that he first trained in the workshop of Duccio, who died in 1319. If this is indeed the case, his participation in and response to the rapid progression of style and technique in Siena over the course of several decades speaks to his great skill and accomplishments as a painter.

This stunning independent panel depicts the Virgin and Child against a masterfully tooled gold ground. The artist's dependence on Duccio's revolutionary treatments of this subject is most evident in comparison with the Stoclet Madonna, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bulgarini similarly presents the Virgin standing and depicted two ­thirds length- her expression and distant gaze reflecting her foreknowledge of Christ's crucifixion. It is likely that the position of the Virgin's hands in our painting is borrowed directly from the Stoclet Madonna, as Bulgarini was known to derive motifs directly from Duccio.

The Virgin is in many ways the focus of our composition, and it is conceivable that this work may have been painted for a patron with a particular devotion to the Virgin -especially given the local religious and civic veneration of her in Siena, known as the "City of the Virgin." In addition to the elaborately decorated halo and the sensitively­rendered ruffle of her white veil -a hallmark of Bulgarini's 'Works- the Virgin's blue mantle, delicately grasped by the Christ child, is lined with gold leaf, an unusual detail that serves as a marker of her special importance and sanctity. One of the most intriguing aspects of the painting is the small banderole held by the Christ Child inscribed "FIAT"­ Latin for let it be done -which is the word Mary used in the New Testament in response to the archangel Gabriel's announcement that she would be the mother of God. Sienese painters of the 14th-century and their audience are known for their great sensitivity to complex pictorial cues, particularly ones that prompted the viewer to envision themselves performing a particular act, such as kissing the Virgin's foot, as part of their devotional practice in front of a painting[4]. The unusual position of the banderole, which displays a different direction of light from the rest of the composition as revealed by the shadow on che upturned edge at left, suggests that it is meant to be read as projecting forvard out of the pictorial space towards the viewer. Christ offers the banderole to the viewer, who in turn could envision themself reaching out to touch or grasp it. In this way, Bulgarini has devised an incredibly sophisticated motif that creates a visual nexus between the holy figures and the devotee, as well as between the spiritual world and the physical one.

The painting likely dates from the middle of the artist's career, ca. 1360. The rounded features and the stylized hair of che Christ Child are particularly indicative of this moment in the artist's career. 


Recently, Dr. Judith Steinhoff has confirmed Bulgarini's authorship of this painting on firsthand inspection, noting that the work reveals the artist's characteristic brushwork, underpaint color, and treatment of highlights, as well as distinctive features in his treatment of the figures.

Furthermore, Dr. Erling Skaug has confirmed that the punch marks used in the gold ground are consistent with known tools employed by Bulgarini in his documented works. Our painting has also been studied firsthand by Dr. Laurence Kanter and in photographs by Dr. Andrea de Marchi, who have both confirmed Bulgarini's authorship.


The painting was also studied firsthand by Federico Zeri, who attributed the work fully to Bartolomeo Bulgarini; his photographs of the painting are conserved in the archive of the Fondazione Zeri in Bologna, just as Berenson's are at the Fototeca at the Villa I Tatti[5].







[1] Bernard Berenson, "Ugolino Lorenzetti," Art in America, vol. 5 (1916-1917), pp. 259-275; and Bernard Berenson, "Ugolino Lorenzetti," Art in America, vol. 6 (1917-1918), pp. 25-52

[2] Ernest T. DeWald, "The Master of the Ovile Madonna," Art Studies, vol. 1 (1923), pp. 45-54

[3] Millard Meiss, "Ugolino Lorenzetti," The Art Bulletin, vol. 13 (1931), pp. 376-397; and Millard Meiss, "Bartolomeo Bulgarini altrimenti detto 'Ugolino Lorenzetti?"', Rivista d'arte, vol. 18 (1936), pp. 113-136

[4] See for example: Joanna Cannon, "Kissing the Virgin's Foot: Adoratio before the Madonna and Child enacted, depicted, imagined," Studies in Iconography, vol. 31 (2010), pp. 1-50