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‘Madonna Casini’ (also known as ‘Our Lady of Tickling’) is a unique and beautiful portrayal of the Madonna and child. Skillful Renaissance artist Masaccio (Tommaso) produced this tell-tale painting using the tempera technique on a wood panel.
The feature that renders this painting so unusual is the Virgin Mary’s facial expression: caring and loving, yet serious and cheerless. It suggests that she may be aware of her son’s untimely fate, and either because of this, or perhaps in spite of it, she raises her hand to bless him, or to tickle him. The child holds onto her arm, with a smile upon his face. Mary’s gesture creates two short stories within ‘Madonna Casini’– one that puts forth a sad-looking, knowing mother blessing her baby, and one that proposes an intimate, playful moment between mother and son, a perspective that transforms the painting’s overall aura from gloomy to happy.
Around the baby’s neck is a red pendant that falls to the side. This type of necklace was a popular gift for a child duing the Renaissance period, and is still deemed today to be symbolic of the dual nature of Christ – human, yet divine.
The two holy figures are highlighted against a vivid gold background, with their halos translucent, yet clearly visible (probably a difficult task to accomplish). The long brushstrokes of the Madonna’s deep blue robe intensify the length and soft texture of the material, while the short, curved strokes of the swaddled baby’s clothing create thick folds and wrinkles. Masaccio was so talented that legend has it he was poisoned by a rival artist, dying at the age of twenty-six.
An Interesting Fact
On the back of ‘Madonna Casini’ is a coat of arms, believed to belong to Cardinal Antonio Casini from Siena. The emblem is gold with six blue stars, 3 above and 3 below a band of black that runs horizontally across the center. A cross is displayed on the band and a cardinal’s hat sits on top of the crest. The coat of arms, together with the significantly small size of the painting, implies that this art work was most likely commissioned and created by Masaccio for private viewing.
A Little about the Artist
Masaccio, originally named Tommaso Cassai, has only four pieces of art that are unquestionably his work, and that have survived the test of time, one of them being ‘Madonna Casini’. There are many other art works that have been partially attributed to him, all of which are religious in nature. He worked alongside his assistant Masolini da Panicale, and the two came to be known as the “duo preciso e noto” (well and known duo).
‘Madonna Casini’ by Masaccio is housed at the Uffizi, in Florence, Italy.