Bronzino (Agnolo di Mariano Tori)
Virgin and Child with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist

Circa 1540-45
Oil on panel
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Many paintings of the Madonna and Child will include a symbol pointing to Christ's Passion, but this artist uses several. Mary hold a cross in her left hand, the child holds another in his left, and little John offers Jesus some wild strawberries from a bowl. The strawberries (identified for me by the museum's label) symbolize the red blood that Jesus will shed, and the bowl is most likely a reference to the chalices held beneath his wounds by angels in older Crucifixion images.

The garland of flowers in the child's right hand is also symbolic. The yellow iris are called in French "Mary's sword of grief" because of the sword-shaped petals.1 The violets bear the color used in the liturgies of the Lenten season, and the white flowers are probably hawthorn, a plant with sharp thorns.

The cheek-to-cheek positioning of the mother and child derives ultimately from the Byzantine "Glykophilousa" ("Sweet Kissing") icon type, but in this more naturalistic western version the baby's lips are captured in the moment just before they reach the mother's face.

The other child is identified as John the Baptist by the camel-skin garment. He is often pictured with curly hair, especially in the 16th century.

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Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Othoniel, 73, 49.