Triptych of the Madonna and Child with Saints

The New York Chapter

This valuable triptych with its arched compartments, originally from the altar of St. Acocio in the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena in Pesaro, arrived in the Vatican after it was sold to unknown persons in the commune of Pesaro around 1861. Documentation began in 1909, the year in which it was exhibited in the first room of the Pinacoteca of Pius X.

The central panel depicts the Virgo Maiestatis, the enthroned Madonna surrounded by adoring angels, following an iconography of Byzantine derivation that exalts the role of Sedes sapientiae and the image of the church. She supports the Christ Child, whose purplish robe emphasizes further the essence of royalty as does the red brocade drapery embroidered with gold in the background.

All along the base of the triptych runs an inscription in lowercase Gothic lettering “SCO †ACOCIO† SCO †GIOVANNI† / †MADONA† SCA †MARIA† / SCA †MAGARITA† SCA †M †MADALEA†”, which is essential in the identification of the saint with clasped hands depicted in the left lateral compartment as St. Acocio. The veneration of this Roman Legionary, who converted and baptized the ten thousand martyrs of Mount Ararat, the soldiers of the army of Hadrian who were massacred by the emperor for joining the Christians, is in fact very rare in Italian art, and therefore has a precise and peculiar iconographic connotation. Well codified is the figure of St. John the Baptist beside Acocio, with his characteristic camel hair garment, the subtle cross of rushes and the flowing script “Ecce: Agnus:  Behold the Lamb (of God)”: T”, portrayed in the traditional gesture of pointing to the Christ Child. 

The two saints of the right lateral compartment are easily recognizable due to their visual attributes that distinguish them in Christian tradition: St. Margaret of Antioch, protector of pregnant women, has the winged dragon at her feet that swallowed her during her captivity. In her right hand, she holds the cross that she used to cut herself out of the dragon’s belly and emerge unharmed. St. Mary Magdalen bears the ciborium containing the fragrant oil with which she anointed the feet of Christ.

The triptych, initially conceived as a work by a painter from the Marche, was correctly attributed in 1973 to an unknown painter trained in Lucca and active in the first half of the fifteenth century: he is commonly called Master of Barga and is the author of a small group of works scattered across central Italy. The composition is still that of the fourteenth century, and the refined architecture of the work composed of thin spiral columns and arches crowned with a sinuous pattern of acanthus leaves reveals a link to international Gothic models. The Gothic influence is also present in the profusion of gold and the preciousness of the robe of St. Acocio and the fabric behind the Virgin. Furthermore, the figures retain a hieratic composure and an elegant archaic flexuosity, revealing of a knowledge of modern spatial and anatomical achievements that were becoming trends in Renaissance painting.