Putting The 'High' in High Art: 'Madonna and Child with Angels' by Orcagna and Jacopo di Cione

City Paper

I’ve been thinking about my obsession with the color blue lately, unsure what, exactly, it is tied to, and maybe it was my heightened state of awareness, but I was loving the many different iterations of the Virgin’s blue garment I could find throughout the National Gallery. You’ve got a surprisingly graphic/linear 13th-century Byzantine tempera painting of Mary, her blue robe composed with blocky blue shapes. You’ve got Orcagna and Jacopo di Cione’s ‘Madonna and Child with Angels,’ dated before 1370 (and another similar but smaller one, by di Bartolo, circa 1415), in which the Virgin’s deep-blue robe, with fine gold detail on the trim, competes with the gold background. The painting is truly an object of admiration, thanks to the way those colors operate and despite baby Jesus’ eerie face smile-grimacing at the viewer as he reaches out and tugs on Mary’s breast like it’s a chunk of wet clay. But oh, that blue. Later on, at Jerry Saltz’s talk at the Katzen Arts Center, I wrote down “obsession is important” and a portion of an Oscar Wilde quote he cited: “The minute you understand a work of art, it is dead to you.” I like to think about art this way, that anything I write about it is just one moment in its and my lifetime, that at another point in time I’ll have a different view of it, and I feel similarly, specifically, about the color blue. It gives endlessly. 

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