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I have loved this picture ever since I was a student in the 1960s. Pinturicchio was best known for his monumental fresco-cycles in Rome and Siena, but the tiny scale and delicate detail of this painting could hardly be more different. Perhaps it subconsciously reminds me of how my mother taught me to read before I went to school, but we didn’t live in an exquisite Umbrian landscape.

The painting seems to bridge the mysterious gap between everyday life and unearthly beauty.  With his sandy corkscrew curls, embroidered yellow dress and little red sandals, Jesus seems like an ordinary toddler, seated squarely on a checked cushion with tassels at the corners.  Yet the tranquil expressions of all three figures, their transparent golden haloes, and the intimacy between them, all give the image an unforgettable peace.  Wandering into the landscape we see the trees scattered with golden light and notice little tiny figures dressed in the same red as the Virgin’s robe, before reaching the distant hills that fade into the haze of infinity.

Deborah Howard, co-curator
Principal Investigator, Domestic Devotions project.

Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto, c.1452–1513), Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist. Perugia, c.1490–5, tempera on panel with oil glazes, 56.7 x 40.7 cm. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, no. 119.