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Revealing the Layers: the Umbrian Madonna and Child

A forensic examination of a 14th century painted sculpture: From the murky and misleading to the vibrant reality.

Last updated: 24 February 2022

About the project

A shifting team of conservators, curators, art historians and scientists have dedicated time over the past 7 years to a fascinating project designed to shed light on a group of 14th century painted sculpture thought by art historians to be the work of one hand – that of an artist dubbed the ‘Master of St Catherine of Gualino’.

We have analysed the construction and painted surface of a beautiful and delicately carved statue of the Virgin and Child in the Art of Living Gallery at National Museums Scotland, and more recently a statue of St Agnes at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston USA and four more pieces in Italy. When written documentary evidence is scant to non-existent, the only way we have to understand this period of artistic sculptural endeavour is through the objects themselves. This can help us understand how the pieces were meant to look, after the passage of time has obscured this, and give us insights into who made them and how. Our results led us to a bigger question: were these sculptures actually made by one hand? Do we have any proof? Was there actually a Master of St Catherine of Gualino at all or is he a 20th century conception?

Project details

Project title

Revealing the Layers: the Umbrian Madonna and Child and workshop practices in 14th century Italy

Project active

2015 - 2022

Research theme

Scotland's Material Heritage

Contributors

Diana de Bellaigue – Artefact Conservator, National Museums Scotland

Lore Troalen – Analytical Scientist, National Museums Scotland

Jessica Chloros – Isabella Stuart Gardiner Museum, Boston USA

Laura HendrikUniversity of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland

Jerome Castel – Student intern in Collections Science Section, National Museums Scotland

Justine Legat – Student intern

Mark RichterUniversity of Glasgow

Jennifer AnsteyUniversity of Glasgow intern

Rachel KingBritish Museum (formerly National Museums Scotland)

Luca Palozzi Havard Centre for Renaissance Studies (formerly University of Edinburgh)

Xavier DectotThe Orientalist Museum, Qatar (formerly Keeper of Art and Design, National Museums Scotland)

Nat Silver – Isabella Stuart Gardiner Museum, Boston USA

Publications

De Bellaigue, Diana, Lore Troalen, Rachel King, Mark Richter, Tobias Schwarz, Malinali Wong, Luca Palozzi, Tom Challands “Revealing the Archetype: The Journey of a Trecento Madonna and Child at the National Museum of Scotland” in ICOM 17th Triennial Conference Preprints: Sculpture, Polychromy, and Architectural Decoration, Paris, International Council of Museums, 2017

Alternate Text

Umbrian Madonna and child

Our scientific analysis of this sculpture informed its conservation and display. Research also led us to produce a 3D colour digital model of the Madonna and child as it looked in the mid 1300s.

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