Fra Bartolomeo
Madonna della Misericordia (Our Lady of Mercy)

Oil on panel
Painted for the Church of San Romano, Lucca
Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca, Italy

In medieval images of Our Lady of Mercy all the figures are under the mantle and painted at a smaller scale than Mary. In the Italian Renaissance, however, variations in scale were discountenanced, so artists sought various ways to paint all the figures in Misericordia images on the same scale while still keeping the idea of the protective mantle (Ekserdjian, 239-41). Here we see Fra Bartolomeo's solution: Most of the individuals stand behind Mary's elevated platform, beneath the mantle that is held above them by two putti, while other men and women stand or sit on the left and right.

Usually Mary either holds the mantle open herself or extends her arms horizontally while angels hold it. Here she gestures instead to the figure above of Christ as Man of Sorrows. He has a mantle of his own, red to suggest the blood he shed. The plaque before him is inscribed misereor super turbam, "I have pity on the multitude."

San Romano being a Dominican church, a member of that order is in the right foreground directing two laymen's attention to the Virgin. As Ekserdjian points out, the woman with the baby seated in front of the laymen alludes to the iconography of the virtue of Charity.

The inscription on the platform reads MATER PIETATIS ET MISERICORDIE, "Mother of pity and mercy." The initials f.s. o.p. below the inscription refer to Fra Sebastiano Lombardi da Montecatini, of the Order of Preachers, who commissioned the work (Ekserdjian, 141). "Order of Preachers" is the formal name of the Dominican order. The coat of arms, with two lions "passant repassant" – that is, on all fours and facing each other – may be an adaptation of the arms of the city of Montecatini, in which the two lions face each other "rampant" – that is, rearing up.

Read more about portraits of Our Lady of Mercy.
Read more about images of the Man of Sorrows.
Read more about images of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.